Living with Type 1 Diabetes

3 Tips for Navigating T1D in Marriage

When I first met my wife, she didn’t know much about diabetes. She quickly got a crash course.

A couple of weeks after we started dating, we were talking on the phone when my blood sugar crashed. Trying to keep up my end of the conversation got increasingly difficult as my brain became more deprived of glucose. At some point I accepted that this wasn’t going to get any better on its own and I was able to piece together a sentence explaining that I would have to call her back. She was thoroughly confused. When my coherence returned, I called her back and she got a crash course in diabetes. That was five years ago. Luckily she was, and is, very patient and we have been married for three and a half years.

Having a third wheel in our relationship hasn’t always been easy. As a psychologist who works with people who have diabetes, I hear a lot about the challenges diabetes brings to a relationship. I want to share with you how my wife and I try to navigate my diabetes. Please know that we are by no means perfect, but we have certainly come a long way since that day five years ago.

Low rules
Low blood sugars are by far the most difficult part of diabetes in our relationship. I can be stubborn sometimes and I’m certainly not immune from “I’m fine” syndrome. After a couple of scary lows, my wife and I agreed to a couple of basic rules: First, any time she thinks I’m low, she has full authority to tell me to check my blood sugar, and I will, without argument. Second, any time she puts something in front of me to treat a low I will eat or drink it, no questions asked. Agreeing ahead of time to do these simple things has made my wife a lot more comfortable and has made navigating lows much easier.

Always be prepared
From the countless times out when I go low and we nothing to treat it to the time on vacation when my pump broke and I didn’t have any Lantus or syringes, we’ve learned the hard way how important it is to be prepared with diabetes. I have made an effort to be better about keeping emergency supplies with me and my wife has started keeping extra supplies in her purse for me. This team approach has worked well, both for my health and for the health of our relationship.

Patience, patience, patience
As hard as we try not to let it happen, diabetes still affects our relationship. Dealing with diabetes in a relationship takes patience from both people. I am constantly amazed by how patient my wife is with me, but I have learned that for our relationship to work, I also have to be patient with myself, with diabetes, and with my wife. I know that when I get frustrated and impatient with diabetes, I’m not all that fun to be around and I’m not as kind as I could be with my wife when she is trying to help. I have to remind myself that she’s doing this because she loves me and wants the best for me.

The first years of marriage can be hard enough, but the difficulty level ramps up when diabetes is involved. We have found that with a little creativity and a lot of hard work, there are some things that can make navigating our relationship with each other easier, even if our third wheel is with us all the time.

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Mark Heyman is a Clinical Health Psychologist and the Director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH) in Solana Beach, CA. He has had Type 1 diabetes since 1999. Mark received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from The George Washington University and completed his clinical training at UCSD School of Medicine. He enjoys spending time with his wife, cooking and performing with his improv comedy team. 

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