Is diabetes a part of your most intimate relationship? While you may not have a diabetes diagnosis yourself, living with a partner or spouse who does can be challenging. They may have, among other issues, diabetes-related mood swings, weight gain, depression, expensive medical bills, and even sexual complications (read about some of the ways diabetes affects men and women differently). It’s understandable if your loved one’s diabetes stresses your relationship, but taking effective action may help ease the tension. I suggest my clients try some of these strategies:
Focus on the real problem
If your partner were forced to drive an annoying car that broke down a lot, required frequent visits to numerous mechanics, and cost an arm and a leg to repair and fuel up, where would you direct your anger? Would you feel the problem was the car or the driver? Diabetes can feel like this annoying car…and it can help to remember that the disease is the problem, not your loved one. So I tell clients to try and remember to be angry with diabetes, but not the person living with it.
A helpful way to separate diabetes from your partner is to give it a name, which may make it easier to talk about. Call it “Sam” after an annoying great uncle, or perhaps “Gladys Kravitz,” after the meddlesome neighbor from the classic television show Bewitched. Now, direct your strong feelings toward “Sam” or “Gladys.” Think about “Sam” causing your husband’s weight gain or “Gladys” triggering your wife’s mood swings. Ask your loved one how you can help manage “Sam” or “Gladys.” It can almost become an inside joke between you. You may discover that your partner wants nothing more from you than a hug. But that’s okay. I think a loving hug can be awfully important.
Learn about diabetes
The more you know, the better you may be able to understand the ups and downs of this condition. Riva Greenberg, Huffington Post blogger and author of Diabetes Do’s and How-to’s, lives with type 1 diabetes. Her husband, Bou, found that learning about Riva’s diabetes not only enriched their relationship, it helped him as well:
“I made it my business to learn and understand type 1 diabetes and how it affects Riva in her daily life. After reading articles and books, watching videos, listening to lectures at conferences, and listening to Riva, I also learned about healthy food habits and have adopted many of them. Riva and I now make similar food choices, and this helps us stay healthy and support each other when we eat at home or at restaurants.”
Remember your own needs
Medical issues deserve attention, of course, but a partner’s emotional needs are important, too. Try to find regular time, preferably each evening, to talk about your day with your partner. Express your needs and share if there is anything he or she can do. If you ignore your own needs for too long, you and your partner may end up growing apart.
Many relationships benefit from meeting with a marriage and family therapist. To find one in your area, visit the website of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
Connect with others
Dr. William Polonsky, founder and president of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute, is launching a free, online support program for spouses and partners of people living with type 1 diabetes, called “Just for Partners.” Find more information about the program here. If your loved one has type 2 diabetes, contact your local hospital-based diabetes program and see if they have a family support group you can attend.
Janis Roszler, MSFT, RD, CDE*, LD/N is the American Association of Diabetes Educators 2008-09 Diabetes Educator of the Year. She is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and marriage and family therapist. Her books include Sex and Diabetes and The Secrets of Living and Loving with Diabetes. Roszler is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.
*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.
© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience