Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Company parties, neighborhood get togethers, family reunions, weddings, graduations …
Social events can be a challenge for all kinds of reasons. When you’re living with a chronic condition such as diabetes, they can be even more challenging. You may not feel up to participating fully. Friends or relatives are not always understanding in the comments they make. The physical environment may not be comfortable. The food may not be on your diet. You may feel pressured to stay longer than you want to.
So how do you take care of yourself at social gatherings and not feel like you are on your own? Well, as the saying goes: two heads are better than one.
These events can provide an opportunity for you and your partner to team up to make the day better for both of you. Have you thought of enlisting your partner’s help?
Here’s an example from Diane and Matt:
Diane has diabetes. When she and her husband go out to a family event, making food choices can be a problem. First, there’s the plain old temptation to pick up something that’s not on her diet, and that lonely feeling of not being able to eat like everybody else. And second, Diane still has family members who don’t quite get the diabetic diet and try to guilt trip her into trying a big slice of apple pie.
Matt—Diane’s husband—to the rescue! Matt makes it a point to eat whatever Diane is eating, including eating sparingly of the carbs and desserts. He likes to let people know that he’s trying to eat healthier like Diane does. Matt also runs interference with those pesky pie-pushing relatives, jumping in with a thank you and a gentle but firm refusal.
And here’s what Frank and Tina do:
Frank has a chronic condition that causes pain and fatigue. Frank wants to get out and attend social events with Tina and their kids, but some days are better than others, and on a bad day, just being present is the best he can do. He may not feel like doing more than sitting and observing. That can be kind of embarrassing for Frank, who feels like everybody is watching him and wondering what his problem is.
Tina and Frank have developed a routine for managing when Frank’s having a bad day. She splits her time between getting active with the kids and sitting with Frank. She might grab a few friends or family members and bring them over to sit awhile with her and Frank. She discreetly checks in with him, asks him how is doing and, if Frank needs to leave early, Tina supports him in making a drama-free exit.
How’s that for teamwork? Here are some ideas for being a team when you and your partner are at social events:
Let your partner know what you need. And what you don’t need. Have you ever sat down with your partner and talked about what goes well and not so well at social events? If not, it might be time to have this conversation. Be specific about how he/she can help you to stay compliant with your self-care regimen as well as to feel comfortable when you’re at social events together.
Plan a strategy before you leave the house. Be specific about how you will work together, including how you will handle any uncomfortable situations or questions that might arise. Again, get specific. How will you support each other when cousin Tom makes that comment about how “if you would get out there and play softball with us, you’d feel a whole lot better” or when your next door neighbor says, “Why not a big piece? I made it just for you!”
Keep in touch. Check in with each other often on how you are both feeling. Watch out for each other’s facial expressions and body language. Concern? Frustration? Jump in when you see a problem, and ask your partner to do the same. You’ve agreed to support each other, right? If you see something, say something.
Give your partner a break. Your partner may need time to let off some steam, maybe out on the basketball court or on the dance floor, or to jump into an activity with the kids. Depending on the setting, you might want to bring along a hobby or a book to enjoy while they work up a sweat. And yes, that might mean permission to indulge in food that’s on their diet, even if it isn’t on yours.
Don’t assume you’re being ignored. It may not be intended. Social events can be as stressful as they are fun, especially when there are a lot of people competing for your partner’s attention, like at a work event, or a reunion on his/her side of the family. So if your partner drifts away for awhile, try not to take it personally.
Social gatherings don’t have to be stressful. Instead they can be an opportunity to be a real team with your partner. After all, we’re all in this together!