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6 Ways to Support a Spouse With Diabetes

Experts and people who've been there offer tips on how to support a partner with diabetes -- without nagging.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by John A. Seibel, MD

When Gerri Weiss's husband, Michael, learned 22 years ago that he had type 1 diabetes, she faced what she calls one of the toughest challenge of her life: how to support her husband through a disease that often overwhelmed both of them.

With 21 million Americans now diagnosed with diabetes, Weiss has hardly been alone in her struggle. What are the best ways to support a spouse with diabetes?

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First, recognize that diabetes permeates daily life.

''When Mike was diagnosed, he kept thinking this disease had just happened to him, when, in fact, it had happened to our whole family,'' Weiss says.

The couple had two young children. ''All of a sudden, we had to eat meals at a certain time, and we had a busy life," Weiss says. "And we had to be aware that Daddy had mood swings sometimes.''

It's also frightening to think of a loved one developing diabetes-related complications from poorly controlled blood sugar, such as blindness, amputation, and kidney failure. When a partner with diabetes doesn't seem serious about managing the disease, a spouse may feel frustrated, even panicked.

But browbeating or criticizing usually backfires, says Weiss, who is director of organizational affairs at the University of Pittsburg Diabetes Institute. Her husband, Michael Weiss, chairs the American Diabetes Association's national board of directors.

Instead, as Weiss learned, there are better ways to create a healthy partnership. She and other experts offered WebMD these pointers for those trying to support a spouse with diabetes.

Diabetes Support Tip No. 1: Offer Help, but Don't Be the Diabetes Police

At first, when Weiss caught her husband sneaking junk food, she reminded him that it was off-limits. She asked him constantly about his blood sugar levels. ''It took some time before I realized that diabetes had not just changed our lifestyle, it had changed me,'' Weiss says. ''I became a nagging spouse.''

While it's tempting to hover, let your spouse decide what kind of help is welcome, Weiss says. Some people with diabetes will allow spouses ''nagging rights.'' Others won't.

It's also unrealistic to expect a spouse with diabetes to stay on top of the disease at all times. Says Weiss: ''For Mike, it's 24-7. He can't take a break from this disease -- ever. And I can.''

To cope, ''I think it's critical to talk with your spouse about what kind of diabetes support he or she needs from you -- and what you need from your spouse that will help you live with diabetes,'' Weiss says.

That may mean compromise. For example, the Weisses struggled over Michael's 6-10 daily blood glucose checks. She wanted to know the exact numbers. He resented the intrusion.

The couple finally struck a balance. ''I needed to know that he was OK. I was allowed to ask that, but I wasn't allowed to ask what his numbers were,'' she says. When to reveal a reading? His choice alone.

Martha Funnell, MS, RN, CDE, a clinical nurse specialist at the Michigan Diabetes and Research Training Center, agrees with the approach. ''As much as you love your spouse, ultimately, diabetes belongs to them.''

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