Migraines affect far more people than the sufferer. Anyone who builds a relationship with a migraineur will deal with many of the same issues. Those who love, befriend, or work with someone who has chronic migraines can find themselves feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, or helpless in the face of what many think is “just a headache.”
Migraine is the third most prevalent illness in the world. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, a quarter of American households contain someone who suffers from migraines. Of those migraineurs, the Mayo Clinic finds almost a quarter of them report their condition affects relationships and 5% said their migraines were a primary cause of separation or divorce.
There can also be a heavy emotional impact of being a migraineur: half of migraineurs (and around 10% of spouses) said the migraine sufferer would be a better partner if they didn’t have migraines.
Of course, migraineurs can suffer a diminished quality of life in other spheres, but there is a significant impact in the areas of social, family, and personal quality of life.
A Functional Definition of Migraines
A migraine is much more than just a headache. Someone who has migraine attacks may experience a range of symptoms that can preclude the attack and leave lasting effects afterward.
Some sufferers experience auras in which they may see flashing patterns of light, hear noises, or slur their speech. These auras can begin days before the migraine attack, causing difficulties with the simplest of tasks.
The main attack of head pain can last from several hours to several days. More than 90% of sufferers experience symptoms that are severe enough to prevent them from functioning normally.
The head pain can be severe and can include sensitivity to light and noise, and possibly sensitivity to light, sound, and touch.
Once the head pain abates, the individual may feel drained or weak. They may also experience depression or elation. A single migraine can have an impact for a week or more, reducing the quality of life for the sufferer and anyone close to them.
Migraines and Mental Health
Migraine is a chronic illness, and like many such illnesses, mental health issues can occur. Many migraine sufferers experience depression severe enough to require ongoing treatment. According to the UK National Health Service, migraineurs are almost three times more likely to suffer depression.
Migraineurs suffer anxiety and sleep disturbances at higher rates than the general population. The American Migraine Foundation states that 30% to 50% of chronic migraine patients suffer anxiety. Around 20% of episodic migraine sufferers experience anxiety as well.
How Does Migraine Affect Relationships?
Regardless of those involved in a relationship of any sort with a migraine sufferer, each must come to terms with a range of issues.
First and foremost, they (and the sufferer) must refrain from thinking of migraines as “just a headache.” A migraine is a severely debilitating condition that can cause the individual excruciating head pain, visual and auditory disturbances, nausea and vomiting, and other miseries.
That said, partners, friends, and co-workers can experience stress from the individual’s condition. They may need to take on additional responsibilities while the sufferer deals with the migraine. They see trips and get-togethers canceled and must adhere to dietary restrictions.
Lost days of work can create financial shortfalls which combine with the expense of treatment to create further stress, anxiety, and depression. More than 157 million workdays are lost each year to migraines in the US alone. Healthcare costs and productivity losses are estimated to be as high as $36 billion annually.
Some migraineurs experience extreme symptoms that can be frightening to those around them. Fainting and loss of vision are rare but can cause fear in both the patient and the friend, spouse, or supervisor.
Migraines and Kids
Migraines cause people to miss out on family events, including holidays and birthdays. Nearly half of patients feel like their problems affect family relationships.
Children can tell when a parent is sick. They may feel scared for their parent, sad because someone is sick, or they are missing a special treat. Kids may even believe they caused the migraine.
The best thing for a migraineur to do is to have an open and honest talk about migraines with their children, but not during the migraine. Look to their age and general level of maturity to guide you in how much to say.
Younger children may respond best to a statement like the following, “Sometimes my head hurts really badly, and I need quiet to feel better.” If a parent feels an imminent migraine, they can let the kids know they are taking some medication and resting for a while.
Above all, migraineurs should try to stay as positive as possible and let their kids know they will feel better soon.
Migraines and Marriage
The life partner of a migraineur takes on physical, emotional, and financial stresses alongside and because of the individual’s condition. It can be difficult for a migraine sufferer to maintain a romantic relationship when it’s interrupted by head pain and other symptoms.
Meals are challenging if certain foods or drinks are primary triggers for a migraine. The partner must always be mindful when making meals or deciding which restaurant to visit.
Needless to say, a migraineur has more than a headache, which can disrupt sexual relations altogether.
Both partners should try to plan for migraines occurring. If the individual has known triggers, plan to avoid them. Make meals in advance for times when nobody feels like cooking. The migraineur should alert their partner that they may need downtime shortly so other tasks, like picking the kids up from school, can be shunted to the partner.
Migraine sufferers should tell their partners what helps and exactly what they need, instead of leaving that person to guess.
Migraines and Friendship
Meaningful friendships contribute to the well-being of a migraineur. Studies show a stronger social benefit than from people related by blood.
A migraine sufferer who has found someone who can deal with the vagaries of their condition, it can relieve much of the stress. A friend who can pick someone up from work who is in the midst of an attack provides significant peace of mind.
Migraine and Work
More people are aware of the power of migraines these days, so approaching the boss is easier than it ever has been. Migraineurs should be open about their condition and help resolve issues affecting job performance.
A migraineur can tell the supervisor something like “sometimes I wake up with migraine pain and I need to treat it before I come to work. I may come in late, but I will make up the lost time. Will that work for the organization?”
Communication Is Essential
The best thing a migraine sufferer can do is be completely open about their problem, let those around them know ahead of time if a migraine is approaching, and tell those caring for them specifically what works and what doesn’t.
Others need to know what type of symptoms to look for or why the patient sometimes acts differently.
Finally, those with chronic migraine should show appreciation to those who stick around to help. Even if the spouse, child, friend, or coworkers try to shrug it off, they need to know that what they do helped.
Migraines don’t mean no relationships, but they can be hard on them. Both patients and those close to them need to keep each other in mind so the relationship can survive the years.