Diabetes Self-Management Articles

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Diabetes and Your Marriage
Making Things Work

by Paula M. Trief, PhD

A person with diabetes remarked, “Sometimes I get angry because of something that has happened. But sometimes it is a direct function of my sugar getting too low and affecting my mood and my thought processes. On at least one occasion, I more or less came to my senses to find myself sitting at the kitchen table and my wife sitting on the couch at the other end of the house crying because of something I did. I still don’t know exactly what happened.”

Another person with diabetes said, “If I developed hypoglycemia while we were out because the meal was late or for some other reason, he would get very angry and say, ‘This is why I don’t take you out anyplace.’ Then I would cry and cry and cry.”

Ways to collaborate
Having diabetes puts unique strains on a relationship, but it can also bring you closer together if you learn how to work together. Here are some ways to do that.

Get educated. It helps if both partners know what diabetes is, what must be done to manage it, and what to expect in the future. Your health-care team can provide the information, but in some cases, the person with diabetes may have to encourage his partner to join in the learning. If this is true in your case, ask your partner to come to a medical visit with you. Ask your partner what questions he has, and decide together how to get the answers. In addition to presenting general information about diabetes, educate your partner about your own specific self-care plan. If you set achievable and realistic goals and share them with your partner, he may be able to help you work toward achieving them.

Communicate. Talk about what you both need from each other. Talk about what is helping and not helping. Try not to be critical of each other but to approach this conversation with an open, nondefensive attitude.

Listen. Ask your partner how he feels about the changes you are making, then listen to the response. Don’t interrupt, don’t argue, don’t try to convince him that he’s wrong; just listen, not just to the words, but also to the feelings that are being shared.

Set shared goals. If you work together, you will probably get closer. So set goals for your diabetes management, like walking together after dinner, and talk about how to achieve them. Also, set goals for your relationship, like improving communication, and talk about how to achieve that, like setting time aside to talk.

If you and your partner are not working toward the same goals, you will get frustrated and angry. If, for example, you are doing your best to prepare nutritious meals, but your partner who has diabetes eats a lot of junk food and then gets angry when you criticize, you know what I mean. A frank discussion about what each of you sees as the problem, what goals you have, and what you are each willing to do to work toward those goals is essential.

Make room for negative emotions. Dealing with diabetes can lead to depression, anger, guilt, and fear, for both the person with diabetes and his partner. Sometimes, people get persistently angry or depressed, causing fights and emotional outbursts. These feelings become barriers in your relationship.

While it helps to be positive, recognizing negative emotions is part of the coping process. By accepting and experiencing these emotions, you can come to terms with the emotional impact of diabetes. And by sharing these feelings with your partner, you will decrease conflict and build intimacy in your relationship.

Get support from others. Even though your partner may be your main source of support, allow yourself to turn to other family members and friends, too. Doing so decreases the stress on your partner and provides an opportunity for other people in your life to feel involved and important and to experience the gift of giving.

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