March 18, 2016

An expert shares advice on supporting a diabetic partner. It helps the healthier spouse, too.

Are you married to someone who has Type 2 diabetes? Turns out, you need to watch over your own health just as much as his. In a study published in BMC Medicine, researchers found that the spouses of people with type 2 diabetes are 26 percent more likely than spouses of people without diabetes to also develop type 2.

“Usually spouses lead similar lifestyles; for example, they may typically prepare and eat meals together,” says Liz Smith, RD, LDN, CDE, of Vanderbilt Diabetes. “One spouse may be doing the majority of grocery shopping and may be picking up foods that aren’t the most beneficial for a person with diabetes.”

Smith offers these five tips on how those with diabetes and their spouses can have healthier (and happier!) marriages.


1. Get educated.

Education is very important — it helps if a spouse or partner knows what diabetes is, what must be done to manage it and what to expect in the future. It is beneficial if spouses or family members attend medical appointments with diabetes patients so they can learn how to support their family members. Our clinic has four diabetes educators on staff — two nurses and two dietitians to meet the education needs of our patients. Maintaining a normal weight by following a healthy diet and participating in regular physical activity, as well as getting regular check-ups with your healthcare provider, are all important in prevention of diabetes. There are also other risk factors that are beyond our control, such as family history and age.

2. Don’t be the diabetes police.

View diabetes as collaborative — something to work on together. It’s not helpful to be the diabetes police, which comes across as annoying and can breed resentment and anger and which will end up affecting the relationship.

3. Be supportive over everything else.

Diabetes is a chronic illness, one that must be managed over the long term; support from a loved one will only help the person with diabetes. Support can be in the form of grocery shopping and meal preparation — purchasing only foods that have a good effect on the blood sugar and avoiding purchasing tempting foods.

4. Use exercise to bond.

Couples may choose to get their physical activity together such as taking a walk in the evenings or attending a fitness class together, which may lead to increased communication and closeness in the relationship.

5. Watch out for depression.

People with diabetes can be more prone to developing depression. It’s important to recognize this in your spouse and encourage your spouse/partner to do something he or she enjoys and helps with relaxation, like watching a funny movie, having a date night or playing with children. Also to know if the sad feelings or lack of self-care don’t improve, to encourage help from a mental-health professional.