How Having Diabetes Impacts Romantic Relationships
By Amber Clour
Wanting to learn more about the impact that diabetes can have on someone’s love life, we asked people with diabetes about their successes as well as heartbreaks. We were flooded with comments from people wanting to share their experiences.
A diabetes diagnosis undoubtedly impacts the person diagnosed, but it also impacts that person’s loved ones and romantic relationships. Many of us forget or maybe never realize how the people around us support, or don’t, our journey with this disease.
Wanting to learn more about the impact that diabetes can have on someone’s love life, I reached out to various people with diabetes, looking for stories of success as well as heartbreak. I was flooded with comments from people wanting to share their experiences.
I presented a few questions to the willing participants.
Has diabetes impacted your romantic relationship and how did it make you feel?
How did you and your partner address the challenges?
What strategies have you developed to deal with these situations?
What advice would you give to others struggling with similar challenges?
As someone who has never been married, I have often questioned whether my type 1 diabetes has been the reason why I’ve remained single. I’ve spent many hours in therapy discussing the impact diabetes has had on me, but until lately I have not spent much time considering how it has affected my relationships.
Kathlin Gordon from Virginia Beach, Virginia, shared this with me: “Diabetes is not only a burden on me, but also my partner. They’re forever in a position of being a safety net and caretaker because they are forced into that role. This unfortunate stress is an additional hurdle that is never easy in a relationship. It's hard to put energy into loving someone when your energy is spent on hating type 1 diabetes.”
Gordon’s statement breaks my heart partly because I know she is not alone in this mindset. Then you have someone like Craig Le Fevre from Boise, Idaho, who has been in two very different relationship scenarios. Le Fevre shared with me how his now ex-wife addressed his new diagnosis of diabetes when they were married.
“My ex-wife didn’t take much time or put any effort into learning about diabetes or how it was for me,” he said. “After about a year, I explained that in watching things come up with our kids' health and other situations I had seen her do research into what would be going on with them. This never happened with my diagnosis, and it made me feel like it wasn't important to her and that I was carrying the burden alone. It became a bit of a recurring issue. It wasn't what led to us getting divorced, but it contributed, being a consistent thing leading to feelings of not being cared for.”
Compassion is key to any healthy relationship, but Le Fevre said he felt he wore that burden alone. He hasn’t given up. Recently, he put himself back on the dating market.
“When meeting new people, just deciding when to reveal having diabetes can be stressful,” he said. “When wearing a pump, it's probably going to come out on the first date. As a relationship progresses, trying to decide what role that person is going to play in my management takes a lot of thought.”
In a new relationship for more than a year, Lefevre said his condition is still an aspect they are trying to work through together.
“Her interest in my diabetes from the start was a big deal,” Le Fevre said. “She gets up without asking when I have a late night low, even if it's just to sit there so I'm not alone. This kind gesture makes me feel good, but it doesn't mean it's without its stressors because it's causing her to lose sleep, and she worries about what level of intervention she should take.”
Le Fevre said that it has been challenging for both of them to find that balance of letting him care for himself and not leaving him to feel alone. “It’s almost a dance we are always doing,” he said, “so that is always an extra thing to navigate within our relationship. And then understanding how a high blood sugar, or a lack of sleep, can affect my mood later on.”
Le Fevre said he wants to be careful his diabetes doesn’t put too much stress on the relationship. “Diabetes is something that takes a great deal of mental work for me and permeates every aspect of my life,” he explains. “I worry that it's going to negatively impact a relationship and that I'm burdening the people who care about me. So it's an extra thing to think about and make me feel guilty at times.”
Le Fevre’s story is a reminder of the fine line our loved ones walk in our diabetes management and that we sometimes walk in trying to care for them back.
Karen Weinstock, of Westfield, New Jersey, offered this perspective: “Many glucose tabs have been ingested [for hypoglycemia] over my 30 years of marriage. Learning how to be a loving partner in the dance of diabetes has been a long road, but my husband has joined me as a willing partner. We have shared many of the challenges of life with type 1 diabetes together. Less judgment, and more willingness is my aim. Just being human with an open heart is our goal.”
As a nurse specializing in diabetes and a person living with type 1 diabetes, Patricia Daiker of Dallas, Texas,shared some enlightening insights on diabetes and relationships.
“When you live with diabetes, you have a unique set of emotions and beliefs that color your intimate relationships,” she said. “It’s not part of the standard diabetes education plan. It happens to each of us on some level, but it always happens. I am talking about grief and trauma.”
When you "get" diabetes you lose the life you "thought" you would have, Daiker said. That “ideal” life was supposed to be one without insulin, tech devices, constant vigilance, and the freedom to just go about your business without feeling like you might be causing some future problems. And with that grief, she said, "you get anger, frustrations, remorse, depression, and a whole slew of emotions.”
“When it comes to relationships, I think trauma is the elephant in the room,” Daiker continued. “As a nurse, trauma has meant car accidents, stab wounds, and other life-threatening injuries. Well, diabetes is a life-threatening injury that we face each day.”
This, and the sense of shame that sometimes accompanies it, can’t help but have a powerful impact on our relationships, she said.
Daiker shared a few suggestions on how to handle these emotions when it came to building strong relationships, either with a longtime partner or someone you’ve just started dating.
Realize you have experienced trauma and likely you have some shameful thoughts rolling around in there. It's not your fault and it's normal.
Challenge those shaming thoughts. Look at the situation as if you were a stranger. The distance can help you feel safe and gain perspective.
Embrace and welcome the part of you that is so afraid. Self-compassion is key to healing trauma and building positive relationships. We have to learn to love ourselves first, diabetes and all.
Be brave and speak your truth. You’ll find out quickly if this other person is someone you can trust and value.
Remember that "you" are the only "you" on the planet. You matter. You are worthy. You are loveable. Period. Diabetes is irrelevant.
These testimonials of people willing to share their love stories remind us that diabetes isn’t going anywhere. It’s a disease that impacts every aspect of our lives, including relationships. We need to love ourselves, face the trauma, shame and guilt to build soulful and loving relationships.