Living with a diabetic: what place for the partner?

Balanced meals, use of medication or insulin injections, control of blood sugar levels… Diabetes requires a more or less restrictive set of rules to avoid complications. When it is poorly balanced, it can also cause discomfort due to hypo or hyperglycaemia. A painful situation to live through for the people affected but also for those around them.

The spouse, in particular, does not always know what attitude to adopt to motivate the person with diabetes to follow his or her treatments, to deal with possible emergencies or to show support without being intrusive… He may sometimes feel left out or, on the contrary, overworked. How to find your place?

Diabetes, a difficult daily life for the partner too

There are different situations depending on the type of diabetes and the patient’s personality, observes Dr Clara Bouché 1, endocrinologist-diabetologist, a specialist in the patient’s therapeutic education, but the disease requires certain adaptations that affect the daily life of the patient and his entourage.“Insulin-dependent diabetes (type 1 diabetes) is the most restrictive since people with diabetes must take into account all their intakes (diet) and expenses (physical activity) in sugars, measure blood sugar concentration (blood sugar) and self-inject insulin several times a day.

Finding a doctor capable of accompanying both the person with diabetes and the partner is essential. On DoctorAnyTime, you’ll find all the doctors available in your region.

Diabetes requires balanced meals

Dr. Bouché explains:”The rhythm and composition of the meals leave little room for the unexpected. To help the diabetic person, these meals must nevertheless remain moments of sharing and conviviality, which forces the other members of the family to follow the same rules…” Among diabetics, some people can absolutely not skip meals, do honour to dessert or console themselves with an orgy of chocolates… Might as well not tempt them.

The anguish and irritability of the diabetic weighs on the couple

Like any chronic disease, diabetes affects self-image. The loss of the ideal of health can be difficult to live with and a source of anxiety, sustained by the uncertainties and mandatory controls related to blood sugar levels. Norbert Zerah, psychologist, explains in one of his articles:”Whether he is in a hyperglycemic or hypoglycemic slope, the diabetic fears an imbalance caused by a lack of sugar or its rise. This anxiety may cause other behavioural problems (depression, somatization, domestic violence, irritability, etc.). 2.

Sexual disorders due to diabetes

Diabetes affects sexuality, not only because of its psychological repercussions but also because of physical disorders, which are favoured by its age and blood sugar imbalances. “Excess sugar in the blood damages small blood vessels and, sometimes, nerve endings with consequences on libido,” confirms Dr. Bouché. Men, in particular, can suffer from erectile dysfunction and ejaculation. Women are reported to be more affected by fungal infections and vaginal dryness that can make sexual intercourse unpleasant. 3.

To better understand the diabetic discomforts associated with hypoglycemia

These elements allow us to understand some of the difficulties encountered within the couple. However, when spouses of diabetics interact, especially on Internet forums, they seem to be more concerned about hypoglycemia. An exhausted wife confides that she has difficulty with her husband’s seizures because he becomes violent 4. On his blog, Norbert Zerat notes that aggressiveness can have several origins 5. When it is related to lack of sugar (hypoglycemia), it is often preceded by warning signs such as agitation.

Another woman fears that her partner will hurt herself or her during a seizure because he is managing and trying to get up even though he is unconscious 6. Dr. Bouché explains:”Normally, the diabetic patient perceives the first signs of hypoglycemia, linked to the release of adrenaline by the body (stress hormone): he is hungry, nervous or anxious. He may also have palpitations, tremors… Secondly, if the hypoglycemia is not corrected, other signs appear such as dizziness, speech disorders or confusion.

However, when hypoglycemia has been too frequent or prolonged, the body tends to get used to it and no longer releases adrenaline. “Signs of brain suffering appear directly, the diabetologist continues, and may lead to unconsciousness or even a coma, but the person is unaware of their condition and may even refuse to take sugar. It’s very distressing for the people around you who feel helpless.”

When sleeping, the diabetic person does not perceive the first signs of hypoglycemia either. A man explains that his partner has already experienced several nocturnal hypoglycemic comas with convulsions that are of great concern to him 4. “This “psychosis” of his hypoglycemia ruins my life (almost continuous nervousness, dark thoughts, sleep disorders…) and, by extension, compromises our relationship since we can no longer talk”. 4

Learn about diabetes, talk… and get rid of guilt!

A better understanding of diabetes, diet, carbohydrate calculations or insulin units can be reassuring. Dr. Bouché regularly invites spouses to come to consultations, especially when the couple is new. “This makes it possible to dispel certain preconceived ideas and to respond to anxieties about the risks of transmission when there is a desire for a child. “Some patients come spontaneously as a couple. Others would like their partner to be more interested, but he doesn’t want to do this. Finally, there are those who prefer to”manage” alone, more or less seriously.

In any case, diabetes should not become a taboo subject for the couple. “Everyone must be able to express their feelings and expectations in order to find the right balance for both,” the doctor encourages. At a minimum, she advises to know how to respond to emergencies: ” If the hypoglycemic discomfort leads to a loss of consciousness, the spouse must know who to notify or be able to inject glucagon himself”.

Out of love and because he or she also suffers the consequences of diabetes imbalances, the spouse may tend to “watch” the person with diabetes by insisting that he or she make medical appointments, by counting carbohydrates for him or her, by asking for more blood sugar control… If the latter does not follow the advice, he feels unable to help and feels guilty. For Dr. Bouché, you shouldn’t feel responsible: The people around you can be available and facilitate good behaviour, but changes are impossible to impose. It’s up to the patient to take care of himself.” Internet associations and forums help to make people feel less alone.