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Chronic Migraine’s Enormous Impact on Marriage & Parenting

Chronic Migraine’s Enormous Impact on Marriage & Parenting

Anyone who has experienced chronic migraine knows it can place tremendous stress on family relationships. A study from 2014 demonstrated just how enormous the impact is. The findings speak loud and clear:

  • 73% of respondents believed they would be a better spouse if they didn’t have chronic migraine
  • 64% felt their migraines made their partner’s life difficult
  • 64% experienced guilt about being easily angered or annoyed by their partners due to migraine
  • 67% avoided sexual intimacy with their partners at times due to migraine
  • 59% thought they would be better parents if they did not have chronic migraine
  • 61% of participants said they became easily annoyed with their children due to migraine
  • 54% reported that they had reduced participation or enjoyment on a family vacation due to migraine in the previous year
  • 20% cancelled or missed a family vacation altogether in the previous year

The study was conducted online and included 994 chronic migraineurs; 812 were female and 182 were male. Every participant met the diagnostic criteria for chronic migraine – 15 or more headache days a month, at least eight of which are migraine. Findings will be presented at the American Headache Society’s 56th Annual Scientific Meeting this week.

When asked if she was surprised by the study’s findings, the study’s lead author, Dawn Buse, Ph.D., said “The results are heartbreaking, but not surprising. I hear how difficult CM is on family life from my patients on a daily basis. I think the results may surprise some people who hold the view that migraine is ‘just a headache’ and hopefully they shed light on the far reaching effects of this debilitating condition.”

Few people who don’t experience chronic migraine understand how debilitating and life-altering it can be. Even fewer understand how much it impacts the lives of our families. Dr. Buse and her research team hope the study’s findings will raise awareness, not just among family members, friends and coworkers, but society at large, health care providers, insurance companies and the government agencies that control research funding.1,2

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Chronic Migraine Has a Substantial Impact on Parenting. American Headache Society press release.
  2. Personal communication with Dawn Buse, Ph.D. June 19, 2014.


  • Diane
    5 years ago

    Migraine is not a headache disorder. It’s a neurological disorder and headache is a symptom. How do doctors diagnose silent or abdominal Migraine? Those are not a headache. Are those no longer a chronic issue just because they are not a headache?

  • msruff
    5 years ago

    In a relationship now, and I worry about the impact my migraines will have on my partner — and on myself. Thank you for sharing this information.

  • lara
    5 years ago

    Please, please stop calling them headache days. It only adds to the confusion already out there and gives idiots ammunition when they dismiss migraines as “just a headache.” Migraine shouldn’t even be classified as a headache disorder but since it’s, you know, in the head they keep doing it.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    5 years ago

    Chronic migraine is defined medically as 15 headache days a month, at least eight of which are migraine for at least three months. Not all 15 days have to be migraine, some can be tension-type headaches. It’s how doctors diagnose chronic migraine and how researchers classify it. You can see the criteria from the International Classification of Headache Disorders at

  • lk26
    5 years ago

    I have been blessed with a very understanding husband & son. Both have witnessed my ups & downs thru this journey and both can “read” my face to know my pain level.

    Unfortunely the same can not be said of my siblings. I am the 3rd of 7 children, 20yr age span from the oldest to the youngest. They accuse me of a long list of things and at 1 point tried to commit me for substance abuse among a long list of other problems. All they needed to proceed was my husband to sign a form which he, thankfully refused.

    Since that episode there has been wide widge between us, & it continues to grow. They throw a variety of accusations at me & most conversations lead to a shouting match. It effected me so much that my Migraine specialist, Neurologist, Physicatrist & Pain manager, all adviced me to divorce them, hopefully temporarily. Instead of helping me, they had became a major setback in my migraine journey.

    This was not easy for me, understanding why I needed to do this, but did not want to lose my relationship with 3 nephews & 1 niece, all under the age of 10. Despite how large our family was, we were very close and I miss those relashionships. Knowing they were becoming a big part of my problems instead of helping me through my migraine journey, I chose to drastically limit my contact with them.

    It hurt so much that they were not supportive or helpful when I needed them most. Remembering events of the past when I was there for them, taking care of my sister when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer & the surgery that followed, another sister during her first pregnancy, when she had a question and/or an issue would 1st call me & then her GYN, driving my brother to Houston, a 4hr drive, to finish some things in order to begin work with a new employer & then getting him to the airport to go to the job site & then return the 4hr journey back home at 5 o’clock, in Houston traffic, not familiar with directions on where to go, arriving home about 11pm, after starting the journey at 3am, when another sister & her husband were moving back to Texas after being on the east coast for 20+yrs, I was at her new home, ready when they arrived with a prepared meal, baked goodies & helped getting unpacked, being a wedding planner for the 3 youngest & doing whatever was needed (behind the scenes) to make everything run smoothly before, during & after. This is just a short list of how I was there for them and I don’t “keep score”, they were all done out of love.

