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Family relationships and Type 1 diabetes

A diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes can affect the whole family. It’s important to listen to, and communicate with, all members of your family – especially any other children – and get help and support if you or anyone else needs it.

Sibling rivalry

While you’re getting to grips with your child’s diabetes, it’s easy to forget about the needs of your other children. But, they, too, will be affected by their sibling’s diagnosis. They may feel that their brother or sister is getting special treatment, worry that their sibling will get really sick or be scared that they’ll develop diabetes themselves.

Rivalry and jealousy are common in most families, and a child with diabetes can cause upset between siblings. In the early days, after diagnosis, it’s only natural for you to be anxious and focus your attention and care on your child with diabetes. But, regular hospital visits, attention to diet and everything else that goes with diabetes has a longer-term impact on all the family.

Advice for coping with sibling rivalry

  • Try to listen to both sides equally and be sensitive to their claims that it’s ‘not fair’.
  • Be clear about what you expect from each of them.
  • Try to give them the same amount of attention.
  • If you feel it’s appropriate, get siblings involved with diabetes management, so that they feel part of it.
  • Try not to put family life on hold.

Separated parents

It can be a challenge to manage a child’s diabetes when they go from one home to another. Whatever your feelings about your ex, the two of you need to work together to make sure your child’s diabetes is well managed.

  • making sure both of you learn about managing your child’s diabetes from your paediatric diabetes team – second-hand information can be confusing or inaccurate
  • how you’ll keep each other updated about any changes to your child’s treatment or routine
  • how you’ll involve new partners.

Lone parents

As a lone parent, you may have particular difficulties because all the pressures fall on you alone.

  • who you can call if you need help
  • who can help you in an emergency
  • who can support you when you’re struggling emotionally
  • who can babysit when you need time off
  • involving siblings in your child’s care, being careful not to give them too much responsibility.

Extended family

When your child is diagnosed with diabetes, it’s natural for grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc to be as upset and worried as you are. They may be in constant contact, asking for updates or how they can help – or they may leave you alone to concentrate on your child.

Advice for dealing with extended family:

  • Keep one person up to date. This person can then update everyone else: group texts and emails work well for this.
  • Ask for the help you need. Perhaps you’d like someone to look after your other children, do a bit of shopping for you or walk the dog? People often want to help, but don’t know what to do.
  • Think about the future. Your family will be living with Type 1 diabetes from now on, so how can your extended family best support you? If your child is used to staying over with relatives, it’s important that they still do so. If grandparents and other family members are worried about looking after them, try involving them in your child’s diabetes care. You could also bring them to clinic appointments to help them learn more about diabetes and ask questions for themselves. Most of all, be honest with them, tell them how you feel and ask them to help you keep your child’s life as normal as possible.

Is Type 1 diabetes hereditary? Will my other children get it?

Research has shown that Type 1 diabetes is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. If one family member has Type 1 diabetes, there’s a slightly increased risk of another family member developing it, too. But, many people diagnosed have no family history of diabetes. It’s natural to worry that your other children will also develop Type 1 diabetes, but try not to let this worry affect you too much. Talk to your diabetes team or contact theDiabetes UK Carelinefor support.

Diabetes support for you and your family

If you’d like some diabetes help, you can:

 

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Type 1 Diabetes and Your Relationship: How to Address Common Challenges

Managing type 1 diabetes can take a physical, emotional, and financial toll on your relationship, whether you’re dating, married, or in a long-term partnership. Although every relationship has challenges, there are some issues that can seem especially tricky when you have a chronic condition like type 1 diabetes.

A qualitative study published in March 2013 in Diabetes Care found that people with type 1 diabetes and their partners feel that the condition impacts their relationship, posing both emotional and interpersonal challenges — and that partner support is a vital source of support for those living with the condition.

If you find that your type 1 diabetes has taken a toll on your relationship, there are steps you can take to help reconnect with your partner and get back on track.

Common Relationship Challenges

Here are some common issues that people who have type 1 diabetes and their partners may face, as well as tips to help address these concerns and maintain a healthy relationship.

Lack of support Diabetes requires many daily management tasks. If your partner isn’t aware of what all those tasks are and why each is important, it can be difficult for them to support you, says Mark Heyman, PhD, a certified diabetes educator and the founder and director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health in Solana Beach, California. “I encourage people to educate their partner or have a healthcare team who can help educate their partner about each step in managing type 1 diabetes. Your partner needs to be able to offer support — not only when you aren’t feeling well, but also in the day-to-day,” he says. “That means support in making healthy choices when it comes to eating, exercise, and other activities. It can be really hard to manage type 1 diabetes when you feel like you’re all on your own.”

