Diabetes and Close Relationships
With Valentine's Day fast approaching, your thoughts may be turning to your nearest and dearest. Have you considered how your diabetes is affecting your close relationships — with your spouse, partner, and/or those in your wider family network?
Diabetes can cause a great deal of anxiety — often a lot more in those around the person with diabetes rather than the person themselves. This is perhaps because while the person with diabetes is busy taking the lead with their diabetes self-care, those alongside them are left with nothing they can actually "do" — and no way to discharge this anxiety.
This anxiety can express itself in a variety of quite contrasting ways. The two most common are:
- feeling blamed or hassled by your family; or the opposite
- feeling isolated and/or unsupported by those close to you
You may feel that those close to you are observing you at every turn — checking what you are eating and how much attention you're paying to your medication and exercise regimes.
Perhaps they criticize you for being overweight, or berate your for not keeping good blood glucose control. Or maybe they seem to feel the need to "advise" you at all times — which can feel more like lecturing than helpful suggestions. Or perhaps they seem to tell everyone they meet that "He/she's a diabetic. They can't eat that," drawing everyone's attention to the ways in which you are "different," when all you ant to do is blend in. Or possibly the opposite is true and your loved ones completely ignore your diabetes, leaving you feeling alone and isolated without the help you would like to support yourself.
Whatever way diabetes is affecting your close relationships, here are my top tips to help you better manage.
1. Start talking.
For most people for whom diabetes is causing a strain on a relationship, the problem doesn't get talked about in an open and straightforward way. Rather, it becomes a source of arguments or resentments. The first step in making a positive change is therefore to have a frank and honest conversation and get things out in the open. If you and your loved one regularly argue about your diabetes, this may mean you need to think about what to say beforehand so it comes across as calmly as possible. Try stating what you are unhappy with in a matter of fact way, e.g. "When you..." (describe what they say or do) "...it makes me feel..." (insert emotion — upset, guilty, embarrassed, etc.). Make clear that you don't want to blame them. Rather that you realize they love you and are trying to help, but there might be more useful ways they can do so if you think about it together.
2. Tell them how to help you.
Be clear about what you really want and need from your partner. For example, perhaps they are nagging at you to test your blood glucose more, when what would really be helpful would be if they praised and encouraged you with a smile and hug when they do notice you test. Or perhaps they are berating you for your need to lose weight, when what would be really helpful would be if you could learn together how to prepare healthy meals, perhaps by researching some cookbooks or going to a class together.
3. Examine the part you are playing.
Are you taking responsibility for your diabetes self-care? Often those around you may see that you are "sticking your head in the sand" about your diabetes care and may feel at a loss to know what to do to help. Nagging or hassling you may be the only way they know how to wake you up to the problem. Perhaps you always say, "I'm fine" when asked about your diabetes, even if it's evident that all isn't fine. Out of love and worry, the person close to you wants to help you to change. By being honest with yourself and those around you about what you are struggling with, you can begin to take steps together to improve your diabetes health, avoiding the need for your loved one to resort to unhelpful nagging behavior.
4. Seek professional help.
If you have implemented the steps above and are still struggling — perhaps because it is difficult for one or both or you to keep calm or to see each other's point of view when talking about diabetes — seeing a family therapist or counselor can really help you have useful conversations. Often having a third, emotionally uninvolved person to listen and help you problem solve can really help you move forward together productively.
By following these steps above, both your close relationships and your relationship with diabetes will improve for the better. Now the only thing left to do is figure out how to spoil your loved one this Valentine's Day!
Dr. Jen Nash is a clinical psychologist who has lived with diabetes for more than 20 years. She runs www.PositiveDiabetes.com, an education, therapy and coaching service that supports people with type 1 and 2 to manage the emotional and psychological impact of day to day life with diabetes.
Read Dr. Nash's biography here.
NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.
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