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8 ways to manage migraine

8 Ways to Manage Migraine’s Impact on Marriage

Migraine can wreak havoc on a marriage or long-term relationship, even with the most supportive partner. It’s like having a demanding lover between you and your partner, a lover who insists on your full attention and drains all your energy whenever they’re around. When all your physical and emotional resources go toward survival, there’s little ability to nurture your relationship. Having had chronic migraine for my entire 19-year relationship with my husband, more than a decade of which with severe, continuous migraine, I know this all too well.

Here are some suggestions for managing migraine’s impact on romantic relationships. They stem from years of heartwrenching personal experience and the numerous conversations I’ve had with migraineurs over the almost 10 years I’ve been writing about migraine.

1. Don’t try to hide how you feel physically. Your partner may not be able to tell just how bad you feel, but they will notice your mood and affect – if you’re pretending to feel OK, they are likely to assume you’re angry with them.

2. Be aware of how migraine changes your mood and your behaviors. Mood swings are a common migraine symptom and those closest to us often bear the brunt of those moods. Your partner may interpret irritability, frequent sighing and terse responses as anger, even when you’re not upset at all (or at least not upset with them). If you and your partner are both aware of how migraine affects your mood, you can acknowledge what’s happening before your sweetie takes your snippiness personally.

3. Avoid important conversations during a migraine attack. Brain fog makes it tough to think clearly and make decisions. Difficulty finding words can prevent you from saying exactly what you mean, which causes frustration all around. You’re more irritable during a migraine, so you both have a shorter fuse and can appear to your partner to be more annoyed than you actually are. None of these factors make for the optimal time to get to the heart of an issue. (If you’re always in a migraine attack, try to talk during a lower-pain, lower-symptom time.)

4. Recognize that your partner is carrying a heavy weight. When one person in a relationship has migraine, the other person feels the repercussions. Whether it is from cancelled plans, having to pick up the slack in housework, unexpected childcare duties, financial obligations or having to take care of you, your partner also experiences the fallout of migraine. Even in the best of relationships, the healthy partner can feel disappointed and overburdened. Instead of ignoring this or stewing in guilt, acknowledge that you know your illness affects both of you. Try to work together to find ways to minimize the impact – it could be having friends or family on hand for last-minute childcare, hiring a housekeeper (or deciding that keeping your house clean isn’t a priority), having a neighbor kid mow the lawn… whatever reduces stress for both you and your partner and fits your budget. And be sure to express your gratitude and appreciation for your partner and all that they do.

5. Don’t blame yourself for the additional responsibilities placed on your partner. YOU are not letting your partner down when you’re laid up with a migraine, migraine is making it impossible for you to contribute as you normally would. Separating your behaviors due to your own choices and those caused by migraine can be difficult. Try to remember that when migraine is the reason you’re unable to follow through, it’s because you’re sick, not because you’re [insert self-critical adjective of choice here]. Beating yourself up for being sick doesn’t help anyone.

6. Vent to someone else. Your partner should know how hard migraine is for you, but shouldn’t be the only one you share the emotional burden with. A willing friend or family member, a migraine forum or a therapist can all help with this. Having found a therapist I click with, I’ve discovered she’s the best possible person for me to vent to. She doesn’t overlay her own beliefs and agenda on my complaints, she doesn’t give me inane advice or empty reassurances, she just listens and helps me figure out ways to cope better. She even gives suggestions for how to broach difficult topics with my husband.

7. Don’t over accommodate. The person with migraine can feel so bad for migraine’s impact on their relationship that they try to make up for it by bending over backwards to make their partner happy. Similarly, a non-migraineur may be so sorry that their sweetie is sick that they give into the migraineur’s every whim. A person’s role and “voice” in a relationship diminishes when they give up so much to the other. Trying to make someone happy by sacrificing your own needs leaves both people dissatisfied.

8. Talk about how migraine impacts your relationship. The truth will probably hurt both of you. Talk about it anyway. If you don’t talk about what you’re both feeling, all the thoughts and emotions are still there, you’re just not acknowledging them. Knowing exactly what your partner is struggling with and why keeps you from guessing (probably incorrectly) how they’re feeling. It also helps you both figure out how you might be able to meet each other’s needs. (These discussions are difficult in any relationship and impossible in some. A couples’ therapist can help you through these conversations.)

