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D-Relationships: Close but Not Too Close

Tips for helping without hovering

Katie keeps a watchful eye whenever her husband, Doug, is nearby. She doesn’t always trust the way he cares for his type 2 diabetes.“If I left him on his own, his A1C would be through the roof! I believe he would be overweight and ill. That scares me. I have to watch him like a hawk.” Unfortunately, when Katie makes her comments, Doug becomes angry and upset. He often acts out and eats even more. He hates feeling “micromanaged.” Katie’s approach is not working, which is not surprising. In my experience, which is borne out by some research, nagging often backfires and may cause more issues than it helps.

If the heartfelt suggestions you make to a loved one living with diabetes are either ignored or met with anger, you might need some loving H.U.G.S.! At least that’s what expert diabetes psychologist Dr. Wendy Satin Rapaport suggests. H.U.G.S. is an acronym Rapaport developed to represent four concepts you may embrace to help communicate effective messages of support without sounding like an insensitive and intrusive diabetes police officer! The beauty of these concepts is that H.U.G.S. goes both ways: You give as your loved one receives, and hopefully you will receive H.U.G.S. in return.

H.U.G.S. stands for:

H – Humor

U – Understanding

G – Growth

S – Sensitivity


Lighten up and try to find the humor in living with diabetes! Try to chuckle inside when your partner orders an entrée change from a waiter who stubbornly refuses to adjust the meal. Help your partner choose a fun name for his or her insulin pump. Try to laugh together. Your lighthearted perspective may positively affect how both of you view diabetes and may help your loved one more readily accept any comments that you feel compelled to make; happiness may even be contagious!


Before you chime in on any of your loved one’s behaviors, take an imaginary walk in his or her shoes. If your partner snaps at you when you bring up a particular topic, try to understand that it probably doesn’t feel good to be told what to do. If you don’t understand a certain response you receive, ask for more information. Hopefully, you will use your loved one’s comments to help you bring up sensitive topics in a better way. Understanding goes both ways. Let your loved one know why you feel compelled to make certain suggestions. The more you know about one another’s feelings, the more caring and helpful your interactions may be.


Believe it or not, having diabetes in your lives may strengthen your relationship; I’ve seen it happen! Consider how your relationship has changed … perhaps you now participate in activities together or have developed a shared awareness of healthier eating. It is also important to be aware that, at times, your partner may direct his or her anger at you. According to Dr. John S. Rolland, a specialist in illness and relationships, this is totally normal. “Couples need to understand and forgive themselves and their partner for hurtful comments made in the heat of the moment.” Living with a medical problem is a great challenge and may cause a great deal of stress. Appreciate this and try to bring a more positive perspective to your diabetes-related interactions.


In my experience, those living with diabetes who believe their families don’t support them don’t always take as good care of themselves as those who do feel supported (some research supports this as well). As a loving partner, you play an important role in your loved one’s health. If your partner doesn’t appreciate that fact, be sensitive to his or her feelings. When you have something to suggest, don’t openly tell your partner what to do without first asking permission. Would you like to be told what to do all the time? Be sensitive to the fact that hearing criticism isn’t enjoyable; but if it is offered in a kind way, it may be appreciated later. This realization can help you work better as a team and choose your comments wisely.

So, now you have some H.U.G.S., try not to let your comments create problems in your relationship. Use the lessons H.U.G.S. offers and, by working to bring more humor, understanding, and sensitivity to your discussions, I believe you may enhance your relationship and, hopefully, continue to grow together.

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

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