A relationship where there is a chronic illness adds a layer of complication. Having a spouse with migraine has its challenges. Transitioning from husband or wife to caregiver isn’t always a smooth process. There needs to be a balance so that identities are not lost and resentment doesn’t build. It is also important for those of us with migraine to not feel guilty about being taken care of. If the shoe was on the other foot, we’d gladly step into the role of caregiver.
My husband has only known me with migraine. My illness has always been a part of our life together. Here are some things I’ve learned in our 20 years of marriage that has helped us navigate around my illness and grow stronger as a couple.
As we learn more about our disease so should our spouses. The more that they understand migraine, the better they can appreciate and validate our experience. Try to do research together and share information with each other. Show your spouse the things they can do to help you during an attack. Give them guidance on how to best be there for you and direct them to resources where they can learn more about your migraine.
Marriage is a partnership. Both parties need to work together to make the relationship succeed. The same goes with migraine. Become partners in managing migraine. Encourage your spouse to come to your doctor’s appointments and to ask questions. They may need clarifications on things or may have unique observations about your symptoms. Their perspective is important and should be included. Come prepared with both sets of questions and make sure that you both get what you need out of the visit.
There will be times when our spouses will need to take time off from work to care for us. A limited amount of sick and vacation days can make this stressful. Encourage them to speak with their Human Resources department about getting extended leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Time can be used for doctor appointments, hospital stays, or emergency room visits. Ever since my husband signed up for FMLA at his job, it’s been much easier for him to take time off for my needs.
Our caregivers give so much of themselves to be there for us. Oftentimes, it is done without any acknowledgement. It is important to let them know how much we appreciate their unconditional love and support of us. Whenever I am up to it, I like to fix my husband’s favorite meal as a token of my appreciation. Mostly, I make sure to tell him that I see and appreciate what he does for me every day.
Just as important as acknowledging your spouse’s efforts is acknowledging their feelings. It isn’t easy for them to see their spouses in so much pain. Seeing a loved one suffer often generates feelings of helplessness and desperation. Harboring those feelings isn’t healthy. We should make an effort to check in on how they are coping. Encourage them to share how they feel. Find out what their needs are. If necessary, look for caregiver support groups so that they have a community that understands what they are going through.
Appreciate the small things
Migraine is a thief that steals time, opportunities, and productivity away from us. It also helps us to appreciate the smaller things in life. Simple things like watching a movie or going for a walk mean so much more when you can actually enjoy them without being in pain. When there is a good or halfway-decent day, take the time to smell the roses and do what makes you both happy. Whether it’s sitting on the porch or getting some ice cream, get out there and enjoy each other’s company.
Keep the romance
It can be difficult to sustain romance and intimacy in a marriage with migraine. There are fewer date nights and romantic getaways. Some creativity is required. For example, I can rarely go out due to chronic migraine, so we have a bed picnic! We order from our favorite restaurant, put on a good movie, and have a picnic right on the bed, followed by some snuggling. It’s fun, comfortable (I can stay in my pajamas), and promotes intimacy and quality time together.
Keep a sense of self
It is so easy to lose ourselves in the roles we play. We must not forget who we are outside of them. There is more to us than having migraine or being a caregiver. And it is perfectly okay to want to be seen as more than that. Neither of you are your spouse’s migraine. You both just so happen to live with it. You should still do what makes you happy and feel authentic without the guilt. You only have one life. Even though there are limits, you can still find happiness in it and in each other.
See more helpful articles:
Chronic Migraine Impacts and Burdens the Entire Family
3 in the Bed: 5 Ways to Make Room for Migraine in Your Marriage
Surrendering to Migraine: Lessons on Pacing