3 Tips for Navigating Diabetes in Marriage

husband and wife

In love and living with diabetes… it can be tough! How much of your diabetes do you want to share with your S.O.? What role should he/she play, if any? My wife and I have been navigating type 1 diabetes (T1D) together for the past 6 years and we’ve learned so much. We’re by no means perfect, but I thought it would be great to share our story and some of the tools that have worked for us.

An early crash course …

A couple of weeks after my wife and I started dating, we were talking on the phone when my blood sugar crashed. Trying to keep up my end of the conversation got increasingly difficult as my brain became more deprived of glucose. At some point, I accepted that this wasn’t going to get any better on its own and I was able to piece together a sentence explaining that I would have to call her back. She was thoroughly confused. When my coherence returned, I called her back and she got a crash course in diabetes. That was six years ago. Luckily she was, and is, very patient and we have been married for four and a half years.

Love

As a psychologist who works with people who have diabetes, I hear a lot about the challenges diabetes brings to a relationship. And I know first-hand how hard it can me. Having a “third wheel” in my relationship hasn’t always been easy. But in a lot of ways, having to deal with diabetes together has been really beneficial to our relationship. Here are some strategies that have worked for us:

sugar cube and spoon for hypoglycemia1. Low rules

Low blood sugars are by far the most difficult part of diabetes in our relationship. I can be stubborn sometimes and I’m certainly not immune from “I’m fine” syndrome. After a couple of scary lows, my wife and I agreed to a couple of basic rules: First, any time she thinks I’m low, she has full authority to tell me to check my blood sugar, and I will, without argument. Second, any time she puts something in front of me to treat a low I will eat or drink it, no questions asked. Agreeing ahead of time to do these simple things has made my wife a lot more comfortable and has made navigating lows much easier.

2. Always be prepared

From the countless times out when I go low with nothing to treat it to the time on vacation when my pump broke and I didn’t have any Lantus or syringes, we’ve learned the hard way how important it is to be prepared with diabetes. I have made an effort to be better about keeping emergency supplies with me and my wife has started keeping extra supplies in her purse for me. This team approach has worked well, both for my health and for the health of our relationship.

3. Patience, patience, patience

As hard as we try not to let it happen, diabetes still affects our relationship. Dealing with diabetes in a relationship takes patience from both people. I am constantly amazed by how patient my wife is with me, but I have learned that for our relationship to work, I also have to be patient with myself, with diabetes, and with my wife. I know that when I get frustrated and impatient with diabetes, I’m not all that fun to be around and I’m not as kind as I could be with my wife when she is trying to help. I have to remind myself that she’s doing this because she loves me and wants the best for me.

A Little Creativity & A Lot of Hard work

The first years of marriage are notoriously tough, and the difficulty level definitely ramps up when diabetes is involved! But with a little creativity and a lot of hard work, my wife and I have found that we can navigate not only diabetes, but all of our stresses, much easier. As frustrating as it can be to always have a “third wheel” around, it’s definitely helped us grow closer and understand each other better.


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Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE
Mark Heyman, PhD, CDE

Dr. Mark Heyman is a Clinical Psychologist and Certified Diabetes Educator, with expertise in the emotional and behavioral aspects of diabetes, including changes that improve physical and mental health outcomes in people with diabetes. When Mark was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1999, he was frustrated by the lack of resources available to help people navigate the behavioral and emotional challenges of living with the disease. As a psychologist and CDE, Mark now uses his knowledge and experience to tackle the complexities associated with diabetes. Mark developed and currently leads the One Drop | Experts program. He received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from The George Washington University and completed his psychology internship and post-doctoral fellowship at the UCSD School of Medicine. Mark holds an appointment as a voluntary Assistant Clinical Professor in the UCSD Department of Psychiatry. In his spare time, Mark can be found performing with his improvisational comedy team *Inside Joke*. Find Mark on Twitter: @DiabeticPsych