Diabetes Management for Two: Tips for Supporting your Significant Other

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Any two people in a relationship will tell you that navigating the ups and downs can be challenging at times, but open and honest communication is often helpful in ensuring both people have their needs met. For people with diabetes, establishing clear lines of communication about how they would like their significant other to be involved in their diabetes management in essential in creating a healthy and balanced relationship.

We sat down with Marilyn Ritholz, Ph.D., a Senior Psychologist at Joslin Diabetes Center, to discuss the best tactics for approaching and understanding your partner’s diabetes.

Speaking of Diabetes: Starting the conversation about your diabetes can sometimes be difficult – what are some tips on the best way to jumpstart the conversation with a partner or significant other?

Dr. Marilyn Ritholz: There are several ways to start the conversation with your partner that can help you express your desire to help with their diabetes management without overstepping:

  • Begin the conversation with your wish to understand your partner’s experience of the difficult demands of diabetes self-care, such as the need to focus on food intake, exercise, frequent taking of insulin/medication, treating low blood sugars and high blood sugars, and establishing a routine of self-care.
  • I often tell my patients to express to their partner that you understand his/her need to be independent and manage his/her health on their own. However, if you are wondering if there are any things you could do to help your loved one with diabetes, ask if you and your partner can approach diabetes self-care as a team. Explain that you wish to know more about how and when to treat low blood sugars, how to help with high blood sugars, the good and the bad of counting carbs and figuring out fat intake, understanding continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), and insulin pump use.
  • Mostly importantly, ensure that your main message indicates love and respect for the person with diabetes and does not include blame and shame.

SOD: Do you have any advice for someone who feels his or her partner is “nagging” him or her or is overstepping in his or her diabetes management?

MR: I tell my patients and their partners that they should both read a copy of “Besieged by the Diabetes Police” by William Polonsky, PhD, CDE. This article does an excellent job of explaining how becoming the “police” for your partner with diabetes is an ineffective way of supporting your partner of their diabetes self-management.

SOD: How can someone best support his or her partner with diabetes?

MR: It is natural to want to understand your partner’s experience of having and managing diabetes. One way to do this is to ask questions with empathy and interest. Another tactic is to try to establish a notion of a team where you are both working together in the interest of prioritizing good health and diabetes management.

It is important to remember to leave out any judgmental or blaming statements – you are not there to evaluate your partner with diabetes, and you definitely do not want to shame your loved one or make him/her feel as though he/she is not doing the right thing. Also, be aware of your own anxiety and how that might interfere with providing supportive and non-judgmental messages.

SOD:  Do you have any other advice for couples navigating diabetes management?

MR: I tell my patients to think of diabetes management as a partnership involving mutual respect. You are both working together to ensure good health for your family, and you both respect each other and want to learn and understand how to manage diabetes most effectively.

This partnership includes an attitude of active participation, openness and support, joint decision-making, lack of judgment towards your partner’s diabetes, and lastly, promoting each person’s self-efficacy. It is essential to encourage talking with the larger diabetes team including doctors, nurses, and diabetes educators and attending medical appointments with your partner who has diabetes. All in all, your goals are to gain increased knowledge and understanding of diabetes self-care as well as the most effective self-management strategies.

For any couple navigating diabetes management, they know it’s a constantly evolving process that has its difficulties, but establishing a team-based approach based on mutual understanding and support is an effective way to balance both diabetes and the relationship.

Looking to for ways to support your partner with diabetes? Consult with one of our Behavioral Health specialists or call 617-309-2440 to make an appointment.


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