Lead author Paula M. Trief, MD, of the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York, and colleagues explored outcomes in individuals who were partners participating in couples behavioral-intervention telephone therapy for purposes of improving glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. The glycemic control of these couples was compared with that of untreated partner pairs who received individual interventions, including education. In order to be included in the study, one partner had to have an A1C of greater than or equal to 7.5%. Assessments, which were conducted at 4, 8, and 12 months, included, but were not limited to, depressive symptoms, relationship satisfaction, and medical indices such as BMI and blood pressure.
To compare the outcomes of partners who participated in a telephone couples intervention, the team conducted a three-arm, randomized telephone intervention that evaluated diabetes education calls, individual calls, and couples calls, with all three groups receiving self-management education calls; however, the couples and individuals participated in 10 additional behavior-change calls. The additional couple calls emphasized collaboration, partner support, and enhanced communication. The mean age of the partners included in the study was 55.8 years, 64.6% of participants were recorded as female, and 29.9% were from minority ethnic groups. The couples who received couple calls were reported to have greater increases in marital satisfaction and reductions in diabetes distress, and some improvements in diastolic blood pressure.
In the January 2019 interview, Dr. Trief commented, “Providers often worry about engaging partners, for fear they’ll become a member of the ‘diabetes police’ and cause tension in the relationship,” and further elaborated, “We found that involved partners benefited emotionally, and also felt better about their relationship, as they worked together to deal with the challenges of diabetes.”
The research team concluded that collaborative couples intervention resulted in significant improvements in partner diabetes distress and relationship satisfaction. There were no consistent effects on behavioral or medical partner outcomes, and no evidence of diet or activity behavior ripple effects, suggesting that partners should be targeted directly to achieve these changes.
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