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Keeping Love Healthy When You Have Diabetes
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When you have type 2 diabetes, whether you are dating or in a long-term relationship, your chronic condition doesn’t affect just you. It can also affect your partner.
That’s true of any chronic medical condition, says David Lam, MD, an assistant professor of medicine, endocrinology, diabetes, and bone disease at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. However, "diabetes may be somewhat unique in that everything you do on a daily basis can impact your blood sugar," he says. "What you eat, your stress level, how you sleep at night, your physical activity, can all impact your diabetes. It’s not like you can take a pill and forget about diabetes.”
The Toll of Diabetes on Your Relationship
People with chronic health conditions can experience a range of emotions, including fear, guilt, denial, and depression — all of which can affect your close relationships, says Carl Tishler, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Columbus, Ohio, and an adjunct associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
In some people, diabetes can also affect sexual function and desire, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Over time, diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves, including those in the penis, causing erectile dysfunction in men. Women with diabetes also can experience sexual dysfunction, such as vaginal dryness that makes intercourse painful. Changes in blood sugar levels can leave both men and women with diabetes feeling irritable and not in the mood for sex.
When you have diabetes and are in a relationship, communication is key, says Shelley Wishnick, RD, CDN, CDE, a clinical nutrition coordinator and diabetes educator at Mount Sinai Diabetes Center. “Having diabetes is nothing to be embarrassed about,” she says. Being open and honest with your partner about how you feel and what you must do to manage your diabetes will go a long way toward keeping your relationship strong, Wishnick says.
7 Tips for a Healthy Relationship
To maintain healthy relationships when you have diabetes, consider these suggestions:
Be a diabetes educator. “Explain some of the physical aspects of your diabetes that your partner may not understand,” Tishler says. Especially if you’ve recently started seeing someone, your partner may not know what it’s like to live with diabetes. Be up front and honest, but don’t be harsh. Tishler says, "You never want to slam someone over the head and say, ‘This is what I have, and you have to understand it.’”
Go to doctor’s appointments together. Hearing what your health care provider has to say firsthand can put you on the same page. Also, both of you will know what you’re dealing with and how to best handle it, Wishnick says.
Join a support group. Participating in a support group for people or family members with diabetes can be a valuable resource for both of you. It’s often helpful to hear that the challenges you face are not unique. Support groups are also a great place to exchange ideas on how to cope.
Find fun, active things to do together. Everyone needs regular physical activity, and exercise is particularly important for people with diabetes because it helps your body use insulin and lower your blood sugar. Ideally these activities are not food-related, Wishnick says. You might work in the yard together or take a couples’ dance class. Even going for a walk together after dinner can be beneficial.
Eat healthfully. A healthy diet for a person with diabetes and a person who doesn’t have diabetes can be virtually the same, Wishnick says. For easy reference, use the Plate Method: half your plate should be nonstarchy fresh or frozen vegetables; a quarter should be a lean source of protein such as fish, chicken, or turkey; and a quarter should be whole-grain, high-fiber carbohydrates. Also, be sure you’re getting healthy sources of unsaturated fats such as avocado, seeds, nuts, and low-fat dairy. And drink plenty of water, too. If you both follow a healthy diet, it will simplify meal planning and choosing restaurants.
Maintain a healthy weight. Losing weight if necessary and maintaining a healthy weight can help you feel better about yourself mentally and physically, Tishler says. If you feel better about yourself, you’re more open to sharing and being part of a healthy relationship. Also, maintaining a healthy weight can help you control your diabetes, Dr. Lam says.
Talk with your doctor. Treatments are available for sexual dysfunction in men and women, the ADA says. Not all sexual problems in people with diabetes are related to the condition, and your doctor can help you pinpoint the cause of your sexual issues. Talk with your doctor about any symptoms you might have and what your options for treatment are. They can include medication and other procedures.
Video: MinuteClinic on Health: Managing Diabetes
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