8 Ways to Manage Migraine’s Impact on Marriage
Last updated: November 2022
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.
Why do relationships suffer?
When all your physical and emotional resources go toward survival, there’s limited 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.
What's my advice?
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.
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.
Be aware of mood and behavior changes. 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.
Avoid important conversations during an 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.)
Recognize the weight your partner carries. When one person in a relationship has migraine, the other person feels the repercussions. Whether it is from canceled 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.
Don’t blame yourself. 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.
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.
Don't over accommodate. The person with migraine can feel so bad for the impact it can have on their relationship that they try to make up for it by bending over backward 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 diminish when they give up so much to the other. Trying to make someone happy by sacrificing your own needs leaves both people dissatisfied.
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.)
Will these tips always work?
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.
Have others downplayed your migraine pain?