In Sickness and in Health: I Have Diabetes.
A week or two ago, I received a message from a reader asking about the influence diabetes has on my marriage. I took to Facebook to get some broader feedback, but the question forced me to drop into the weeds to see how my diabetes touches my marriage. This will be part one of a two part post, with today’s focus on the people in a relationship who have diabetes.
How does diabetes affect marriage?
That’s a big question.
Like many things in a marriage, diabetes is a big deal some days, not on others. Ebb and flow and all that crap. But the main takeaway is that once Chris and I were married, diabetes became “his,” too. That is a strange paradigm shift because diabetes was mine for many years.
Diabetes put a noted strain on my pregnancies, and this became a family issue. The location and number of my medical specialists and the frequent visits to them became a priority like no other. Worries about my growing children were directly tied to my diabetes management, and this was a concern that Chris and I both shared. That, and I rode my blood sugars low a lot of the time during my pregnancies, which caused extra worry for Chris (like the time he came home when I was pregnant with Birdy, sitting on a stool and eating a fistful of glucose tabs, announcing through a mouthful that I was 29 mg/dL).
And what I do for work orbits pretty tightly around diabetes, as well. Most of my writing gigs are diabetes-related, as are the majority of my speaking engagements. This makes diabetes come up in oddly detached ways during conversations with my husband, as though I work at a bank – a bankreas – when in fact my job and my disease are tightly intertwined.
Holly saw my request on Facebook for diabetes and marriage feedback and offered her take. “It took me awhile to realize that my diabetes was no longer my own anymore. At first, I didn’t want my husband to help or know much about it because I thought of it as just my disease. But it’s not. It’s just as much his. He play a less significant role as far as managing it, but we are here to take care of each other and that involves him taking of my diabetes. He brings me juice in the middle of the night, lets me sit and zone out during a low while he’s taking care of the girls, and is always understanding when diabetes affects my mood (I refuse to admit it but he gracefully doesn’t mention it).”
Paige is not married, but in a long-term committed relationship, and had this to say: “Diabetes is the trouble maker in my partnership. He chose me, Henry Jekyll, but couldn’t know up front that he’d also get out-of-range Edward Hyde. Because of diabetes, I am a living dichotomy: Both the person he loves AND a person he doesn’t recognize. On the other hand, it gives us a common passion and common problem to solve. So, it’s trouble. But trouble has it’s role in every relationship.”
Some couples keep diabetes at arm’s length. In my house, diabetes is not a big topic of discussion. It rolls around on the peripheral. Yes, it absolutely comes up at times when I have to remind Chris that I run out of energy at times, or when I vent about feeling burnt out and overwhelmed, or when we talk about medical insurance coverage. But I am definitely not the type to hand over my management for a day, and my husband does not my site changes or ask what my blood sugar is. I am not comfortable giving that much control to someone else, preferring to keep diabetes details to myself unless they need to be shared. (I share CGM data but he’s only notified for lows. We talked about it.)
“Aged 25 and married 10 months later, [diabetes has] not affected marriage in any way at all,” shared Chris, online known as Grumpy Pumper. “My wife plays zero role in my management. She knew me well enough to know I do everything on my own and I’d never let it impact her or the kids when we had them. I’m away all week, every week now for almost a year with work and I don’t share CGM data with her. I don’t feel the need to. Basically I’m a bit of a cave man, I guess.”
The hands-off theme rang true for Scott, as well. Scott said, “I appreciate that my wife is pretty hands-off when it comes to diabetes in our marriage. I pretty much take care of all of the predictable/scheduled stuff (doctor appointments, prescriptions, bills) — I even do the majority of the cooking (though D is not the reason for that). Even for unexpected stuff (lows), I’m mostly self sufficient – treating it myself, but she’ll be patient if I need time before heading out the door to do something. She will check in to be sure I’m OK and will offer help when needed. Rarely do I ask for assistance. But overall, she doesn’t involve herself in it on a daily (or even weekly) basis — and I prefer it that way. But I know she’s there for me when I do need her.”
Living with a chronic illness can add a lot of perspective to a relationship, and plenty of the feedback I received was about how diabetes changes certain parts of a marriage for the better, and for the stressful.
Karen is married to someone who does not have diabetes, but whose father did have type 1. “I believe diabetes adds depth and dimension to a marriage. I had T1D for 21 years and was married for 10 years before diagnosis… and I had my two kids before it came along. The strange part is that my husbands father had T1D, so my diagnosis brought with it panic and fear as my husband remembered all the emergencies and challenges of living with T1D in the 50’s and 60’s. We actually did some marriage counseling around this that helped tremendously.”
Sarah has diabetes and her husband does not, but says that diabetes has brought focus on some nice, little things. “It’s made me appreciate my husband as my life partner. It’s the little things … whether always keeping a 20oz regular coke in the fridge for lows, or buying Diet Coke in a can (the go to drink when my blood sugar is high)… or helping our son with whatever needs to be done while I watch from the sidelines as I treat a low. He also runs rough shot on the little man when my blood sugar is high and I can’t stand to be touched.”
Kay has type 1 diabetes and likes to do the worm (stay with me – it’s relevant). “I try to live my life with diabetes in the background and I would say that it’s the same in our marriage. For example, at work everyone knows I have diabetes, but they also know that there are a million other things about me. Like I’m training for a marathon later this month, I like to do the worm when I’ve had a little too much to drink, and I have less than a year left of NP school. Again, they’re able to help if I need anything, but it’s never the focus. I would definitely say it’s the same in our marriage. I think the answers you get to this will vary a lot based on personality and how public people are with their diabetes and sharing parts of their life in general. I look at diabetes as part of my life and just try deal with it without getting too worked up over anything, 99% of the time, while others share high or low blood sugars, Dexcom pictures, and various other diabetes posts.”
And I’ll chime back in as an over-sharer (hi, diabetes blog) online but more private about diabetes in the general course of my life. I think the diabetes community is where I process the majority of my diabetes emotions, with the most personal discussions still happening at home.
But sometimes discussions don’t happen, and I think it’s because diabetes can be scary to acknowledge in full. A reader sent in an anonymous perspective about how her husband responds to diabetes, and it really resonated for me: “He thinks I don’t see it, but in the panicked fleeting glances between eye blinks while I’m checking my blood sugar or drawing up insulin or just talking about a possible complication down the road, I can see his brain doing the math of how many years we have left together and how many he may have to spend alone.”
“Having a partner has shown me how much I have shouldered alone for so long,” shared Fatima, who had type 1. “With any single instance of help, of which my husband provides plenty, I find myself taking a breath of relief that I’m not doing this alone anymore. It’s both extremely heavy on my heart in recognizing how devastating diabetes is, and equally uplifting to my spirit to know I have someone who cares and worries for me more than I think I worry for myself. My only worry ends up being that my husband might feel more helpless than I do when things get difficult – and that is hard to watch, but demonstrates love in a way that I don’t think living without a health condition could.”
I agree with Fatima on that one. Despite the heaviness that diabetes can bring, it puts even the most trying moments into a very healthy perspective. It’s not always easy to manage and I’m terrible at being consistently upbeat about life with this disease, but as far as its influence on my marriage, it is a drumbeat in the background, louder on some days, barely heard on others, but at least its rhythm is something you can still dance to.
Tune in tomorrow for perspectives on diabetes and marriage from people who married into diabetes. And thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts. <3