It may not matter if your partner had diabetes when you first met or if they develop it later on during your relationship. Diabetes happens to the whole family. What does matter is that it can add stress and anxiety to all parties unless you make it a part of your relationship and learn together from the very beginning. As long as partners take the time for discussion and share the existing issues, they can overcome difficult situations. Diabetes can be unpredictable and so can people. Here are a few things to consider:
- Avoid guilt – The person who has diabetes and you should never experience this feeling. The blame game is useless and it solves nothing. No one causes diabetes to happen-there is much more involved.
- Be patient – It may take a fair amount of time for someone to accept the diagnosis of diabetes. Some people remain in denial much longer than others but try to be understanding. Acceptance of a lifelong chronic disease can take many weeks, months or even years. Denial can be interpreted as laziness or avoidance due to fear. You both need to discuss your feelings. Do not let it consume either of you.
- Ignorance is not bliss – Look for diabetes education classes and attend together. It can be over whelming to hear all that information at once and two sets of eyes and ears really make a difference. Whoever does the cooking and shopping will benefit from these sessions. Education is necessary to make the needed changes for diabetes management. Read together and share what you learn. Use the internet to subscribe to diabetes – oriented magazines such as Diabetes Forecast or Diabetes Self-Management and review articles together. Look for local American Diabetes Association educational conferences open to non-professionals. Join support groups and if time permits, attend as a couple. You may get as much information at these venues as the person with diabetes. Try to attend physician appointments, especially if something has changed. This shared information can create a deep connection.
- Stop nagging – Although some people need to be gently reminded, no one needs a nag. Nagging usually leads the person with diabetes to more non-compliance just so they can maintain their independence. Try not to lecture about food and what not to eat. Remember that a carbohydrate is a carbohydrate and they all turn to sugar. Allow some “cheating” when there is a special occasion. Remember food is not the only thing that influences blood sugar. Gentle guidance and positive reinforcement works much better.
- Share positive behaviors – Everyone should be living a healthful lifestyle including portion control – try a food scale or portion plate, no smoking and moderate exercise. It is much easier to follow as a team. Limit tempting treats in the home; lead by example.
- Show compassion – Blood sugar can play havoc on a person with diabetes mood. They can get irritable, nervous and confused when blood sugar is low, exhausted and cranky when blood sugar is high. Cry together, laugh together. Realize on different days with varying blood sugars, they may not feel well. You may be scared for them but it could present as anger or annoyance. Check your mood too.
- Respect each other – If you are helping most of the time, expect appreciation. Verbalize and listen. Try to give and get. If it gets too tense, and only one is giving, consider counseling or professional help.
- Do not control – Work independently yet work together. As a partner, be by their side but let them “own their responsibilities” for diabetes control. Do not stress the doom and gloom of the disease. Understand and implement change with assistance. Be positive.
- Address sexual problems together – Diabetes can affect men’s and women’s sexual health. Dryness, medications, chronic infections, fatigue, decreased interest, and lack of an erection can all be addressed by a professional. Remember to kiss, hug, hold hands and be tied in emotionally when you can.
Is it easier to be the partner or the person with diabetes? Both share different challenges but working as a team will help master the daily situation.
NOTE: Consult your Doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.
She is a member of the American Diabetes Association as well as the South Florida Association of Diabetes Educators. She worked with the education department of NBMC to help educate the hospital's in-patient nurses about diabetes. She practices a healthy lifestyle and has worked as a personal fitness trainer in the past.
She was one of the initiators of the North Broward Diabetes Center (NBMC) which started in 1990 and was one of the first American Diabetes Association (ADA) certified programs in Broward County, Florida for nearly two decades. Robbie has educated patients to care for themselves and has counseled them on healthy eating, heart disease, high lipids, use of glucometers, insulin and many other aspects of diabetes care. The NBMC Diabetes Center received the Valor Award from the American Diabetes Center for excellent care to their patients. Robbie has volunteered over the years as leader of many diabetes support groups.