Diabetes From a Partner’s Perspective

I am a musician. I have performed hundreds, probably thousands, of times in the course of my life. My first public performances were terrifying, as I was a shy kid. But over time, I grew to thoroughly enjoy performing music, and now it is one of the highlights of my life. But I’m also a music teacher, and often times, I find myself in agony watching my students take their first steps onto the stage to perform. I don’t feel this way because I’m worried about myself being embarrassed, or because I think they won’t do well (I tend to wait until my students feel fairly confident before I suggest they take that first step). I feel this way because when my student walks on stage, I have no control. When I perform, I’m in control. I know that I can handle whatever result occurs — whether I do well, or don’t; whether I play flawlessly, or make a bunch of mistakes. But when it comes to my students, I can’t step in.

I imagine it is the same for our partners sometimes. I have often wondered what it is like for my wife to live with my diabetes — my wife who has had to give me juice on several occasions when I became severely low; my wife who once worried I wouldn’t revive and was readying the glucagon pen before I finally accepted the juice she was pouring into my mouth and revived. So today, I want to present HER view of living with my diabetes; the view of our partners, the ones who can only watch from the sidelines as we handle our disease. In many ways, their positions can be much harder than ours.


To get this viewpoint, I asked my wife a series of questions to hopefully paint a clear picture of what it is like for her to live with my diabetes. Here is her perspective.

What is the most stressful part of being the partner of someone with diabetes?
The most stressful part of living with diabetes, according to my wife, has been the moments of severe lows. There have been several times when she has had to give me juice in the early morning (I have since adjusted my overnight insulin to avoid a repeat of this). Long-term complications aren’t as stressful for her, since they are both more abstract, and she knows they will come on with more warning and won’t present the same kind of immediate, “could be in serious trouble within MINUTES” danger as hypoglycemia. Of course, we both hope to avoid these as much as possible, but there is less stress in their prospect than in the ever-present threat of possible hypoglycemic attacks.

What, if anything, has been gained by living so near diabetes?
My wife had a wonderful answer for this: “It has taught me gratitude.” She talked about how living with my diabetes has given her a deep sense of gratitude for the fact that her body has been basically healthy and able throughout the course of her life. And it has given her a sense of gratitude for the joy of each passing moment, as diabetes has taught us BOTH that the future is never a guaranteed thing. While the dangers of hypoglycemia and the threat of future complications are unpleasant, it undoubtedly encourages us both to live in the moment and appreciate every bit of joy we encounter.

What advice would you give other partners?
The number one rule: Be prepared! My wife said it is absolutely essential that partners familiarize themselves with HOW this disease works, how to use glucagon, how to recognize low blood sugar states, and what steps to take in the face of dangerous lows. She stressed that it is important to know the steps to take not only in theory, but to rehearse these actions. For example, we will use an expired glucagon pen to practice actually mixing the glucagon occasionally so that if she ever DOES need to use it, she will have had practice with it.

She also talked about the need to be supportive and understanding rather than always worried and demanding toward me. Living with diabetes is a challenge for both of us, and understanding is the key to making it work. She stressed that trust is essential in making sure diabetes does not hurt our relationship.

How do you handle your stress when it comes up?
My wife is very good about talking to me when she is stressed about my diabetes. Being open and having a dialogue is very important. In addition, my wife practices yoga and is a meditator (the meditation being something we have in common), which are both very good tools for letting go and de-stressing. And of course, understanding how to let go of worry is a crucial step — in the words of the great Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

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    Thanks for sharing, Scott. You are fortunate to have a partner who is willing to engage in the many aspects of living with diabetes. My spouse is more or less in denial. She refuses to look at my disease as a serious medical condition, and when my complications interfere with her expectations, she gets angry and accuses me of making excuses.

  • Beautiful, Scott. Partners so rarely get the support they deserve. My wife and I used to lead groups for couples with diabetes and for people with multiple sclerosis. Partners would tell us, “Other people give me little pats on the head or compliments for ‘being so brave’ or ‘so loving’ or whatever, but they don’t give me any actual help.”