Supporting your Diabetic Partner

Concerns of the partner of a diabetic individual.

As we all are well aware of the fact that living with diabetes is a significant load to bear on a daily basis — but there are non-diabetic people in our lives who are directly impacted by our diabetes — our husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, parents, children, and others who we live with day-in-day-out. It is one thing to have an “aunt or uncle with diabetes” who you see once every few months. Their diabetes isn’t something that impacts your life. But when your husband has it, when your wife has it, when your child or your father has it—- then that’s a totally different story. Diabetes not only affects the person’s own health but has a profound physical, emotional and psychological effect on their partner as well. Some of their main concerns of the partners of diabetic individuals include

  • Fear of future

Will his or her diabetic partner develop complications? Will they get sicker? Will they continue to be able to do the things they have enjoyed doing together? These are some of the major concerns that bother the spouses of diabetes patients. While fear and sadness are common feelings, it may result in stress, despair and frustrations. A study has shown that partners of patients with type 2 diabetes may experience levels of psychological distress as high or even higher than the diabetic patient himself or herself.

  • Risks of complications

It is a well-known fact that diabetes—if poorly managed— may result in serious health consequences like heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, vision loss, and nerve damage that can lead to numbness in the foot and possibly amputation if unnoticed wounds on the foot do not heal. If diabetes is out of control, and the partner with diabetes does not take proper care, then the financial burden can become bigger as health deteriorates and the complications of diabetes set in. The long-term complications can indeed be devastating to patients and families and pose an undue financial burden.

  • Dealing with emergency-hypoglycemia

The spouses of people with diabetes have to constantly live with a fear of hypoglycemia. Once a severe episode of hypoglycemia occurs in the patient—their partners may be traumatized, leading to ongoing worries and fears that do not recede easily. They may be haunted by questions like—What will happen if I am not around? What if the sugars get low while they are driving? How will he or she manage alone? Did he or she keep candy with them?

  • Effects on marital life

Diabetes also comes with an increased risk of other physical problems such as erectile dysfunction for men and hypertension and weight gain due to insulin therapy for both men and women. All of this can interfere with sexual intimacy. Managing these changes in marriage is just as important as managing the dietary and exercise requirements.

Ways to support your diabetic partner:

Research has shown that just like in any other chronic illness, a partner’s support can make a big difference to the patient’s management of diabetes. A partner’s support and coping as a team gives the diabetic more confidence in his or her ability to stick to diets and to exercise and to gain better overall health. The quality of the marriage to benefits from this type of joint coping. Here I will discuss some of the positive actions that can be taken by partners of diabetic individuals to support their diabetic partners.

  1. Discuss your feelings about diabetes openly– Have the “Diabetes Talk”

I always tell this to my patients that fear of something like diabetes can only be overcome with a healthy and open discussion. It is important to know about the condition and talk about all it implies and to share their worries openly. For instance, if spouses worry about the negative impact of diabetes and its related dietary restrictions on their social life —or their ability to cope with the recommended diabetic routine— they should talk about it, without letting worries stand in the way. Similarly, it is a good idea to explain clearly; to any children in the family, why one parent is suddenly eating differently, using injections or taking medication. Discuss any problems with your sex life—and things may get better.

2. Learn about diabetes

Second, both partners must learn about diabetes management. Reading about diabetes together can help prepare spouses for what is ahead, express solidarity for the diabetic partner and establish that they are a team. This will —as I say—cultivate trust in the minds of the diabetic individual and he will gain confidence regarding his or her hypoglycemic episodes. Communicate openly and regularly.

3. Make changes together

The third– and a very good way of supporting a diabetic partner —is to set goals and solve problems together. See, what usually happens is that reading about diabetes and interacting with doctors will bury the couple under a mountain of information and advice. It is very challenging to absorb all the information and convert all that advice into something actionable. Research shows that if couples set small goals, identify barriers and solve problems as they emerge, together, the diabetic partner is likely to be healthier and happier. It makes a big difference when you get involved in the daily diabetes care of your partner. Some of the ways of doing this include

  • Help with the daily diabetic routine: It makes a positive difference if, for example, the partner prepares nutritious meals, keeps track of medicines or glucose tests for his or her diabetic partner.
  • Exercising together: Regular physical activity can keep you and your spouse healthy and may help manage her diabetes. Incorporate some kind of activity that you can do together daily.
  • Consuming healthy meals together: Getting nutrient-rich, whole, low-sugar foods can help both of you to stay healthy and maintain your weight, which in turn may help relieve some symptoms of diabetes
  • Suggesting ideas: like how to plan meals when you go out for a party or outing, or reducing or quitting alcohol and tobacco altogether can help the diabetic person to maintain overall well-being and manage their diabetes as well.
  • Visiting the doctor: Meeting the doctor together provides positive support to the diabetic person and at the same time the partner can get to know the ways in which they can support their spouse through physician-approved lifestyle changes.

4. Provide positive emotional support 

This is the most important aspect. See— the non-diabetic partner must support and encourage – without nagging. Very often it happens that in an attempt to be helpful partners may try to take too much control over their diabetic partner’s routine. But studies have shown that nagging—for example— by reminding a partner daily to exercise or criticizing publically about their food choice—may get counterproductive. This may reduce diabetic partners’ adherence to diet and exercise habits. Instead, encourage as much self-care as possible for them, which can boost their confidence and enhance your mutual lifestyle. My best suggestion in this condition is very simple—– Ask your spouse the best way you can support them. For example, ask them if they need to be reminded about their medications or supplies like needles or insulin or if they prefer to take care of it by themselves. Support! But don’t try to manage their diabetes for them.

5. Be patient—Diabetes management takes time

The partners of diabetic individuals need to have tons of patience—as managing diabetes is a lifelong process. They should give their partners time for managing diabetes, to adjust to any changes in the disease or a diagnosis. The spouses need to be prepared for mood changes to support their partner’s changed lifestyle— even if they have to make a few sacrifices with their daily routines. Patience is important as both of you may need time to cope with anything that comes your way.

6. Taking care of oneself

Living with and taking care of a diabetic partner is demanding and often stressful that may lead to health or other problems for their partners. Taking measures to manage stress in life can promote their well-being and make the living situation more comfortable and manageable. One of the best ways is to de-stress with yoga, meditations, sports, leisure activity, etc. Some other simple ways of reducing stress can be —for eg. hiring an at-home caregiver or maid, asking for family member’s help, having some “me time” by taking some time off for relaxing, or a dinner with friends. These activities provide a break from the daily schedule and are vital to a person’s well-being so that they can be re-energized to take care of their diabetic partners.

Physician’s word of advice:

Having the support of others can help ease the feelings of fear or frustration that often go along with having diabetes. Research has clearly shown that people who have social support tend to do better managing their or their partner’s diabetes. I would like to conclude by saying that a diagnosis of diabetes does not have to derail one’s life and marriage. Living with a diabetic partner has the same principles as living with anyone else in a relationship. Be honest with each other, be open, educate yourselves, be supportive, and do what is within your power to do, but understand what is beyond your control and let that go. I believe that these can increase the odds of successfully managing diabetes and protecting one’s marriage, lifelong.

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