A Thoughtful Guide to Dating Someone with Type 1 Diabetes

If you’ve just found out your new crush has type 1 diabetes, you probably wonder what it is like to date someone with diabetes. Diabetes is a life-long chronic disease that requires 24/7 attention. Naturally, it affects one’s life and relationships in many ways. 

In a study[1] published by the American Diabetes Association about the personal and relationship challenges of adults with type 1 diabetes, people with diabetes and their partners reported the condition poses both emotional and relational difficulties in their relationships. 

While dating someone with diabetes surely requires a bit of extra compassion and a few adjustments, remember that your partner's health condition does not define them. Each person is unique. Each relationship is unique. Each diabetic is unique. And you're unique too.

One thing is common though: partner support is essential for diabetics. So, how to best support your T1D girlfriend/boyfriend? How to limit diabetes’ impact on your new relationship?

How Does Diabetes Affect Relationships & Dating? 

Naturally, the very first thing you need if you’re dating someone with diabetes is a deep understanding of what exactly diabetes is and what it involves. To care for your sugar loved one in the best way possible, you must be familiar with what they’re going through. 

What is type 1 diabetes?

First things first, there are several types of diabetes. While type 2 diabetes is the most common type and affects about 90% of people with diabetes, type 1 mostly affects kids and younger people.

Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune chronic health condition where the pancreas makes no or very little insulin. It causes high levels of blood sugar which may lead to severe and even life-threatening complications. 

Type 1 diabetes is a life-long chronic disease. As of today, there’s no cure for it. It's something that you must keep in mind because it changes the relationship to the disease and the way it may impact your girlfriend/boyfriend’s life as well as your new relationship. 

Related article: The parent’s guide to a safe & happy childhood with diabetes

What does living with diabetes mean?

Living with type 1 diabetes involves many things. First, type 1 diabetics need insulin to live. They either have an insulin pump attached to their body or use insulin autoinjector pens or syringes.

In any case, they need to manipulate medical devices several times a day, whether it is to change a catheter, proceed to an injection, bolus insulin at lunch, refill a syringe, or prick their fingers to check blood sugar.

Insulin therapy requires 24/7 attention and alertness. Too much insulin and your girlfriend may have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and faint. Too little of it and your boyfriend can feel tired or irritated and put his life at risk in the long run.

Type 1 diabetics are constantly counting, balancing, and readjusting their foods and treatments. Diet is also an important part of their life, although if your new date controls his or her blood sugar well, they should be able to eat what pleases (and make the correct insulin adjustments). 

Physical activity is also something to consider too. While exercising is very important for diabetics and helps control blood sugar better, if the activity was unplanned or more intense than excepted, your date's blood sugar can suddenly drop to dangerously low levels.

Last but not least, living with a chronic health condition like diabetes also affects the mind. Type 1 diabetics often go through times of gloominess, fear, discouragement, or simply emotional exhaustion. Having to manage your blood sugar levels 24/7 all your life is not easy. Never forget that. 

Related article: 10 famous athletes with diabetes to inspire us!

5 Tips for Dating Someone With Type 1 Diabetes

Now that you have a basic understanding of what diabetes involves in your new crush’s life, let’s see how you can provide help and support. Like in any relationship, communication is key here.

Related article: 10 best diabetic snack ideas for travels & road trips

1. Communicate with your T1D girlfriend/boyfriend

Diabetes requires daily management tasks, 24/7 alertness, and a great deal of effort and motivation! As the partner of a T1D person, always keep in mind that diabetes management is very personal. While some people would welcome any help, others prefer dealing with their disease on their own and wouldn’t necessarily appreciate the intrusion.

Communicate with your partner in a relaxed and easy way, but don't push them to talk about their disease if they're not willing to. Ask them how they would expect you to act and how much they would like you to be involved.

From the beginning of the relationship, it’s important to set boundaries with your partner and make sure your support is not too intrusive for them. Ask them to give you concrete ways you can help in the day-to-day. Avoid giving unsolicited advice or comments about their blood sugar levels or the food they're eating. That's kind of a general rule and it would annoy any diabetics on earth!

