Diabetes, Third Wheels and the Importance of a Curiosity Hat

Emotional Well-Being

Diabetes, Third Wheels and the Importance of a Curiosity Hat

As a therapist, one of the biggest reservations I hear from PWD (People With Diabetes) around telling their partner what it’s really like to live with a chronic medical condition is, “I don’t want to burden my loved one with my disease.” To be fair, diabetes can totally feel like a third wheel. But what lands people in my office more often than anything for couples’ counseling is the partner’s concern for the PWD’s emotional health. As in, not that they’re bugged by the necessity to stop for 20 minutes during a hike to treat a low or that they had to leave a dinner party early because you forgot your insulin. It’s actually more about the toll this takes on you—it’s what they imagine you must be going through, and how helpless they feel.

To be sure, one of the most important things you can do as a PWD is hone your own coping capabilities as an individual and get support from other PWD. Your partner can’t get you 100% of the time, and that’s okay.

Believe me when I say, however, that a good partner wants to know what is going on with you and how they can help. When we love people, this is what we do—we care. Many people do diabetes on their own, and do it well. But keeping your partner in the dark about one of the most impactful components of your life is often more exhausting than being straight with them (and it’s likely going to come out anyway—only in a less controlled, more chaotic way). If you’re getting down on yourself due to diabetes, you better believe this is going to bleed (pun intended) into other parts of your life. Sometimes we struggle, and if we don’t tell the other person why we’re struggling, they’re left to guess and you’re left feeling alone or resentful or both.

So what can you do? Talk to your partner. Like, have a conversation. Even if it’s just to say that you feel like you have it covered and you’ll ask for help when you  need it. But remember, you’re not the only one living with diabetes anymore. Being willing to be open, direct, and supportive when your partner has questions is important. They can have needs and fears too. I actually imagine myself putting on my “Curiosity Hat” (perhaps someday I’ll get a robe and scepter too), remembering that the goal is not to try to convince someone of anything; I’m just trying to learn how they feel about it. The other cool thing is that once someone feels heard (even if they haven’t been agreed with), they’re a lot more likely to listen to you, which opens the door for a productive dialogue.

If this is too weird or uncomfortable, try going to a therapist who knows about diabetes and ask them to make you talk about it. I’m always happy to take the blame for asking questions about difficult feelings because that’s where people grow—both individually and as a couple.