Wellness is a Team Sport, Part 2: Working With Family

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We all know families can make or break a self-management program. How do you exercise if everyone in your family says, “Aww, stay here and watch ‘King of Queens’ with us”? How do you get Oreos out of the house when family members love them? How do you stay relaxed when everybody in the house is arguing?

Bringing families together for mutual support can make a huge difference in blood glucose control and quality of life. But how do we do that? In managing diabetes, getting your family on your side requires honest communication. You want to be open about your own feelings, not critical of the other person’s behavior. People who love you do not want to hurt you, but they won’t realize how you feel if you don’t tell them.

Learn to use “I” messages, as in: “It’s really hard for me when you bring home those chocolate cakes. They’re really bad for me, and they’re hard to resist. Could you please eat cake somewhere else from now on?” rather than “Why do you keep bringing that cake in here? You know I can’t have it. Sometimes I think you don’t care about me at all.” If our family members feel attacked, they will have to defend themselves, and nobody will get anywhere.

Family may not want to change behaviors “just because Daddy is sick.” But since healthy-living practices for diabetes are healthy for everyone, you are really not imposing on family by insisting on eating better and exercising. You might motivate them to avoid health problems of their own. And when we learn to communicate clearly about health needs, our new skills can carry over to other areas of family life. We may find ourselves feeling better about ourselves, our families, and our lives than we have in years.

Clear communication is needed in other relationships, too. When you go see your doctors, do you tell them the whole truth about what has been happening with you and what you need? Or do you beat around the bush, hoping they’ll read your mind? Like family members, health-care professionals are not mind readers. They won’t know unless you tell them.

In asking others for help, communication needs to be clear and direct. Say you want help with moving. If you say, “Could you help me move next week?” people won’t know what they’re getting into. They’ll shy away. Instead, be specific. “I’m moving next week, and I’ve got about 12 boxes I need help with. It should take about an hour and a half. Can you help with that?” Most people will be glad to.

Where do we find help? After family, think about community: friends, neighbors, support groups, church, voluntary organizations, social agencies, and health-care professionals. Or advertise on the Internet. Support groups usually are full of information on available support. (See some links in my blog entry from last week, “Wellness is a Team Sport, Part 1: “I Hate to Ask.”) Remember that a support group can be one person—a friend who shares your issues and concerns.

We often worry about how to pay people back for helping us. While most people really don’t care about being paid back, it’s normal to want to compensate them. Here are some possibilities:

  • Sincere thanks go a long way. Most people feel unappreciated most of the time.
  • Listening is a great way to give to people. Most of us feel chronically unheard, and a few minutes of attentive listening are a great gift.
  • Sometimes we can do things for our helpers, or do for others even less fortunate (“Pay it forward.”)
  • Occasionally, paying people in money is a good option, if we can afford it and it won’t hurt their feelings.
  • Sincere compliments are almost always appreciated.

So there is no need for us to go it alone, and we can’t. Learn to find, ask for, and accept help. Help others when you can, as long as doing so doesn’t damage your own health. When we cooperate more, the world will be a better and healthier place.

I’ve written a lot about these issues in Arthritis Self-Management, Diabetes Self-Management, and my books The Art of Getting Well and Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis. You can see more on my Web site, And remember to leave comments with your questions and ideas below.

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