If you have type 2 diabetes, you probably know that medication and lifestyle management can help control your blood glucose levels. However, did you know that your relationship may also affect your numbers?1 According to new research, marital tension (or negative interactions with a spouse) can lead to negative mood, often resulting in more severe diabetes symptoms.1 In this study, which included 129 type 2 diabetes patients and their spouses, patients reported worse symptoms following negative marital interactions, such as a fight or disagreement.1
How does relationship tension impact diabetes symptoms?
In this study, the researchers did not determine the exact correlation between marital tension and diabetes symptoms. However, previous research suggests that communication and stress may impact diabetes symptoms. For example, in a 2016 study, patients experienced decreased A1c levels and better diabetes management after completing couples-therapy that focused on communication and conflict-management.2 Similarly, other research shows that the stress associated with relationship tension may worsen diabetes: When a person experiences stress, the body responds with a “fight or flight response,” increasing hormone and glucose levels throughout the body, which can cause elevated blood glucose levels. Additionally, during stressful times, patients may exercise less, drink more alcohol, eat less carefully, and/or forget to check their blood-glucose levels.3 As a result, if your relationship lacks clear communication, or causes you stress, your diabetes symptoms and glucose levels may be affected.
Can my marriage improve my health?
While marital tension may lead to worse diabetes symptoms, fortunately, positive marital interactions (and happy marriages in general) can actually improve health. For example, married people tend to live longer, have fewer strokes and heart attacks, and have lower chances of becoming depressed.4 Overall, being and staying married can have positive consequences for your health, especially if your marriage is positive.5 Therefore, while fighting with a spouse may worsen diabetes symptoms, a happy marriage can also have positive impacts on your health, making it important to reduce relationship tension and stress throughout your life.
So… what can I do to manage relationship tension?
Left uncontrolled, unmanaged diabetes can result in negative health consequences, such as cardiovascular disease, skin problems, and nerve, kidney, eye, and foot damage.6 Along with diet and exercise (as well as regular blood glucose checks), consider the following steps for addressing stress and relationship tension:3
Find healthy and enjoyable ways to decrease your stress (such as volunteering, exercising, or taking up a new hobby)
Try relaxation techniques (such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, or a hot bath)
Confront your source of stress: If you are experiencing stress or relationship tension, addressing any concerns in your relationship may be the best way to improve your symptoms. Talking to your partner/spouse, consulting a professional counselor or therapist, or re-examining your relationship may all help to improve your health in the long-run
Martire, Lynne M., et al. "Daily Marital Tension and Symptom Severity in Older Adults with Diabetes or Osteoarthritis." Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 22 Mar. 2018, doi:10.1093/abm/kax062. Accessed 4 June 2018.
Trief, Paula M., et al. "Health and Psychosocial Outcomes of a Telephonic Couples Behavior Change Intervention in Patients With Poorly Controlled Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Clinical Trial." Diabetes Care, American Diabetes Association, July 2016, care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2016/07/21/dc16-0035. Accessed 4 June 2018.
American Diabetes Association. "Stress." American Diabetes Association, 2013, www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/mental-health/stress.html. Accessed 4 June 2018.
Shmerling, Robert H. "The Health Advantages of Marriage." Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Medical School, 30 Nov. 2016, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-health-advantages-of-marriage-2016113010667. Accessed 4 June 2018.
Luscombe, Linda. "A Better Marriage Is Better for Your Health." Time, 16 Oct. 2015, http://time.com/4075847/better-marriage-health/. Accessed 4 June 2018.
Mayo Clinic Staff. "Diabetes." Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-2037144. Accessed 4 June 2018.