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
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
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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
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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