Diabetes is a 24/7 job. The job is only made easier by a comprehensive support system. For spouses and partners of people living with diabetes, knowing how to be supportive is not always obvious. Some days it means speaking up, while on other days being supportive means keeping quiet.
A recent workshop at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center entitled “Loving someone with type 1 diabetes: What role do you play in your loved one’s care?” explored the challenges faced by spouses and partners of people living with diabetes.
Led by Berrie Center educators Courtney Melrose, MPH, RDN, CDE and Kelly Gumpel, RDN, CDN, CDE, the workshop covered a few basics, but also the emotional components of having a spouse or partner with diabetes. Here are a few questions from the participants:
“I want to help and be more supportive. But, I don’t want to be annoying or upset my partner. How can I be most helpful?”
“Choose a low stress time to talk to your loved ones about how you can be most helpful,” said Courtney. “For some, being helpful means attending a doctor’s appointment with a spouse or partner, or assisting with pump site changes. For others it could mean making sure the fridge is stocked with healthy foods. Open communication is key.”
Added Kelly, “No one wants to be told what they should and should not eat. Now, that is annoying. Find a way to make living with diabetes a team effort.”
“How do I handle it when my wife eats high carb foods when I know her sugars are high? Should I bring it up with her?”
While opinions varied, the educators suggested addressing it at another time. “Timing is everything. You don’t want to make your spouse or partner feel ashamed or resentful,” said Kelly. “In this situation it is best to talk about it after the fact, and have a strategy going forward. Maybe next time, you both wait to eat until her insulin has a chance to work.”
"Does having diabetes get easier over time?"
“Challenges exist whether a person has lived with diabetes for five months or 40 years. Individual needs will change over time, and the best way to be a supportive spouse or partner is to be sensitive to that,” said Courtney. “Check in by asking questions, listen, and don’t judge!”
Courtney and Kelly are offering this workshop again–Thursday, September 29 and Tuesday, November 15 at the Berrie Center. The workshop is designed for spouses and partners of people living with type 1 diabetes. It is an open format that allows people to ask questions and to express concerns. Past participants are encouraged to return for continuing education and support.
Courtney and Kelly Do’s and Don’ts for being a supportive spouse or partner
Realize and appreciate that diabetes is hard work
Offer love and encouragement
Make an effort to understand their diabetes from their own personal perspective and join them in making diet or lifestyle changes
Recognize that control of diabetes will never be “perfect”
Be sensitive during stressful times (e.g. travel, starting a new job, moving)
Ask how you can be helpful and supportive
Assume they’ve done something wrong to make their blood sugar high or low
Tell them horror stories about diabetes
Fixate on their diabetes, but also don’t abandon them with it either
Be the food police or offer unsolicited advice about their eating or other aspects of diabetes
Peek or comment on their blood sugar without asking them first
Look horrified if they check their blood sugar or give an injection