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D-Relationships: An Enduring Partnership

Longtime life together with diabetes

“I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.” – Rita Rudner

Longtime commitment is a fascinating voyage. If you’ve been married or in a romantic relationship for many years, you and your partner may have dealt with a variety of financial, family, and health issues, many of which change as you age. Diabetes, whether type 1 or type 2, is no exception. Some of the potential issues that arise, from weight gain to possible complications, might add stress to even the most supportive relationships. In addition to speaking with your doctor about medical coping strategies that may be appropriate, it helps to also find emotional strategies to strengthen your ability to live with them too. Here are a few options I’ve incorporated into working with clients.

Name the problem 

One way to keep a diabetes-related problem from undermining the relationship you’ve built with your partner is to give it an identity. To do that, assign it a color and a name. This may sound odd, but when you give a problem its own persona, you separate it from yourself, which enables you both to relate to it differently. This approach is known as “externalization,” or “narrative therapy” a therapeutic technique popularized by the Australian therapist, Michael White. Here is an example:

Dan developed type 2 diabetes several years ago and recently began to feel sad. Whenever Dan felt this way, he communicated less with his wife Susie, and had little interest in doing any of the activities they used to enjoy together. This change frustrated Dan and made Susie angry. She began to dislike the way Dan sat around listlessly whenever she tried to talk with him.

Dan spoke to his doctor about trying to improve his heath. At home, Susie and Dan gave his mood a color and a name. They called it “Black Max.” Whenever Dan’s depression appeared, he and Susie joked that Black Max was back. Dan wasn’t the problem, Black Max was. Both Susie and Dan directed their negative emotions toward Black Max, and Susie began to see Dan in a more positive light. Dan also felt better about himself.

Write it down

Write a letter to your diabetes and tell it exactly how you feel about it. Your partner may want to do the same. Don’t hold back – feel free to use words that you wouldn’t say in polite company. No one has to see what you write. When you are done, tear your note up into tiny pieces and observe how you feel. If you prefer, write your letter on a tablet or computer and then erase it. For many people, the act of transforming strong emotions into orderly sentences helps achieve a clearer perspective. Many feel a greater sense of calm and relief afterward. This may work for you, as well.

Don’t give up. Seek solutions

If your level of diabetes management has negatively affected your relationship, talk to your doctor about options. Knowing that there may be other approaches you can try can be a great relief. If diabetes has entered your bedroom and is making romance more difficult, there may be solutions for that, as well. And communication with each other almost always helps. Life isn’t always easy, but both you and your partner most likely have steps you can take to live more comfortably with diabetes and one another.

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.

© 2014 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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