Tips for supporting a diabetic spouse

Much attention is focused on the lives of individuals living with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, especially on the physical, social and emotional issues of the disease. But, what about their spouses and partners? What about their needs and experiences of living with a loved one with diabetes?

William Polonsky, PhD, CDE of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute writes that most spouses and partners receive very little instruction or guidance in the ways of practically supporting a loved one. And, most spouses and partners want to help, but don't know how, according to DiabetesMine.

In an effort to understand what it's like to manage diabetes from the diabetic spouse's point of view, I asked William Trimble to share his story.

The Trimble FamilyWilliam and Stacey Trimble have only been married for six years, but they've known each other since high school. In 1991, Stacey was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 8 years old, and William says when he met her, diabetes was just a basic fact of her life.

"It really wasn't a big deal, just another part of the person I grew to know and love," says William.

Question 1. In my opinion, there are two types of support: the uninvolved spouse who doesn't know much about diabetes and is very much hands-off, and the 'diabetes police,' someone who is very involved in their partner's diabetes management. Can you tell me where you fall and why?

W.T. says. I am very involved with my wife's diabetes management. I wouldn't consider myself any form of police because she'll do as she pleases and no one can tell her otherwise. But, when we got married her disease quickly became our disease. I needed to be able to understand everything I could about it, and take care of her during a high, low, or any other variance that diabetes brings to the table.

We made sure I was just as educated as she was. When she took classes with her CDE, I took them too. When there was a decision to move away from MDI (multiple daily injections) and go to an insulin pump we talked about it together.

I have given injections, set up and inserted pump sites, checked sugars while she sleeps, gotten up for lows at 3 AM, weighed food, memorized key carb factors, and tried to be involved with anything else I could. You can't truly learn and understand something without being fully engrossed in the daily routines and processes.

As her boyfriend, fiancée, and now spouse, understanding diabetes is one of the most important things we do together. The simplest reason to why I chose to do all of this is because I love her.

Question 2. What advice would you offer someone whose spouse was recently diagnosed with diabetes? What tips can you offer?

W.T. says. The best advice I can give another spouse of a diabetic is to have them attend all of the trainings that their spouse is attending. Learning together from the very beginning can really benefit everyone involved.

Some other tips would be to always be understanding. Diabetes can be frustrating. Highs and lows always come when you really don't want them to, but getting upset gets you nowhere. Deal with the situation, because everything else can wait for the few minutes it may take to deliver insulin or treat the low.

Also, always be prepared for any situation. Pumps fail, glucose meters break, highs and lows happen -- always when you least expect them. Carry spare needles, extra test strips, glucose tabs, and any other supplies you think you would need in an emergency. We keep a small first-aid sized kit with us for just her spare supplies.

Question 3. Do you feel that her diabetes affects you (negatively, positively?) If so, how?

W.T. says. Honestly, We've been doing it together for so long that it has just become a way of life. She goes low and I run for some glucose tabs or juice. When we go out, we make sure we have all the supplies necessary for any scenario.

Regardless of the situation, diabetes doesn't run our lives, so long as we stay proactive, and do the best we can with what we have. There is no reason to look negatively on things that we can't change. Stay positive and hope for a cure.

Three practical ways to support your spouse with diabetes

To recap, William encourages spouses of individuals with diabetes to do the following:

  • Get educated. Attend training classes and doctor's appointments together.
  • Be understanding. Deal with the situation in the moment because diabetes can be frustrating and getting upset doesn't help.
  • Be prepared. Issues can occur at a moment's notice (e.g. broken insulin pump). Have spare supplies on hand and be ready for emergency situations.

Other ways to help and support your spouse include the following:

  1. Exercise together. Whether it is a long walk after dinner or a morning bike ride, exercising together is a great way to spend quality time together.
  2. Get support from outside organizations. Numerous organizations, including the Behavioral Diabetes Institute and DiabetesSisters have programs and materials available to to support diabetic spouses.
  3. Join the diabetes online community. You're not alone. There are numerous blogs, forums and websites dedicated to sharing stories about diabetes. Join the diabetes online community and make connections with other spouses and people living with diabetes.

William and Stacey are role models because they have figured out a way to manage the responsibilities of diabetes in their relationship. It's important to note however, that what works for them may not work for everyone.

When chronic illness is involved in a relationship or marriage, one of the most important tools for both partners is communication. Talk about how to manage diabetes, and work to find a style that best suits the two of you.

About Amy Stockwell Mercer

Amy Stockwell Mercer is the author of The Smart Woman's Guide to Diabetes, Authentic Advice on Everything from Eating to Dating and Motherhood, and the follow-up, The Smart Woman's Guide to Eating Right with Diabetes, What Will Work, will be published in the winter of 2012.

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