2. Learn about your date’s diabetes

There's nothing more annoying for a diabetic than having to explain for the 10th time why they need sugar or what a glucose meter does. If you’re dating someone with diabetes, make the effort of learning everything you can about their condition. It’s one of the best proofs of love you can give them.

Learn about diabetes, understand how it works, know the actual names of the medical devices your loved one uses every day, identify the signs of hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, etc. Of course, you do not have to study on your own. Ask your partner. He or she's probably the best teacher for you!

Related article: What happens if you miss a dose of insulin?

Learning about nutrition would also be helpful. Make sure you're familiar with the foods they like and the ones they try to avoid. Ultimately and ideally, if your relationship lasts and you end up living together, you will master diabetes management and carb counting (almost) as much as your partner!

Surprise your date with the latest news about diabetes, great products and accessories you’ve heard about, or new treatments that are on trial. It’s a very considerate way to show you care.

insulin coolers gift for diabetics 

4AllFamily's Insulin Coolers Make A Great Gift For Anyone Living With an Insulin-Dependent Diabetes! 

3. Be compassionate and supportive

While any relationship requires compassion and patience, it’s even more important when you’re dating someone with diabetes.

Blood sugar levels often influence one’s mood and behavior. When in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), diabetics can be crabby, tired, or even aggressive sometimes.

Learn to recognize the signs of lows and highs and keep your cool until your partner’s blood sugar levels are back to normal. There’s absolutely no need to start a fight or upset someone who’s not being himself or herself for reasons he or she can’t control.

Keep in mind that diabetes also affects the mind of your girlfriend/boyfriend. Type 1 diabetics often go through times of sadness, despondency, fear, burn-out, or even depression sometimes. Be as compassionate and supportive as you can during these more difficult times.

4. Sexual life and intimacy with diabetes

According to a 2018 study[2] published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Publish Health, people with type 1 diabetes are at an increased risk of sexual disorders. Don’t worry though, you can have a perfectly fulfilled sexual life when dating a person with diabetes! You simply need to be aware of how the condition can affect sex and to be communicative and understanding with your partner.

While most diabetics have a healthy and functioning sexual life, low or high blood sugar symptoms may include limited energy, low libido, mood swings, vaginal dryness, or erectile dysfunction. Be open to discussing these issues with your date and make them feel comfortable and supported. Consider strategies like lubricants or medications if you feel there’s a need to overcome any physical obstacle. 

Don’t forget that sex is intense. It may cause your partner’s blood sugar to drop. Don’t be surprised if she or he needs a break to check blood sugar levels and refill with sugar in the middle of intercourse!

Related article: How to comfortably sleep with an insulin pump?

5. Have fun!

Diabetes requires a lot of planning and organization in the day-to-day. When you're dating someone with diabetes, you may feel like you can't be too spontaneous or organize surprise dates. You're wrong. T1D can be big-time adventure and party people like anyone else!

Just bear in mind that they need extra organization. If you want to plan a surprise date, your partner will need some clues so he or she can pack medical supplies adequality. Let them know how long you're going away for, if the trip involves physical activities, if there will be food available and what type of food, or if it will be warm and they need to bring an insulin cooler for example.

Related article: The ultimate checklist to travel with diabetic supplies!

Dating someone with diabetes is like dating anyone else. There will be highs and lows. There will be good times and bad times. There will be love, laughter, and intimacy, but also misunderstandings, mistakes, and fights. Like in any relationship… And like in any relationship, both of you will have to accept the other's baggage. Who does not have baggage anyway?

 

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References:

[1] Trief PM, Sandberg JG, Dimmock JA, Forken PJ, Weinstock RS. Personal and relationship challenges of adults with type 1 diabetes: a qualitative focus group study. Diabetes Care. 2013 Sep;36(9):2483-8. doi: 10.2337/dc12-1718. Epub 2013 Mar 8. PMID: 23474590; PMCID: PMC3747936.

[2] Bak E, Marcisz C, Krzeminska S, Dobrzyn-Matusiak D, Foltyn A, Drosdzol-Cop A. Does Type 1 Diabetes Modify Sexuality and Mood of Women and Men? Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 May 11;15(5):958. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15050958. PMID: 29751592; PMCID: PMC5981997.

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