Dr Jen Nash, Clinical Psychologist, www.PositiveDiabetes.com

With Valentines Day fast approaching, your thoughts may be turning to your
nearest and dearest. Have you considered how your diabetes is affecting your
close relationships – with your spouse, partner and those in your wider family
network?

Diabetes can cause a great deal of anxiety – often a lot more in those
around the person with diabetes rather than the diabetic themselves. This is
perhaps because while the person with diabetes is busy taking the lead with
their diabetes self-care, those alongside them are left with nothing they can
actually ‘do’ – and no way to discharge this anxiety.

This anxiety can express itself in a variety of quite contrasting ways. The two
most common are:

feeling blamed or hassled by your family; or the opposite
feeling isolated and/or unsupported by those close to you

You may feel that those close to you are observing you at every turn –
checking what you are eating and how much attention you’re paying to your
medication and exercise regimes.

Perhaps they criticise you for being overweight, or berate you for not keeping
good blood glucose control, which can feel very blaming. Or maybe they
seem to feel the need to ‘advise’ you at all times – which can feel more like
lecturing than helpful suggestions. Or perhaps they seem to tell everyone
you meet that “He/She’s diabetic, they can’t eat that” drawing everyone’s
attention to the ways in which you are ‘different’, when all you want to do is
blend in like everyone else. Or possibly the opposite is true and your loved
ones completely ignore your diabetes, leaving you feeling alone and isolated
without the help you would like to support yourself.

Whatever way diabetes is affecting your close relationships, here are my top
tips to help you better manage.

1. Start talking

For most people for whom diabetes is causing a strain on a relationship the
problem doesn’t get talked about in an open and straightforward way, rather
it becomes a source of arguments or resentments. The first step in making a
positive change is therefore to have a frank and honest conversation and get
things out in the open. If you and your loved one regularly argue about your
diabetes, this may mean you need to think about what to say beforehand so
it comes across as calmly as possible. Try stating what you are unhappy with
in a matter of fact way (e.g. “When you…..describe what they say or do, “it
makes me feel…..insert emotion – upset, guilty, embarrassed etc”) Make
clear that you don’t want to blame them, rather that you realise they love you

and are trying to help, but there might be more useful ways they can do so if
you think about it together.

2. Tell them how to help you

Be clear about what you really want and need from your partner. For example,
perhaps they are nagging at you to test your blood glucose more, when what
would really be helpful would be if they praised and encouraged you with a
smile and a hug when they did notice you test. Or perhaps they are berating
you for your need to lose weight, when what would be really helpful would
be if you could learn together how to prepare healthy meals, perhaps by
researching some cookery books or going to a class together.

3. Examine the part you are playing

 

Are you taking responsibility for your diabetes self-care? Often those around
you may see that you are ‘sticking your head in the sand’ about your diabetes
care and may feel at a loss to know what to do to help. Nagging or hassling
you may be the only way they know how to wake you up to the problem.
Perhaps you always say, “I’m fine” when asked about your diabetes, even
if it’s evident that all isn’t fine. Out of love and worry the person close to you
wants to help you to change. By being honest with yourself and those around
you about what you are struggling with, you can begin to take steps together
to improve your diabetes health, avoiding the need for your loved one to
resort to unhelpful nagging behaviour.

4. Seek professional help

If you have implemented the steps above and are still struggling, perhaps
because it is difficult for one or both or you to keep calm or to see one
another’s point of view when talking about diabetes, seeing a family therapist
or counsellor can really help you have useful conversations. Often having a
third, emotionally uninvolved person to listen and help you problem solve can
really help you move forward together productively.

By following these steps above, both your relationships with those close to
you and your relationship with diabetes will improve for the better. Now the
only thing left to do is figure out how to spoil your loved one this Valentines
Day!