Christel and I have been together for over 20 years now. We have had our ups and downs, but luckily, her type 1 diabetes has never been something that put a lot of stress on our relationship.
We get a lot of questions from people who have read Christel’s diabetes articles about how we make it work as a couple, so today I wanted to share some of my experiences of what it’s like to live with a spouse who has diabetes, and what I do to support her.
Have “The Diabetes Talk”
When Christel and I started dating, I would freak out a little every time she got a low blood sugar. Seeing your girlfriend shaking, sweating, and just looking miserable is not fun.
My natural response was, of course, to try and help, but I really had no idea what to do. Feeling unable to help the person you love is also not a good feeling!
If you are like me, you will probably try to help, even if you have no clue what to do. You most likely won’t do any harm, but you may annoy your partner quite a bit 😀
To get over this, find a good time to have “the diabetes talk”. Talk through the different situations, where you can help and where you just need to let them handle it.
Find a time when you are both in a good mood and it’s natural to have a long, intimate discussion (chatting over a really good dinner works for us). Your approach should be something like this: “I love you and I want to support you as much as I can. Tell me how and when it’s helpful for me to support you, and when you would prefer it if I just give you space and let you deal with it yourself”.
Having this discussion should give you a much better understanding of what you can do to help. It will also make your spouse feel more comfortable about asking for help when he or she needs it.
Some of the agreements that work for us are:
- I can bring Christel a juice box or sugar when she is low, but after that, she doesn’t need or want my help. Just sitting there looking at her until she feels better is not helpful.
- We talk about food and meal plans a lot, but I never comment on anything she is about to eat. If she is eating cake, it’s because she has decided to do so, and asking “should you really eat that?” does not make me popular.
- Christel is now ok with me telling others that she has diabetes and generally talking about it. This wasn’t always the case. She has never hidden that she has diabetes or been ashamed of it, but in the beginning, she just didn’t feel like it was anybody else’s business. Now we agree that it often makes life easier to let people know.
Support, but don’t try to manage their diabetes for them
No matter what you agree on in “the diabetes talk”, you both have to accept that your spouse is the one with diabetes, not you.
If at all possible, your spouse needs to be self-reliant and able to manage his or her diabetes without your help. If you get into a pattern where your spouse is relying on you for diabetes management, you are just setting yourself up for long-term problems.
Christel and I aren’t together for 24 hours every day (that would drive us both crazy), so we both need to know that she is perfectly fine managing her diabetes on her own. There may come a day when this is no longer the case, but, hopefully, it won’t be for a very long time.
Support their healthy lifestyle, even if you have to make a few sacrifices
The absolute best way you can support your spouse is to be by his or her side all the way when it comes to eating healthily and working out. A healthy lifestyle is great for anyone, but it’s critical for people with diabetes.
For you, that means you might as well start living the healthy life yourself. You can’t expect your spouse to eat healthy food and exercise if your idea of a good time is pizza and beer on the couch every day.
I am not saying that you have to give up all your favorite foods and only eat what your spouse eats, but try to find a balance that works for both of you.
For Christel and me, this means that we never have candy or cake in the house. When we go out to eat, we always check the menu first to make sure we can both get something we want to eat. We also often cook different meals for ourselves, even when we sit down and eat together at home.
Luckily, we both really enjoy working out and being active, so that has never been an issue for us. If you are not a fitness freak, try to find fun ways to be active together. Even if it’s just going for walks in your neighborhood, it helps a lot.
NEVER shame them or criticize how they manage their diabetes
If you try to be the diabetes police, your spouse will get tired of listening to you VERY quickly.
Some days, your spouse simply won’t manage his or her diabetes very well. Get used to it. You don’t manage your health perfectly every day either.
It can be extremely frustrating to see a person you love do something that can harm them in the long term, but you are not making it any better by giving them a lecture.
Living with diabetes is extremely frustrating at times, so there will be days where your spouse’s attitude can best be summed up as “Screw this. I’m doing whatever I like today”. You can try to gently encourage them to get back on track, and you can set a good example, but never even insinuate that they aren’t doing a good job managing their diabetes. That’s not the path to a happy marriage!
Instead, learn to recognize the times where your spouse is just sick and tired of having diabetes and try to show them some extra love on those days. That’s all you can do and it usually works. Having diabetes will seem much less unmanageable for our spouse when you are cuddled up together watching a movie.
After living with a diabetic for over 20 years, my motto is “happy wife, happy life”. It has worked so far.
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