Hear from our experts

When one of you has it & both of you live with it,
who’s Diabetes is it?

Living, Loving & Sharing

Joe Solowiejczyk, RN, MSW, CDE Family therapist, Type 1 since 1961

Living with diabetes is definitely challenging: all the things one has to do every day to keep everything in balance – it’s exhausting! Managing it and managing to have a life - it’s a lot of work and it takes courage and determination to keep it going all by yourself.

And as wonderful as it is to have a life partner – a wife, a husband, boyfriend or girlfriend – to share your life with, it also takes some thought and work to “share” your diabetes with them. For most of us who have been managing it by ourselves for a long time, the idea of “letting someone else in” or helping us to manage it can be a bit frightening and we tend to put off having the conversation about it. Natural questions we might ask ourselves are “Will they accept me? Will they do as good a job as I can? Will they judge me and how I do, or don’t do things? Can I trust them to be there when I really need them? And will they ever fully understand what it’s like for me to have and live with diabetes?” Questions like this tend to stay unaddressed yet always come bubbling up to the surface when we make a decision to share our lives with another person. The relationship is not just “us,” it’s our diabetes too!

I’ve had Type 1 diabetes for 51 years, am not in a relationship at the moment, but have been in several serious ones over the years. These questions always come up for me and I know they always bring up fundamental questions of my ability to trust and share deeply personal issues with my partner. When I was first diagnosed at the age of 7, I was told that I would learn everything I needed to learn to be able to manage my diabetes by myself. What life has taught me over the years is that I may know enough to manage it all by myself but I don’t need to be by all by myself in order to manage it effectively! My “life lesson” has been to learn how to trust others, to trust that they will be there to help and support me in my daily challenge of living with diabetes, and that I don’t have to do it all alone. That sounds simple but for me and my life, it’s been quite a challenge! I’ve finally come to understand that doing it by yourself is lonely and that if you can make the stretch to trust a loved one to help, the rewards are enormous.

In opening yourself up to sharing your diabetes with a partner, consider the following points:

  1. In order for you to be able to trust that the other person is “there” for you regarding your diabetes, they really need to know about and be familiar and comfortable with the medical and daily management of your diabetes. A visit together to your diabetes educator can help make this happen
  2. It’s not just about knowing the medical stuff that’s important. It’s about being interested and curious about the emotional aspects of living with diabetes as well.
  3. It’s important to establish a dialogue and a sense of boundaries around issues of support. Without having an in-depth discussion of what it means for you to receive help (like when you have lows, what’s the best way for your partner to deliver help), it can lead to a lot of frustration, anger and resentment towards the person who’s trying to help. Having the discussion helps the other person understand where you’re coming from, what you’re experiencing and how they can be sensitive and helpful.
  4. And finally, it requires you, the person with diabetes, to realize that although you may think you have it under control all the time, your partner sees you at moments when you don’t! Like when you’re having a bad low; this can be very frightening for them to watch. Be sensitive to their needs as well, to their fears and concerns that you are actually taking care of yourself and be open to talking with them about these feelings when the need arises.

You can do it alone – but it’s very lonely! Although it takes a bit of work to make yourself vulnerable and open, most of us would say it’s definitely worth the effort! You’ll learn something about you and your partner that you didn’t know before. That knowledge will help deepen and strengthen your relationship in beautiful ways.