Does Health Affect Your Relationships?

I guess that when you’ve been married for 33 years, you have to expect some ups and downs. For me and my partner Aisha, it was mostly up for the first 28 years or so. Now it seems like there’s a lot of down time, and I think that my health has a lot to do with it.


I don’t have diabetes. I have multiple sclerosis (MS), which damages my nerves and causes a lot of disabilities. I think it’s hard for her to cope with. It makes her sad; it makes her angry, which is tough on me. I guess the MS makes me sad, too, which is tough on her. She often says our apartment is a sad place. I don’t usually feel sad, but maybe she thinks I am. Anyway, it frequently seems we’re bringing each other down as much as pulling each other up.

The reason I bring this up is that Aisha and I have been doing sex counseling with other couples, some with diabetes and some with MS, and hearing similar stories. In at least a couple of reports, it seems that diabetes may raise divorce rates, perhaps because of the negative effect on sex. I’ve written here before about sexual issues, and they are important. But there’s a lot more going on.

I think that, sometimes, the people with the illness start to get down on themselves. They feel less attractive or less worthy. They feel guilty about not being able to carry as much of the load, and they grieve over the loss of their healthier self.

It also seems that the healthier spouses get down on themselves, too, for not being a good enough partner or for resenting their partner’s changes. Each member of a couple may definitely start resenting the other one. I sometimes find myself resenting Aisha’s ability to enjoy herself in ways that I can no longer share, or spending time on things I consider unimportant.

Both members of a couple where there is chronic illness probably have fears about the future. If things seem to be getting worse in the relationship, they may dread where the partnership seem to be going.

It’s obviously important to talk about these issues with each other and try to do some problem-solving. Certainly, some couples find that meeting the challenges posed by diabetes (or MS) have brought them closer together, although it usually takes some work.

It might be helpful to get some professional help with some of this. (Although A and I have seen family counselors several times and not found it particularly helpful, I know they help some people.)

Other Relationships
I think chronic illness can affect all relationships, not only marriages. Our connections with our children, parents, siblings, and friends can all suffer. People may not know how to relate to us; they may have all kinds of misconceptions about us. They may just not be comfortable with the idea of chronic illness.

What Can You Do?
So my question for you is, has diabetes affected your relationship? For good, for bad, or for both? What changes have you noticed? Most importantly, what have you done about it, and how has it worked out? I could use the help, so please let us know by commenting here.

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  • CalgaryDiabetic

    Dear David. There is no doubt that my chronic illness is an immense negative to all my relationship: spouse, children and friends. The friends I tend not to phone because I am too tired. and also when you are down you do not wish to drag others down. This applies to the spouse and kids. I believe that in Buddhist philosophy they disconnect physical reality from happiness. This is a reasonable attitude since life is hard and then you die for most everyone and the die part is for all so far. May God not change this because it would be depressing to have the Wall street Billionaires live forever the more so since a lot stole our money.

    I try and maintain a non real happy facade but then again what is real and what is not?

    My favorite old female and I sleep in different rooms except on occasion when we fraternize. This is important since she snores and I have difficulty in getting asleep except when the BG is between 85 and 95. I have to urinated every 3 hours regardless of how good the blood sugar control is. Also being obese she claim the bed slopes too much causing her leg pain. His Lordship is very happy to sleep with master and a welcome source of heat in the long Canadian winter.

  • Airborne mom

    My husband and I have been married for 21 years. When we talked about getting married I let him know what my family history was like so that if he could not handle the possibility that I could become disabled from all the chronic issues that he could take a hike.
    Of course, one by one the chronic illnesses have appeared. As each condition has affected me we spend a lot of time talking about how best to make accommodations for me.
    Communication and accommodating the limitations is how we deal with them. I may have to mow the front yard one day and the next day do the back yard. We try to come up with solutions and work within my limitations. I struggle with the limitations and when I do we discuss additional options. Many tears are included in the process.
    We have always kept our son informed of all my conditions and he is very aware that he may have to deal with them at some point in his life.

