Diabetes is a lifelong condition that can affect more than just the afflicted person. Parents, children, friends, and spouses can experience the ripple effects when they are closely involved with a person with diabetes. The attitude of the diabetic person is important, but the partner’s attitude is also key. Here are some ways that diabetes can affect your relationship and tips on how to cope with this lifelong illness in a partnership.
How diabetes can affect relationships
- “Diabetes police.” Because diabetes is a disease closely linked to food, many people will play “diabetes police” with their partner and remark on her food intake. This could make her feel monitored and belittled. Try to avoid this and remember that she is capable of making her own decisions about her health.
- Mood swings. A drop in blood sugar levels could mean sudden irritability, headache, and trouble thinking. When her blood sugar drops, it’s imperative to raise it to healthy levels again. Support your partner by carrying some of her favorite snacks, like a juice box or saltine crackers, in your car, purse, or backpack.
- Lifestyle changes. Diabetes often requires a change in lifestyle, and this can be a point of contention in a couple when one partner adopts a healthier lifestyle and the other does not. While it’s not necessary for both partners to adopt a healthier lifestyle, it could make things easier for her if she has an exercise partner and limited access to tempting, unhealthy foods.
- Sexual dysfunction. Both men and women can experience sexual dysfunction as a side effect of diabetes. Communicate with your partner and your doctor to decide how best to treat any signs of sexual dysfunction.
Tips for helping a partner with diabetes
As with any chronic illness, diabetes will change your relationship. Accept the change and make room for diabetes in the relationship by considering different ways you can support your diabetic partner.
- Allow them to self-manage. Know the warning signs, but give your partner her autonomy and don’t play the “diabetes police.”
- Educate. Attending diabetes education classes together can educate both partners on the day-to-day struggles of diabetes and ensure that you’re both on the same page.
- Develop a routine. Diabetes requires round-the-clock monitoring of blood sugar. Help your partner monitor her health by creating a routine with set times for meals and exercise.
- Cooking. Part of the lifestyle change that accompanies diabetes is cooking. Take your partner’s dietary needs into consideration when preparing food, and favor things like vegetables and lean meats over carb-heavy fried foods and pastas.
- Communicate. Encourage open communication in your relationship by directly asking your partner how you can support her. Make a list of shared responsibilities, like food and medication. Refrain from using “you” language, which can put her on the defensive, and use “I” language instead. For example, you shouldn’t eat that vs. I worry about your health. If necessary, consider couples counseling to help open channels of communication about your partner’s health.
Diabetes can be a lifelong struggle to control, but it can also mean a closer bond between partners if they embrace the challenges it brings and work together towards better health.