Sex, Diabetes and Relationships

Diabetes can affect all types of relationships
Diabetes can affect all types of relationships

Diabetes doesn't just affect you. It can impact each of your close relationships, including your relationship with your partner, family and friends, and can even affect your sexual relationships.

Have you often thought about how those around you help or hinder your diabetes care?

Diabetes can of course cause worry and anxiety for the person with diabetes; but the irony is it can often cause even more in those around the person with diabetes than for the diabetic themselves.

This is perhaps because while the person with diabetes is occupied engaging in their diabetes self-care, those alongside them may be feeling there is little they can actually do to help - and therefore have no way to rid themselves of this anxiety.

Be aware of anxiety

This anxiety can express itself in a variety of quite contrasting ways.

The two most common are: feeling isolated and/or unsupported by those close to you or the opposite; feeling blamed or hassled by your family.

But have you considered that it may be anxiety that is causing them to react in these potentially unhelpful ways.

Do you recognise your situation in any of the following scenarios?

  1. Perhaps they criticise you for being overweight, or berate you for not keeping good blood glucose control, which can feel very blaming.
  2. Or possibly the opposite is true and your loved ones completely ignore your diabetes, leaving you feeling alone and isolated without the help you would like to support yourself.
  3. Perhaps they seem to tell everyone you meet that “He/She’s diabetic, they can’t eat that” drawing everyone’s attention to the ways in which you are ‘different’, when all you want to do is blend in like everyone else.
  4. You may feel that those close to you are observing you at every turn – checking what you are eating and how much attention you’re paying to your medication and exercise regimes.
  5. Or maybe they seem to feel the need to ‘advise’ you at all times – which can feel more like lecturing than helpful suggestions.

Whatever way diabetes is affecting your close relationships, here are my top tips to help you manage better.

Communicate

The first step in making a positive change in your relationships is to have an honest and straightforward conversation with your loved one. In many situations in which diabetes is causing a strain on a relationship the problem doesn’t get talked about openly, and it therefore becomes a source of arguments or resentments.

If you and your loved one regularly argue about your diabetes, this may mean you need to think about what to say beforehand so it comes across as calmly as possible.

Arguments with your spouse can often lead to bad moods which then translate into the bedroom. If this happens, lack of a sexual relationship can become another issue between yourself and your partner.

Try stating what you are unhappy with in a matter of fact way. For example: “When you [describe what they say or do], “it makes me feel [insert emotion – upset, guilty, embarrassed etc]”)

Make clear that you realise they love you and are trying to help, but there might be more useful ways they can do so if you think about it together.

Ask for help

Be clear about what would be the best sort of help your loved one could give you. For example, perhaps they are criticising you for your need to lose weight, when what would be really helpful would be if you could learn how to prepare healthy meals together.

Or maybe they are nagging at you to test your blood glucose more, when what would really be helpful would be if they praised and encouraged you with a smile and a hug when they did notice you test.

Take personal responsibility

Are you being honest with yourself and taking personal responsibility for your diabetes self-care?

Often those around you may see that you are ‘sticking your head in the sand’ about your diabetes care and may feel at a loss to know what to do to help.

Nagging or hassling you may be the only way they know how to attempt to wake you up to the problem.

Perhaps you always say, “I’m fine” when asked about your diabetes, even if it’s evident that all isn’t fine.

By being honest with yourself and those around you about what you are struggling with, you can begin to take steps together to improve your diabetes health, avoiding the need for your loved one to resort to unhelpful nagging behaviour.

Seek professional help

If you have implemented the steps above and are still struggling, think about professional help. Often having a third, emotionally uninvolved person to listen and help you problem solve can really help you move forward together productively.

It may be challenging for one or both or you to keep calm or to see one another’s point of view when talking about diabetes, so seeing a family therapist or counsellor can really help you have useful conversations.

By implementing these steps, your most important relationships - with your diabetes and with your loved ones, will improve.

This is one of series of Psychology articles by Dr Jen Nash, a Clinical Psychologist who has been living with type 1 diabetes since childhood.