Q: I feel like my husband and I put our own relationship on hold when our son’s type 1 diabetes was diagnosed a year ago. Now that things have calmed down on the diabetes front, how do my husband and I reconnect?
A: With so much to come to grips with following a child’s diagnosis of diabetes, it’s completely normal for parents to let their relationship as a couple slip to very low-priority status during that first year. However, just the fact that you are able to recognize and name what’s wrong are positive signs that all is not lost.
To start back on the path to greater closeness, think back to your habits as a couple before your child’s diagnosis. Was date night a weekly fixture? Did you enjoy staying up late together to watch movies? Were you able to get away for the weekend with Grandma left in charge back at home?
If you have clear examples of how you once found room for intimacy, rediscovering these old habits might not be as difficult as you think. Something as simple as telling your spouse, “I miss you,” may be enough to get the two of you planning how to truly re-prioritize your relationship. If you don’t have these past patterns to look back on, it’s still possible to establish these kinds of good habits as a couple now; just be ready for it to take a little more digging in to get started.
What else will you need? A good babysitter for your son.
For a preschool-age child with diabetes, some practical solutions for finding a sitter include enlisting a grandparent or close relative, asking a trusted friend or neighbor, or finding another parent of a child with diabetes willing to sit (you can likewise return the favor). Whoever you find, you should feel satisfied this person is competent in the basics of type 1 care by making sure he or she has received adequate training, ideally by working with a diabetes educator or attending a diabetes education class. You should also be prepared for a certain amount of difficulty letting go on those first few nights out. This can be especially true for parents who have not left their child’s side since diagnosis.
Getting into a routine of having a weekly night off to spend together could be exactly what the two of you need to feel intimate again. For some couples, however, that sense of disconnection persists, and additional help in the form of therapy or counseling may be necessary in order to get at the root of what’s really causing the two of you to drift apart.
Perhaps one spouse feels too much of the burden of the child’s care, while the other seems to get a “free pass.” The two of you may still be grieving your son’s diagnosis — and grieving at different speeds. To get help identifying and resolving these types of issues, simply make an appointment with the social worker or psychologist on your child’s diabetes team. Talking through and processing the past year may be a good idea even if there don’t seem to be huge roadblocks in your relationship. We often call diabetes a “whole family” disease because it truly affects every single person in the family, in different ways, and this includes parents’ relationships as spouses. In other words, don’t worry that this counseling session is focused on you and your partner, rather than on your son. The team is there to help you all.
–Wendy Satin Rapaport, L.C.S.W., Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and adjunct professor of medicine at the Diabetes Research Institute, University of Miami.
How Other Parents Deal
“That first date night after our son’s diagnosis wasn’t so much a date as it was three hours of me checking my phone nervously for missed calls. After that trial run, I’m glad to say things improved, and now our goal is to go out a few times a month. Without that alone time, I don’t think we would have the same sense of balance in our relationship.”
–Samantha, Albany, N.Y., mom of Matthew
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.