Not all of these suggestions apply to every relationship, nor is it an exhaustive list of the problems that can arise. Only you can know what works for you and your partner, but I hope some of these suggestions will spark ideas that can help reduce the burden of migraine in your relationship. They’ve been tremendously helpful for my husband and me.

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.


  • BethBlue
    4 years ago

    Your article doesn’t take into account the fact that there might be others in the household who significantly impact a marriage. What has complicated matters for me is that my adult son (24 years old) has become involved in many of the arguments that take place in our home. He still lives with us (he commutes to the city while he is saving to move out), and he has become quite a bully towards me. My husband used to be patient with me about migraines. Now, my son has aligned himself with my husband and the two of them have taken to ganging up on me. They no longer have any patience with my health woes; they scoff when I try to tell them that I don’t feel well. If I plead with my son to stop screaming at me because it hurts, he’ll just yell louder to annoy me. (My migraines have become worse over the past year, which just makes matters worse.) Finally, I am starting therapy tomorrow and hopefully I will be able to get a prescription for anti-anxiety meds — I desperately need them. Meanwhile, I have repeatedly begged my husband to evict my son — who also chain smokes pot, which is a terrible trigger for me — to no avail. I am at the very end of my rope, and my husband accuses me of hating my son. I don’t, but I resent him deeply for what he is doing to my marriage and my health. He has even gone so far as to tell his new girlfriend that I am “a psycho,” and I haven’t even met her yet — but he expects me to. I was absolutely floored, and deeply hurt. I hope that tomorrow’s appointment holds some promise. Just bear in mind that some marriages have a person around that you just cannot escape and with whom you cannot deal. Thanks for letting me vent.

  • laurahildebrand
    5 years ago

    My husband walked out on me because of my chronic migraines. I admire men who are able to stay and support their wives through this chronic disease. I’m hopeful that I will meet someone somehow who will love me despite my migraines, or maybe even because they are a part of who I am. It’s been a hard year, but I am learning to accept myself, migraines and all. Laura

  • The Migraine Girl moderator
    4 years ago


    It’s been a few months since Kerrie wrote this article, but in those months I ended up getting married and wanted to read Kerrie’s words of wisdom. I am so sorry to hear of your husband’s leaving you. That must have been so hard. I think it takes a special person to be able to be in a relationship with a chronically ill person, and I think you’re onto something: once you learn to accept yourself, “migraines and all,” you’ll be more likely to find someone who can also accept you and love you as you are. I will be thinking of you. I hope you’re feeling good today.

    Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Kerrie- fantastic article!! I’m so lucky that my boyfriend is understanding about my plight. There are times when the burden on him is significant and communication between us AND getting others to help him (and me!) is so important.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator
    4 years ago

    Amen to all this! -Janet G.

  • Cedar FireFly
    5 years ago

    I was explaining to my husband how my migraines are another person in our relationship. I feel blessed that my husband has stuck with me for 15 years through it all. He too has to deal with the pain of migraines even if he has never had one. We both get frustrated and short tempered sometimes but we realize its the migraines and not each other so forgiveness is quick. We both grieve together for the things my migraines take from us. We both have a mutual understanding of what responsibilities we both have in our relationship based on what we do best even though these things do change from time to time dependent upon my migraines.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator
    4 years ago

    It sounds as if you two have something really special but that you have put a lot of work and time into it to get it to that place. Kudos to you guys–I wish you many more years of happiness and great communication.

    -Janet G., “The Migraine Girl”

  • Tammy Rome
    5 years ago

    Giving it the family therapist’s seal of approval! Five stars to you, Miss Kerrie! I also have 25 years in a migraine-filled marriage to back you up. 😉

  • Gypsynurse
    5 years ago

    Had my hubby read this. Migraine makes marriages difficult sometimes and I really don’t want to have a divorce over this disease! Thanks for the post!

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