Relationship experts help you navigate sticky situations you may encounter while living with diabetes.
Along with a diagnosis of diabetes come a few unexpected adjustments—things like counting carbs, checking blood sugar and taking your meds. But diabetes can also affect your relationships with friends, family, even your spouse. Here, relationship experts help you navigate sticky situations you may encounter while living with diabetes.
Challenge: “I feel like a burden to my family.”
Being diagnosed with a serious illness is bound to affect the entire family—they’re probably worried about your health: Is Mom going to die? And how your diagnosis will change their lives: Wait, does this mean no more cookies in the pantry? Or soda?
Solution: You know the saying: “Perception is reality.” So if you act like a burden, you may well be perceived as one. What to do? Instead of apologizing for having to watch what you eat, check your blood sugar and be more vigilant about almost everything, reframe the situation for yourself and your brood: “Guys, thanks for understanding what I have to do to manage my diabetes. But since it really comes down to making healthier choices, I thought we all could try it. I’m stocking the fridge with fruits, veggies and whole grains, so help yourselves.” That way, you’ll be turning your personal challenge into a wellness opportunity for the whole family.
Challenge: “A minor mishap can make me snap.”
Take your usual stress level, multiply it by the challenges of coping with a chronic disease, and something as inconsequential as finding your husband’s socks on the floor—again!—can send you right over the edge.
“When you’re overwhelmed, snapping’s unfortunate, but expected. Anyone can regress and have a tantrum, even without a serious disease,” says Jennifer Freed, PhD, a marriage and family therapist in Santa Barbara, CA. Still, you can’t blame loved ones for being annoyed if you’re lashing out at them for no good reason.
Solution: If you’re becoming known for your quick temper, consider using your glucose monitor more often—because irritability is often a symptom of low blood sugar levels, keeping them stable can help fend off “snap attacks.” Also, try keeping tabs on your tension levels. Ask yourself: On a scale of 0 to 10, how stressed am I? advises psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.
The trick, she says, is taking action when your stress level jumps past 5: “Take a deep breath,” suggests Lombardo. “It reduces your stress by literally changing the physiology of your body.” What if you lose it anyway? Acknowledge it! Say, “I’m sorry for getting angry—it wasn’t your fault and you don’t deserve it. I’m trying to control my temper.”
Challenge: “My partner’s not interested in sex.”
Sexual problems, like erectile dysfunction (ED), often crop up with diabetes because the disease can deaden nerve endings and damage blood vessels needed for arousal and orgasm. In fact, men with diabetes are twice as likely to have erection problems. If you’ve been having difficulty in the bedroom, it’s possible your wife is avoiding sex to spare you the embarrassment of not being able to make love together as you once did.
Solution: First, talk to your partner. Say, “My ED is just the diabetes, not a reflection of my attraction to you. Let’s figure out how we can still be intimate and sexual together.” Then, go have a candid conversation with your doctor or diabetes educator. In the age of medically approved erection enhancers that run the gamut from medications to injection therapy, erection pumps, even penile prostheses, you can have diabetes and make love, too. You can also expand your definition of sex: “Sexuality is so much more than our genitals,” says Freed.