Your marriage can be a “secret weapon” that supports your efforts to take care of your diabetes, research shows. For instance, in one 2015 study of 129 people with type 2 diabetes, researchers from the University of California, Irvine, found that having a supportive spouse helped keep blood sugar from soaring to unhealthy levels in those whose diabetes was most affected by stress. And in a 2001 study from the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center of 78 people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, those who were the happiest with their marriage were also the most satisfied with the way they were handling their diabetes.
Your spouse only wants the best for you, of course. But too often, stress , worry, misunderstandings and even unintended sabotage – can get in the way. These strategies can help you get the support you need from your spouse and defuse tensions, so the two of you can work together to keep your diabetes under control:
#1. Share a goal that’s bigger than diabetes. Talk about important future dreams and goals you can reach if you’re both healthy. A shared vision can keep you both feeling inspired, according to a 2009 Pennsylvania State University study of 30 people with diabetes and their spouses. Many said that finding a motivation that was important to both of them kept them exercising, for example. “I have one goal in life and that is to have our 50th wedding anniversary,” one volunteer said, noting that the goal kept both partners exercising regularly. “So I do not care what happens in between but we have to get to that goal.” Another noted “Sometimes when I get discouraged and I do not feel like paying attention to my diet and exercise. Then I think of things like I want be here to see my first grandchild. I got to dance at my daughter's wedding and I hope to dance at my son's wedding.”
#2: Talk about diabetes together – and gather the information you both need. Good communication and useful information are important for the emotional and physical health of a person with diabetes and their spouse, according to the same Pennsylvania State University research project. Share your hopes and your worries with your spouse and encourage him or her to do the same. Your spouse may feel alone with his or her thoughts and feelings about your diabetes. As one woman with diabetes told the researchers, “I go to a diabetes support group . . . I have a place where I can go and talk. But I am concerned he has nobody to talk to except me.” Work together to gather up-to-date information about living with diabetes, too.
#3. Ask for what you need. The nonprofit Behavioral Diabetes Institute of San Diego, CA, recommends that people with diabetes talk honestly with their spouse about what will support them the most You might want help keeping certain foods out of the house, an exercise buddy, someone to talk with about your feelings, a cheer-leader as you stick with healthy portion sizes or even help remembering your medications.
#4. Dis-arm the “Diabetes Cops.” Your spouse may not realize he or she has crossed the line and become the “Diabetes Police.” Explain politely that taking care of your diabetes is your responsibility. Comments about what you eat, when you check your blood sugar or whether you’re working out can just make both of you feel stressed-out. In fact, nagging can lead to feelings of “diabetes distress” for both of you, and that’s counter-productive. In one eye-opening, 2015 University of Alberta study, distress caused by a nagging spouse made it harder for some people with diabetes to stick with a healthy diet.
#5. Say “thanks!” Your spouse isn’t perfect, but he or she has your best interests at heart. Little things can make a big difference, so remember to show your appreciation. As one woman with diabetes told the Penn State researchers, “I have to give my husband the credit for walking with me every night. I found that if I walk at night before I go to bed that is when it really matters (for blood sugar control).”
#6. Watch out for sabotage. Thirty percent of volunteers in a 2013 University of California study of 129 older adults with Type 2 diabetes said their spouse had tempted them with “forbidden” foods. As a result, they had a tougher time sticking with healthy eating. And, their blood sugar levels were twice as likely to be on the high side as people whose spouses weren’t sabotaging them. The researchers point out that food “sabotage” may stem from good intentions, like trying to include a spouse with diabetes in a family get-together or to cheer them up. If that happens to you, it’s time for a talk about how your spouse can really help you.