    While I continue on this wild migraine journey, I remain so grateful for husband & son, whom are always avaible to help me in whatever is needed. Pray that at some point, the relationships with my siblings will become as strong as before and be able to play a part in the lives with my nieces & nephew.

  • whtesatin
    5 years ago

    I can totally relate to this. My husband and I traveled to Savannah, GA., only to have me spend the first entire day in bed, because of a migraine. I am so grateful and blessed that my husband has come to learn about migraines and completely understands. But to have to stay in bed for an entire day of a weekend vacation, just adds to the pressure and guilt you feel.

  • sarah
    5 years ago

    A headache is NOT a migraine… I can appreciate this survey, but when you deal with 15+ MIGRAINES per month- not headaches, THAT is chronic migraine. I wish there was something I could do for my fiance, especially in the fall when he is getting at least 8 migraines per week- not per month. I was really expecting this article to be more realistic.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    5 years ago

    People have a wide range of experience within the category of chronic migraine. Chronic migraine is defined medically as 15 headache days a month, at least eight of which are migraine for at least three months (the criteria from the International Classification of Headache Disorders is at It’s how doctors diagnose chronic migraine and how researchers classify it.

    Someone with chronic migraine could have eight migraine attacks a month and seven tension-type headaches or they could have a migraine every single day. Both fit the diagnostic criteria.

  • Jan Piller
    5 years ago

    These issues aren’t always the fault of the migraineur. Intolerant family members also make up part of the problem. God help them should they ever be in such a position.

  • lara
    5 years ago

    “Intolerant family members also make up part of the problem.”

    Yep. Which is why I no longer speak to my father and stepmother. It’s also why my marriage failed because my ex was, for lack of a better term, a moron. You can lead a horse to the medical facts but you can’t make them believe.

    As much as migraineurs blame themselves some learn to blame themselves due to emotional abuse heaped on them BY their family.

    As debilitating as migraine is, it is even harder rebuilding a support system from scratch while also dealing with chronic migraine.

  • BethBlue
    5 years ago

    I thought that at this point (eight years post diagnosis), things would have worked themselves out with my family in terms of acceptance and understanding. In fact, they have become much worse. I honestly couldn’t feel more hopeless than I do right now. Looking like “we just swallowed bugs”… that’s so apt!

  • maxgordon
    5 years ago

    I think the biggest shock in those findings, to me anyway, was that ONLY 54% of people had reduced participation or enjoyment on a family vacation and only 20% cancelled or missed a family vacation altogether in the previous year. I suspect those “low” numbers are due to those of us who do everything we can to pretend we DON’T have a headache at such times, in an effort (usually unsuccessful) to keep from negatively affecting our kids’ or partners’ enjoyment level. We are the ones in the vacation photos who look as though we just swallowed bugs.

  • kd
    5 years ago

    That was exactly my response. If you, by diagnosis, have more migraine days a month than you do not, I cannot comprehend how it would not have MORE of an impact on everything than these stats suggest.

    I agree that the only possible reason could be people who do their best to live through their pain for the benefit of their family (spouses, kids, extended family relatives). For example, I recently had a cousin’s wedding shower to attend. I was in bed the day before for a bad migraine. I went to the wedding shower (talking and social activity is a huge trigger for me, so going to a family event with a lot of talking and interacting was a nightmare). Result was 2 days afterwards having severe migraines as a result. So I guess you could say I attended a family event. But the “cost” was only known to me and my immediate family in the days following… Obviously I did not tell the family members that this is a normal “price” for me to attend anything (i.e. severe pain for several days afterwards). I choose to pay the price to maintain relationships and not “lose” my whole life.

    But I’m still very aware of how my migraines constantly affect my family (i.e. whether limiting my attendance at events, being an active member of the family, cooking, housework, being able to be mentally engaged with my kids when they need it, my husband as well; even my ability to keep track of my kids’ schooling/homework is severely compromised). I know all of this, and they sure know it because often their needs don’t get met adequately because of me… This does not even get into the severe financial impact on the family (and not just the extra bills, medically related, but how that impacts our ability to afford gas, food, extracurricular activities, rent –it’s impossible to even consider affording a vacation, forget multiple sports for the kids; all of this would be financially feasible without my migraine-related medical costs).

    Again, I just can’t comprehend how the numbers are not higher in all of the categories. I would expect these numbers more for people with episodic migraines, or people with really good EFFECTIVE migraine management (i.e. well known triggers, an effective preventative, effective pain management, etc.) which is often not possible for chronic migraineurs.

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