Getting through to your romantic partner
“My husband isn’t supportive.”
“My girlfriend just doesn’t get it.”
“We just had a huge fight. My partner says I use
migraine as an excuse to not do anything around here.”
Sound familiar? I hear these statements a lot. There are a lot of jerks out there who are not sympathetic to the struggles of the migraineur loved ones. However, I do believe there are even more partners and spouses who could become supportive with the right approach.
It's all about security
You see, healthy relationships are based on a mutual sense of security. It’s the belief that your partner will be there to support you when the rest of the world falls apart. Without that level of trust, the whole thing can fall apart very quickly the minute there is any kind of trouble.
Migraine certainly brings its share of trouble into a relationship. The very things we do to cope with an attack just scream abandonment. In the middle of an attack, most of us hide in the dark. We withdraw and refuse to communicate because it is too painful. Our world stops. We check out of life until the attack passes. That’s what must be done.
See your partner's perspective
Imagine for a moment how that must feel to someone who loves you and wants to be with you. It may seem that your “disappearing acts” happen at the most inconvenient times. We’ve all had to miss out on important events because of attacks. Think about it. How many holidays, date nights, ball games, concerts, and more have you missed since that first attack? Now think about what a financial burden it is when you have to miss work or live in constant fear of getting fired.
Your partner carries a heavy emotional burden. Often, he or she will carry it in silence. If the subject is brought up, we migraineurs tend to over-react because we see the complaints as patient-blaming. How many fights have you had over the years about migraine? In 25 years, my husband and I have certainly had more than our share.
In a healthy relationship, each person feels supported and loved. It is a safe environment in which either person can share whatever is on his or her mind without fear of judgment. It is only natural that your partner may feel anger about the impact of Migraine on your relationship. He or she may feel resentment toward you for “checking out,“ even if they say they understand you can’t help it. It is important to create an environment in which your partner feels safe enough to express his or her frustrations about Migraine.
Create opportunities for sharing
If possible, choose a time when you are attack-free. If you are experiencing daily attacks, try to choose a time when your symptoms are manageable and you are thinking a little more clearly. Invite your partner to share his or her thoughts and feelings about Migraine. We all know that Migraine puts a tremendous burden on families. That has to affect your partner on some level. As much as we would like to have a partner who never complains and is always supportive, it’s not a fair expectation. Some days he or she will not be in a good emotional place to offer you all the support you need.
Take the time to really hear what he or she has to say. Resist the urge to interpret his or her frustration as an indictment against you. Understand that Migraine has taken a toll on the entire family, not just you. Repeat back what you hear until you and your partner are satisfied that you really understand his or her perspective.
Find out what he or she needs from you. I know that my husband’s biggest Migraine complaint is that he doesn’t know where to find everything I need because I keep moving things. It’s a valid gripe – one that I am working to correct. Loneliness is a big problem for our partners, too. Making an effort to let your partner know you care can go a long way toward easing his or her resentment of Migraine.
Choose your moments carefully. When you sense that he or she is receptive, give just a bit of information. If you get a positive response, then continue. Respect the fact that although you live with Migraine 24/7, he or she does not. There may be times when your partner wants to talk about anything except Migraine.
Affirm his or her thoughts and feelings about Migraine even if you don’t understand or agree. Everyone has the right to his or her own opinions. Use phrases like, “I can see how it might seem that way,” or “I never thought of it like that.” Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and try to understand his or her perspective.
Everyone likes to know someone appreciates them. When your partner makes an effort to help you, let him or her know you noticed. Praise your partner for his or her support in front of others.
You’d be amazed at the transformation that’s possible when both migraineur and caregiver start listening to one another, validating each other’s views, and working together. You are on the same team and you both want the same thing – a life with minimal impact from Migraine.1,2
How much has your migraine disease changed or evolved over time?