Migraine and Divorce: Overcoming Guilt in the Wake of a Separation
Migraine has a tremendous impact on our family relationships. Our illness causes us to cancel plans, say “no” when we want to say “yes,” and reduce our level of presence in our family’s lives – all of which, all too often, causes us to feel guilty and our caregivers and children to feel resentful. When our family circumstances change, then, it is no surprise that the feelings of guilt we experience can become almost crippling, especially in the case of divorce and separation. Overcoming that guilt isn’t easy, but it’s essential to our mental and physical health.
People separate for any number of reasons, but when chronic illness is involved the sick partner may feel disproportionally responsible for the split. This may be true regardless of which partner instigated the separation. If the relationship was unhealthy, as in the case of domestic abuse, the well partner also may be doing as much as possible to amplify that feeling.
We have all been told time and again that marriage is supposed to be a 50/50 arrangement, with each partner carrying an equal amount of the weight. When one person is chronically ill, that proportion tends to be less static, fluctuating from 90/10 in a well week, if the typically ill partner tries to “make it up to” the other partner, to 10/90 in a particularly bad week. Regardless of the percentage at any given time, however, most migraineurs admit they feel as though they don’t do enough. Sadly, this feeling of not doing enough can quickly transform into feelings of not being enough.
If you’re one of us, and you’re currently going through a separation or have recently gone through a divorce, please know this: You are enough.
Sick or healthy, you are enough. Whether you carry 10% of the load or 90% of the household load, you are enough. Whether you attend every one of your partner’s events or barely any of them, you are enough.
You don’t have to drive yourself into a chore-coma on a good week trying to prove your worth to your spouse. (In fact, you absolutely shouldn’t; overexerting yourself this week almost always guarantees a particularly ill week to come.) You are not your illness, and you are not how much you do in a given week. (Repeat this to yourself, if needed, until you believe it.) You are a fully formed person, and your partner should already know your worth. More importantly, you should know it.
Healthy relationships aren’t about who does what in any given week. They’re about one partner being strong when the other feels weak, and supporting each other through life’s ups and downs. They’re about having fun together, working together, and loving each other completely, without feeling the need to change one another.
Yes, in any given week or month, your partner may have had to carry the heavier load. That doesn’t mean you weren’t worth the effort to love or that it is your fault if the relationship falls or fell apart. In healthy relationships, no one keeps score. Each person does what he can, when she can, and continually shows appreciation to the other.
If you’re feeling overwhelmingly guilty about what you think you didn’t do in your relationship, try looking at your actions and relationship honestly. Make a list of all the ways in which you supported and cared for your partner. Think hard about this list, and ensure you capture both the typical household maintenance items, like cooking dinner or scrubbing the tub, and the non-typical gestures that make a relationship: the quiet, compassionate ear whenever your partner needed to vent about a particular colleague; the strong voice that stood up to a partner’s bossy parent at regular get-togethers; the always-available, long hugs after a hard day.
Once you’ve finished, take a look at that list. It might not feature the things you first think of when you picture caring for someone, but I can guarantee you’ll see it is much longer than your guilt wants you to think it is. Whatever the reason your relationship did not work out, don’t let your feelings about your illness convince you it was because you didn’t do enough. You did what you could, and that is enough. Carry the lessons from this the relationship to the next and do your best to move forward, without the guilt that stems from illness.