Feeling micromanaged On the other hand, you may sometimes feel like you’re receiving too much support. It may seem like your partner is constantly asking you about how you feel and what you ate, and monitoring your every move. “It usually comes from a place of caring and not always knowing how to help,” says Dr. Heyman. In those cases, it’s important to let your partner know what’s helpful for you and what’s not helpful, he says.

“For example, you might tell your partner, ‘It’s really not helpful for you to be looking at my blood sugar numbers all the time and commenting on them. What would be more helpful for me is if we could plan time this weekend to take a walk together or prepare a healthy meal,’” says Heyman. “That does two things: It helps you set boundaries with your partner around how they interact with you about your condition, and it also gives them a concrete way to help you manage type 1diabetes, which can help relieve some of the anxiety your partner may have,” he says.

Lack of spontaneity Because type 1 diabetes involves a lot of planning, it might feel like there isn’t enough spontaneity in your relationship. While it may feel counterintuitive, doing a little planning in advance can help you be spontaneous. “Having supplies packed and ready to go can help if a last-minute trip or fun activity comes up,” says Heyman. Keep extra insulin and anything else you might need in a bag, he suggests. “If you want to take off on a weekend road trip, it’s nice to know you can just grab that bag and have everything you need to stay healthy,” he says.

“If one of you would like to be more spontaneous, ask the other person, ‘What can we do together to make you more comfortable with that?’” he says. “You may be amazed at the ideas that can come about if one of you just asks the question.”

Intimacy challenges A study published in May 2018 in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that people who have type 1 diabetes may be at an increased risk of sexual disorders. Communication is key in helping with these issues, says Heyman. “You have to let your partner know how you’re feeling, just as in any relationship,” he says.

“Lots of things can impact the desire for intimacy. There are times when you just don’t feel well. Maybe there are fears about having low blood sugar while you’re being intimate,” he says. The more you can communicate about what you’re experiencing and what your partner may be able to do to help, the better. “Being able to talk about it may lead to increased intimacy; often communication can make you feel closer to your partner,” says Heyman.

Financial strain The cost of managing type 1 diabetes can vary, but according to the American Diabetes Association, people who have diabetes spend approximately $9,600 a year on diabetes-related medical costs. This may include anything from doctor visits to medications and supplies. These extra expenses can add stress to your relationship. Communicating and planning are key, says Heyman. “Have a really frank conversation about your financial health and what your goals are. How does diabetes impact this? How can we manage it?” he says.

Sometimes there can be resentment if one of you feels “stuck” in a job you don’t like because you can’t afford to lose your health insurance. Talk about the situation and brainstorm together, suggests Heyman. “Is there a solution that can be agreeable to everybody, and if not, can you find a compromise?” he says. Bottom line: Staying healthy is critical to living your best life.

Dealing with low blood sugar When you’re experiencing low blood sugar, you don’t always act like yourself, says Heyman. “You may become aggressive or defiant,” he says, which can be concerning, medically dangerous, and stressful. “It’s helpful for couples to set rules around how they’re going to deal with an episode of low blood sugar — before it happens,” he says.

Sometimes you may be in the middle of a low blood sugar episode and not realize it, or think you’re just fine and your blood sugar will correct itself, he says. Developing rules that are “non-negotiables” are a good idea.

“For example, if your partner thinks your blood sugar is low, agree that you’ll check it. If your partner sees that your blood sugar is low or if you’re exhibiting signs that it is, agree to take the snack they offer you without question,” he says. “Agreeing and sticking with rules like this can go a long way in easing tension and letting your partner know that their concerns are heard and you’re going to be okay,” says Heyman.

Find Support — for Both of You

Your partner needs to understand that sometimes you just don’t feel well. “High blood sugar doesn’t always feel good and low blood sugar is not only dangerous, it just doesn’t feel great,” says Heyman. “That can be a hard thing to communicate to people; diabetes can be a very invisible disease. Someone may look fine even if they’re not feeling well, and explaining what the different symptoms feel like can be challenging.”

Seeking social support, either in person or online, where you can get other couples’ perspectives on what these things are like and how they handle them, is a good idea, says Heyman. “Online communities are a great source of support,” he says. Beyond Type 1 and Type One Nation are two helpful resources for people with type 1 diabetes.

“Diabetes can be overwhelming and frustrating. You can experience lots of emotions that go along with that,” says Heyman. Having a partner you can count on and who can understand and empathize can go a long way.

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