  • alwaysfoggy

    My husband and I have been married for 35 1/2 years. We thought we had faced every obstacle you encounter in a relationship. Boy were we naive!!! The only difference I don’t share with the others that commented is that I have diabetes, arthritis, fibromyalgia and MS.

    Guilt I could write a book on it!!!

    I do feel guilty that my husband won’t be able to retire when he wanted to at 62. He is going to have to work until he is 66 (praying his health stays good)because my meds, even with his insurance, are running between $455 and $555 a month. I feel guilty that our income was cut in half when I had to stop working. I feel guilty that our future financially is so uncertain now, with the meds and doctos and tests costing so much, and that is with decent insurance.

    We talked about him resenting me for this and he said he did at first but he doesn’t anymore. But when he snaps at me when we are talking for no reason, his feelings show through. Not very often and I know he tries to control it, but it’s there.

    We have been in counseling for 4 years now, and if it weren’t for a very good counselor, I believe we would have been divorced by now. I am the talker and my husband doesn’t say much. He holds it all inside. I cry when it really gets to me. And yes, we ask the question, why me? Well, if not me, someone else, and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy (of which I have none.)

    My biggest regret is that by the time my grandchildren are born, I may not be able to watch them by myself, or get on the floor and play with them, unless there is someone there to help me get up, and I have looked forward to that for as long as I can remember.

    Anyone with a chronic illness is going to have depression of varying degrees. Sometimes mine is not too bad and then sometimes it is severe, to the point where I think it might be easier on everyone, if I just weren’t here anymore. There are marvelous medications out there now that can help with these feeling, if you find the right psychiatrist who finds the right mix of meds. Don’t be afraid to ask about them. We’ve already faced the worst, which is being told we have one or more of these diseases and starting to learn to cope with them.

    I tend to ramble (I told you I was the talker) but to me talking is therapudic, as is laughter. The more laughter, the better. Laughter is, after all, the best medicine.

  • Tammy

    My husband 47 years old and I been married to him for 17 years, I know there is ups and down in the marriage. my husband been has diabetes, blood pressure, cholestorl and he is taking medication. he gets angry for no reason and he for get what I told what I was gong to do after i get home form work. and he sad he don’t remember any thing what I’m telling him, and he gets mad at me for correcting him. I just walk away form him and I so don’t want him to be mad anymore it is. and he ask me whats wrong i told him that he snap at me for reason and I haven’t done anything wrong.he says it me, and I’m not the one with the health problem.

  • Rachel

    I might possibly marry a man who has Type 1 Diabetes. I have heard that in this condition it might be difficult for me to conceive from him. I love him too much to push him out of my life because of it. I don’t really believe in taking lots of medication in order to conceive and have a “healthy” pregnancy; I like everything to be natural and how God would want it. So, would we in this situation have a hard time having 5+ children, do you think?

  • David Spero RN

    Hi Rachel,

    Diabetes specialist Robert Eckel, MD, Professor of Medicine at University of Colorado, Denver, says “I don’t think [male] patients with diabetes are any more likely to become infertile than patients without diabetes.”

    So it should not be hard to conceive with him, unless there are other problems. I don’t know about the 5+ thing. That’s hard on anybody.

  • noel

    i have diabetes and am being tested for suspected m.s type 1 diabetes.i find it very hard in my relasionship when my sugar level gos low i get depressed,and my partner dosent understand that it isnt me,she is sick of me telling her its my sugar level.i feel like im not good enough to be with her…and that was b4 i found out i might have m.s!!!

  • David Spero RN

    Noel, I hope you can get some help with your relationship problems, although finding a counselor who understands chronic illness is not easy. You’ll have to shop around. It might help to take your partner to a diabetes support group so she can hear from others what low blood glucose does.

  • Kris

    This is a depressing blog. No hope here whatsoever!