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Marriage and Migraine: Striving to Make It Work

After two decades of marriage, and most of it with migraine playing a role, my husband and I continue to strive to find new ways to navigate the condition together and separately. It’s an ongoing journey and a challenge to ensure that the disease doesn’t become a centerpiece of our lives. Or worse, a weed in our symbolic garden that threatens our future.

Finding time together

Finding ways to connect and spend time together can be an enormous challenge when one partner has chronic migraine. Migraineurs often need to be in quiet, darkened rooms, with little stimulation, while we maneuver through the intense pain of an attack. It is very difficult to interact with others when managing severe pain and related symptoms like nausea and vomiting.

My husband never sits still. He is constantly on the go, juggling multiple tasks and capable of doing whatever he puts his mind to. He is a marathoner who has renovated our house, built decks, done landscaping, and on and on.

Leading separate lives

For us, our starkly different realities began to lead to the completely logical, but unhealthy dynamic of spending very little time together. I wanted (and encouraged) him to pursue healthy experiences. I didn’t want him to be holed up with me in a dark room while I muscled through attack after attack. At every turn, I pushed him to get out of the house, pursue his passions, and spend time with friends. Meanwhile, he lovingly came through for our kids– taking them to sporting events and family gatherings, transporting them all over town, whenever I was unable to take the lead of come along. He has always been attentive and wanting to know how I am faring from day to day, but when the answer is the same, day after day, that can get old.

We started realizing that our time together had dwindled to barely anything. But how do we address that when I am incapable of participating in so much of a normal life?

Seeking common interests

Because my husband loves being outside, and because we recently got a new dog, I took to joining him in doing some light landscaping and clearing trails outside. Even though it involves pushing myself slightly from time to time, doing so provides a way for us to spend time together doing something we both love. It gives us time to talk and laugh and just be. And in so doing, we remember how much we enjoy each other’s company.

I tend to spend more time inside, watching TV, cooking, playing with our pets, and doing crafts and house projects. To meet me halfway in my more quiet existence, my husband joins me every Sunday afternoon for a couple of hours. No matter how I’m doing, we carve out that time together.  Hopefully, I’m in good enough shape to join him out and about, but if not, and even if I’m very ill, he’ll sit with me in a dark room and read a book, or we’ll cook a meal or watch a quiet movie at home together. This helps us stay in touch and connected.

Setting new goals

Our ongoing goal is to have a healthy connection and positive daily interactions despite the fact that one of us is battling a fairly constant health challenge. One thing is for certain, the target is always moving, and the goal is never met. Marriage is not easy and migraine adds many layers of complication. Just like in any marriage, it’s an ongoing journey to keep our union as the centerpiece of our lives, to prioritize one another, to remain connected and to continue communicating. Marriage doesn’t just happen. It has to be tended to, like a garden, and it takes focus and care in order to stay alive and well.


  • exile
    1 year ago

    I wish I’d been wise enough to accurately assess my now ex-wife’s narcissistic empathy-deficiency before wedding her (at a “family values”
    church, no less). And before thrice entwining our stuck togetherness as (now-mere) “co-parents”, exponentially more interweaved all-of-us-together with each of 3 sons.

    Her two-years of bedding others (the last year, openly, as I’d caught her), and then after she divorced us, her belittling of the hell spouses live in after abandonment by family (“Get over it!”)—particularly the lack of any support system for a long-migraneur-father-divorced-for-no-stated-reason-by-his-wife—it broke me.

    Had I been wiser, maybe I wouldn’t be utterly abandoned and alone whenever in migraine’s grasp. Especially during the holidays. Alternately sobbing, raging weakly, emotionally numb, then emo-ragged/jagged again. Curled in the dark. With only memories and pains. Memories that haunt, that eat away at one’s identity, that overwhelm any silver linings or clichéd words of “help”.

  • karlawk1
    1 year ago

    I also have a very active husband. I have had migraines for 58 of my 75 years & have been in love & married for 45 years. For the last 22 years my hubby goes out of town Monday through Thursday & spends the majority of weekend day hours working outdoors in his garage or tending to gardens, fruit trees, lawns & a variety of critters. He spends evenings indoors with me. Saturday evenings are our designated date/intimate time. Once in a while my head etc. have been too severe to enjoy but normally I enjoy the distraction.
    I have had chronic migraines for more than 6 years. Through the years I have tried anything & everything for the pain. I currently am down to 1 opioid which I try to limit to 3 doses per 24 hours. I am extremely fortunate to have a husband who understands & loves me unconditionally. He will be retiring soon. I only pray he will be as patient & understanding when he is no longer traveling & is around me many more hours. Knowing we have always found a way to accommodate my migraines & related issues with love & humor, I have hope.

  • Holly Harding Baddour moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us. You help illustrate the many chapters that can accompany a life that includes migraine. It sounds like many of us, and our partners, are doing the best we can to accommodate the space that this complex neurological disease can take up in our relationships. The commonality seems to be understanding partners, who are encouraged to have their own interests, who together prioritize some time together each week when possible. It sounds like the two of you have quite a foundation on which to stand when he retires. And I couldn’t agree more: love and humor are key!

  • mbabi1970
    1 year ago

    OMG Holly. You and I are definitely living the same life. However, my hubby and I haven’t created a way to be together more like you mention. Very good advice and life has been crazy leading up to my one son leaving for college. My husband is exactly the same. Can’t stay still. Has a million projects going. Always fixing something, building something, chopping wood. It’s crazy but he doesn’t know any differently. I have really been thinking about the separate lives thing lately because he has started sleeping in the guest room most nights because he snores and moves alot in his sleep and it wakes me up. I just need everything to be still. So, not even sleeping in the same bed makes it all feel even more like separate lives. He works long hours. Has a long commute into NYC. So by the time he gets home, I’m done, in bed with an ice pack 4 out of the 5 week days. We just celebrated our 22nd anniversary in September and I made dinner reservations for a Friday night and Saturday night just in case. Well, I couldn’t go either night. Then, did the same thing the following weekend, and couldn’t go either day again. It’s so frustrating. Ironically, at the dinner I was going to bring up trying to find more time for one another. Another conversation not had. And I hate answering the “how are you feeling” question every day with “not so good”. How much can the man take? He’s had a stressful day and honestly probably wishes there was a nice hot dinner for him waiting. But my cooking is very rare these days. I know he loves me and he has been a rock and the only reason I am not a complete mess at this point in my life, but I do wonder….when will enough be enough for him. When will the bottom drop. And, as we move toward a new phase in our marriage (our youngest is a soph in hs), I have to wonder how this will all be when it’s just us. xoxo Michele

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