By Elisabeth Almekinder, RN, CDE
If you or someone you love has diabetes, you may wonder how to keep it from hurting your relationship. There's no doubt it will affect certain aspects of your relationship, but there are ways to keep those effects positive.
Use "I" messages
For starters, check your communication skills. Do you often place blame on others or come off like the inquisition? Try using "I" messages instead of "you" messages. For example, if your partner has diabetes, you may say, "I feel that you may not be checking your blood sugar levels, and that worries me," instead of saying, "You never check your blood sugar."
If you have diabetes, you might say, "I feel that you are watching what I eat, and I feel nervous."
These "I" messages help start a constructive conversation. They take blame off the other person and show you're looking for a solution.
Check your "sugar shaming" tendency
If you are the partner of a person with diabetes, don't fall into the "sugar shaming" trap. Don't always point out that your partner may have had too many carbohydrates. Chances are, your partner knows what he or she has eaten and has a hefty heaping of sugar shame without you adding to it.
Offer support without being overbearing
A partner with diabetes needs your support, so offering wanted assistance is great. However, going overboard can be stifling. Use open communication skills to determine how you can help. Ask things like, "May I go to the grocery store for you and get some healthy snacks to have in the house?" or, "Would you like to take a walk with me?" Avoid doing everything for the person with diabetes. Your partner is in charge of his or her own diabetes management.
Seek help for sexual problems
Diabetes can take a toll on sexual health. It can contribute to vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction, and it's important to talk about these issues. Let your partner know that it is your chronic illness of diabetes that is causing your sexual problem, not a loss of desire.
Do not ignore the problems. Talk to your health care professional about any diabetes-related issues. You can get an evaluation and treatment. There are many treatments for dryness and several medications to combat erectile dysfunction. Penile implants are available for severe cases of erectile dysfunction.
Remember that sex is only part of a healthy relationship—but it may be an important part. Communicate clearly with your partner and your health care professional to keep your sex life healthy.
Encourage healthy behaviors
Whenever possible, manage your behaviors to support your partner. For example, if your partner has diabetes, don't eat candy in front of him or keep it in bowls around the house. Instead, you might stop at the farmers market after work and bring home some healthy vegetables, and stock the kitchen with lean meats, whole grains, fresh produce and low-fat dairy products.
Instead of promoting a couch-potato lifestyle, try motivating each other to get up and move more. Join a gym together, take a walk or try a new activity that may be enjoyable to both of you. Make exercise part of your day by being active together.
It's easier to exercise when you motivate each other, and it will give you some time to spend together doing healthy activities. This can open communication and build bonds over time.
Avoid financial strain
Many relationships have financial strain, and money problems tend to cause arguments. Diabetes can increase health costs and financial problems. Explore avenues to decrease your financial burden. Although there are threats to coverage under the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, utilize those programs while they're available.
If you can't afford your medication, look into financial assistance from the drug company or ask your health care provider if there are coupons available to save you money. Senior centers often have prescription drug programs, as do some doctors' offices and rural health care centers. A federally qualified health center may be able to offer you discounted services. Other avenues include discount drug cards, supplemental insurance policies and Internet fundraising avenues like Gofundme pages, along with churches and organizations that offer indigent funds and may pay for medications.
A social worker, often available at your health department or Department of Social Services, can help you find resources and explore avenues for financial assistance.
If your communication with your partner is suffering due to diabetes, it could be time to seek marriage or couples counseling. A therapist may identify patterns in your relationship that you have overlooked and offer insight into effective and positive ways to communicate.
Ask around for a good therapist, and make an initial appointment to see if you and your partner will relate well to the therapist. Therapists are all different, and you should find one to whom both you and your partner feel comfortable opening up.
Having a chronic illness such as diabetes is never easy, but with good, honest communication, you can be happy in your relationship.
Author Elisabeth Almekinder, RN, BA, CDE, is a Public Health Nurse II and Health Educator in the Pender County Health Department in North Carolina and is a team member at TheDiabetesCouncil.com.