Dear Diabetes Health,
I have been married for 14 years. I am 36 and my husband is 39, and we have a seven-year-old daughter. About six months, ago my husband found out that he has type 2 diabetes.
My husband works nights. He is off two nights a week, but then he usually just wants to watch TV. He never shows any interest in coming to bed with me. It is at the point now that we have sex only once every two weeks, with no foreplay. Most times he does not even kiss me. Recently when we did have sex, he was not very hard at all. He says that he does not have the desire until he gets desperate.
I am so frustrated, but he does not seem to care how I feel. Just to see what he would say, I told him that we should separate. He didn’t even make a fuss. We are like roommates. I feel like my life is passing me by. My self esteem is not what it used to be, and it is affecting my job.
Do you think that I am too hard on him? I am considering getting a toy. Should I tell him, or should I keep it private? I am kind of embarrassed about it. If he calls me from work at night and I do not pick up the phone, he will probably think that I am pleasuring myself. What should I do?
Dear Ms. Nights,
You are in a tough situation and are doing the best you can. It’s hard to say how much diabetes has contributed to your husband’s behavior, but there are many things you can do about it.
To answer your last question first, YES, you should get a toy. Or two. It is nothing to be embarrassed about. Doctors used to prescribe vibrator treatments to women who were depressed and anxious. (Patients could only use the vibrator in the doctor’s office, not take it home.) “Hysteria” was the word doctors used then for the frustration you are feeling now. The vibrator treatments worked better than any medicine.
You might not want to tell your husband about the toy unless he asks. It’s not his business. But telling is OK too. If you do tell him that you can please yourself, it might take the pressure off him. If he calls from work and you don’t answer, would you rather have him think that you’re using your toys or have him worry that you are with another man?
Many issues could be hurting your husband’s sexuality. Many men withdraw from sex when they have erection difficulties. It might be that all he needs is one of the erection medications like sildenafil (Viagra) or some other erection treatment. See our previous column about ED. But he could also have high blood sugar levels or low testosterone levels. He could be depressed; he could be panicking about diabetes; he could be afraid of passing his problems on to you. He could be on medications that reduce his sex drive. All of this can be checked out by his doctor, if he asks.
There could also be relationship problems. You didn’t say what sex was like for you two before his diagnosis. Did he pay attention to your needs then? Are there other issues that might be causing hard feelings between you?
Your husband’s working nights isn’t helping your sex life or his diabetes. Studies show that staying up nights causes insulin resistance and puts people at risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It also raises blood pressure and stress levels. All of these changes could hurt your husband’s sex drive and sexual function. Reduced hours of sleep, which are typical of night workers, are known to reduce sex drive and worsen diabetes. So perhaps it would be the best thing for both of you if he could start working the day shift, if that’s possible.
But you will need to talk about all these things openly and honestly. Diabetes puts strains on a relationship, and it helps to work together as a team, as we described in this article. You might want to get counseling from a therapist or clergy person. They might not be able to help with sex issues, but they can help you communicate better. Couples need to learn good communication skills – like the ones on this web site — to stay together after the rush of new love wears off and times start to get harder
Healing your marriage will be a long road. Diabetes makes it harder, but you can get there. The vibrator will help. Let us know how it goes.
David and Aisha
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David Spero, RN, is a nurse who has lived for 30 years with multiple sclerosis. A leading expert on self-care, he has written two books, Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis, and The Art of Getting Well. He has learned to maintain and even improve sex and love despite disability and illness.
Aisha Kassahoun is trained in marriage and family therapy. Aisha and David present sex and intimacy programs for people with diabetes, people with multiple sclerosis, and health professionals.
You can also read David’s blog at diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/David-Spero.