If one partner has diabetes, and the other one does all the cooking, there could be a setup for communication problems. Some people (OK, some men) never learned to cook or think it’s not their job.
Well, cooking is an activity basic to living, and couples who share cooking may wind up healthier and happier. If you are not going to share cooking, find out how you can help the cook do a better job.
If you are taking insulin, a sulfonylurea, or a glinide drug, remember that meals need to be served on time. Otherwise your sugar might go too low, and hypos are another major source of family stress. Both partners should be aware of the importance of meal timing.
All of these discussions and changes test your communication skills. Learning to listen with an open mind and learning to say what you really mean will make your married life with diabetes better. Learn more about communication skills for couples at the relationship site Two of Us.
Sharing feelings is also important to making successful changes. It’s normal to be angry, sad, or scared about diabetes changing your life and your partner’s life. Sharing those feelings respectfully will help you deal with them and strengthen your connection.
Having diabetes puts unique strains on a relationship, but it can also bring you closer together if you learn how to work together. Here are some ways to do that.
Get educated. It helps if both partners know what diabetes is, what must be done to manage it, and what to expect in the future. Your health-care team can provide the information, but in some cases, the person with diabetes may have to encourage his partner to join in the learning. If this is true in your case, ask your partner to come to a medical visit with you. Ask your partner what questions he has, and decide together how to get the answers. In addition to presenting general information about diabetes, educate your partner about your own specific self-care plan. If you set achievable and realistic goals and share them with your partner, he may be able to help you work toward achieving them.
Communicate. Talk about what you both need from each other. Talk about what is helping and not helping. Try not to be critical of each other but to approach this conversation with an open, nondefensive attitude.
Listen. Ask your partner how he feels about the changes you are making, then listen to the response. Don’t interrupt, don’t argue, don’t try to convince him that he’s wrong; just listen, not just to the words, but also to the feelings that are being shared.
Set shared goals. If you work together, you will probably get closer. So set goals for your diabetes management, like walking together after dinner, and talk about how to achieve them. Also, set goals for your relationship, like improving communication, and talk about how to achieve that, like setting time aside to talk.
If you and your partner are not working toward the same goals, you will get frustrated and angry. If, for example, you are doing your best to prepare nutritious meals, but your partner who has diabetes eats a lot of junk food and then gets angry when you criticize, you know what I mean. A frank discussion about what each of you sees as the problem, what goals you have, and what you are each willing to do to work toward those goals is essential.
Make room for negative emotions. Dealing with diabetes can lead to depression, anger, guilt, and fear, for both the person with diabetes and his partner. Sometimes, people get persistently angry or depressed, causing fights and emotional outbursts. These feelings become barriers in your relationship.
While it helps to be positive, recognizing negative emotions is part of the coping process. By accepting and experiencing these emotions, you can come to terms with the emotional impact of diabetes. And by sharing these feelings with your partner, you will decrease conflict and build intimacy in your relationship.
Get support from others. Even though your partner may be your main source of support, allow yourself to turn to other family members and friends, too. Doing so decreases the stress on your partner and provides an opportunity for other people in your life to feel involved and important and to experience the gift of giving.
Commit to nurturing the relationship. If your relationship is in trouble, admit it, talk about it, and recommit to nurturing the relationship. You can set aside time to take a daily walk and talk, go out on a weekly “date,” find ways to be thoughtful of each other (such as offering flowers or doing your partner’s chores), kiss good night, and make an effort to express physical closeness.
There is no standard for a healthy, satisfying relationship, and there are no limits on ways to develop and maintain one. Think about what happens in your relationship, and come up with creative ways to make things better. If you need some help, see a couples therapist. Often, a few sessions with an impartial observer can help you clarify the issues and develop a strategy to address them.
If you and your partner think of diabetes as a challenge that can either help or hurt your relationship — and choose to focus on what you have, not what you don’t have — you can be grateful that there is someone in your life to walk with you on this road that includes diabetes toward a healthier and happier place.