Upstate News

August 1, 2002
Kathleen Paice 315 464-4839

Good marriage and greater marital intimacy lessens stress of diabetes, SUNY Upstate study shows

People with diabetes who are part of an intimate and supportive marriage are more likely to have a better health-related quality of life than their less happily married peers, a new study suggests.

“When people have a solid marriage and a good intimate relationship, they adapt better to their diabetes and feel less burdened by the disease,” said one of the study’s authors, Paula M. Trief, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University. The report is published in the July issue of Diabetes Care.

Trief and her colleagues surveyed 78 diabetic individuals asking them to assess the level of intimacy in their relationship and their level of marital satisfaction. In addition they were asked how much distress they were experiencing related to their diabetes and how much it interferes with, and negatively impacts, their lives. Follow-up interviews were performed two years after the initial survey.

“Data collected from these patients indicate that individuals who described a better overall marital adjustment and higher levels of perceived intimacy at one time reported less diabetes-related distress and greater satisfaction with how they adapted to their illness two years later,” Trief said.

However, researchers could not conclude from their findings that marital happiness and intimacy can predict a higher overall health-related quality of life. “The findings are specific to diabetes care,” Trief noted. “Marital support is extremely valuable and relevant to diabetes care, where spouses may be involved in many healthcare-related activities such as keeping track of and administering medications, buying and preparing foods and participating in regular exercise.”

Adjusting to a chronic illness like diabetes requires significant life changes on the part of spouses and patients, Trief said. “When these adjustments must occur in a distant and less satisfying relationship, the conflict that can develop may lead to a poorer adjustment to the illness for the patient and poorer quality of life,” she noted.

In light of the findings, researchers suggest that physicians may want to actively involve the spouse of an individual with diabetes in their partner’s care decisions and regimen. “If a supportive relationship means that someone will adjust better to their diabetes diagnosis and care, then I think it makes sense for healthcare professionals to involve spouses in the care of the disease. Perhaps if problems do exist in the relationship, it might be beneficial for the couple to seek professional marital counseling,” Trief said.

Individuals surveyed in the study were between the ages of 18 and 55; married for at least a year and had been diagnosed with diabetes for at least a year and using insulin daily. All were patients at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Syracuse.

In addition to Trief, authors of the study include Ruth Weinstock, M.D., Ph.D., SUNY Upstate professor of medicine and medical director of the Joslin Diabetes Center; Kristen Dee Britton of SUNY Upstate and Michael J. Wade of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Syracuse.

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