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Paula Trief Part 2, You’re Not My Parent, You’re Not My Child

In part 2 of this Exclusive Interview, Paula Trief talks with Diabetes in Control Publisher Steve Freed about the importance of communication between partners who are living with an ongoing health condition such as diabetes.

Paula Trief, PhD is a Patrick A. Lehan Professor of Physiology and Biophysics and Chairman of the Department of Medicine Department at University of Mississippi.


Transcript of this video segment:

Steve Freed: The title of your presentation was…


Paula Trief:  “You’re Not My Parent, I’m Not Your Child,” something like that.

Steve Freed: So what is partnership relationships if you’re not my parent  or not my child?

Paula Trief:  It’s a partnership. Ideally it’s a collaborative relationship, so we talk about communal coping so learning saying we’re going to deal with this together, we’re going to work together to figure out how to manage your diabetes, how for you to be successful. If I’m your partner I’m going to think about how I can help you in that, and hopefully you’re going to think about how you can help me and you can help me manage my fears or play a role in that. So it’s really communicating well and sharing goals, mostly it’s really, honestly, it’s communication. One of the things that we did in our study was that we use what’s called a Speaker Listener technique. And in the Speaker Listener technique essentially when one partner raises a concern, something that they’re concerned about, the other person just paraphrases what they’ve said, so they say “What you said is,  what you mean is” until this person feels heard and understood. And it just slows down the whole communication process because it’s our natural tendency when our partner raises a concern to get defensive, and start saying “you shouldn’t be thinking that way,” and “you’re too sensitive,” jump in and defend yourself. The Speaker Listener technique just slows that down and says, “No no no don’t do that, just listen, just make sure that your partner feels heard, and then you get your chance.” And so then you switch roles and the other person does it.

And really, It’s surprisingly powerful. I’ve listened to a lot of the tapes in our study of people doing this. But it’s a hard position for the partner. Because what we don’t want them to do is to nag and to argue and to be like what’s called the diabetes police, hovering over the patient. We want them to be supportive, but walk this really really fine line, and it’s hard.

Steve Freed: What made you personally interested in the partnership relationship?

Paula Trief:  I think I’ve just always been interested in that. And I’m just interested in relationships and how relationships impact our well-being overall, physical as well as mental. I don’t have diabetes, no one in my family has diabetes, but I’ve certainly seen the role with other illnesses that relationships can play, and in my clinical work as a therapist,  I would see partners, couples where it was just really clear that if they didn’t figure out how to work together, they were just going to be fighting all the time and it was not only that they’d have to deal with this serious medical problem, but it would be very destructive or it was destructive to the relationship.

This one example I would say quickly, I had a couple I saw once where the husband had had a really severe heart attack and the wife had gone into kind of major hovering mode, you know, yelling at him and telling him to sit down, telling him to rest, and they came into therapy because they were just fighting all the time and very very frustrated, and the more she nagged at him the less he wanted to do what she wanted him to do of course. This is just natural too. And so then she told me she had this turning point once where, it was a very hot day. He was cleaning their pool, she saw him, he didn’t see her, and she was just ready to jump right in and start yelling at him. And she stopped herself because we had talked about that in our therapy, that she needed to back off. She stopped herself and she saw him sit down, and wipe his brow, get an iced tea. She saw him stop himself and she said that was this kind of turning point where she started to recognize that it’s his illness, he can take care of himself and she shouldn’t be putting all of her anxiety on him, because it was destroying their relationship. So that’s that fine line.

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