Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Relationships and Migraine

Written by Kelly Amspacher and Lizzie Propati | December 1, 2023

No one likes to be struggling with pain and feel like a burden to their loved ones and friends. Equally, no one likes to see a loved one in pain and not be able to intervene. Relationships when one or more people live with a chronic disease such as migraine can be incredibly challenging to navigate. However, there are also many joys, and having people who are “on your side” can go a long way towards making a difference, and can even be life-changing. One of the biggest ways to help that is by being an empowered self-advocate, and focusing on what you CAN do rather than what you CANNOT. So how do we navigate the joys and challenges of relationships and migraine?

Food For Thought!

Here are some words of wisdom we’d like to share with you to help you manage relationships and migraine, and hopefully, find more joy.

Two women sitting together and having a conversationTIP #1 – Honesty: Be real with your loved ones to let them know you are struggling. Trying to conceal how you feel will only make migraine worse. Honesty is essential for healthy relationships. Migraine can make you feel like a burden to your loved ones, while at the same time making them feel helpless and frustrated. This can lead to resentment and anger, as well as a feeling of being misunderstood, all of which impact relationships. Honesty is crucial even if it means having conversations that aren’t necessarily easy.

TIP #2 – Two-Way Discussion: Create a safe space to have two-way conversations about the challenges you are experiencing due to migraine. Once the challenges are identified, try working together to find solutions, as well as encouraging them to learn more about this harrowing disease. It can be difficult for our loved ones to accept that they can’t fix this disease. Ask how they feel when you have a migraine attack. Are they angry because they can’t make the pain go away? Are they afraid for you? Do they feel as though they are also missing out on life? Addressing their feelings while educating them about migraine will help both of you better understand your behavior, and that will improve your relationship!

TIP #3 – Take Control of your Migraine Plan: Whether it’s your Migraine Tool Box directions  or your List of Medications, have these on your refrigerator for someone to find quickly. Consider having a “go bag” with everything you need in it that your friend or loved one can easily find and help you with. That can also have a short “tip sheet” of things that you need during an attack. Sometimes the brain fog or the pain of a migraine attack can be overwhelming and we can’t think straight. Help can be at the ready if you prepare in advance!

TIP #4 – Explain When and How You Need Help: Many friends and loved ones really are not sure how they can help. They don’t understand the complexities of migraine triggers any more than they know what to do when you are in a full blown attack. That is hardly surprising given that we often don’t understand that ourselves! What triggers an attack for one person may be totally fine for another. What helps during an actual attack is as varied and complex as this debilitating disease.

It can go a long way just to explain what your biggest migraine triggers are and what, if anything, can be done to reduce your exposure. Also, sharing that keeping the lights dim, the home quiet, the kids busy with a quiet activity, and fetching ice packs, is all you need during an attack, can help others feel as though they are making a difference. Communication is crucial to a successful plan.

TIP #5 – Build a Support Team: This may not be easy, because people with migraine, and especially chronic migraine, often tend to isolate. However, building a support team of people who “get it” can really change your life. It’s important to have people you can talk with or who can help you nearby, whether family or friends. This can help make living with migraine less emotionally traumatic, which in itself helps make the pain and other symptoms more manageable. Remember, you are not a burden, so don’t feel like one.

TIP #6 – Show Appreciation: Find ways to show your friend or loved ones that you care. This may seem counter-intuitive when you are the one who is struggling with migraine. However, it is really important to look for ways to make those around you feel loved and appreciated, so that they don’t experience caregiver burnout or end up feeling as though they are the only one “giving.” It’s frustrating for US when migraine attacks take us out at the knees and destroy our plans, but it is also frustrating for those who care about us.

TIP #7 – Focus on What You CAN Do: It’s ok if the chores don’t get done as you would like, or if dinner becomes takeout. It’s ok to say “no” to a beach day or movie theater, or going to a loud party. But it can help to focus on the things that you CAN do rather than those you cannot. It may be different than they are used to, and it may be frustrating at first. However, there are many ways to creatively be “present” without triggering a migraine attack or making one worse.

Hopefully some of this advice will help you navigate the challenges of relationships while finding more joy in them. We are all as different as our migraine attacks, so what works for one relationship may not work for another. What worked for you in the past, may not necessarily work for you now either! We encourage you to explore what is good for you and your friends and loved ones. Healthy relationships can help make all the difference in living with this disease, and it is our hope that each one of us will find more joy and fewer challenges in them. Here’s to a New Year with more pain free days and fabulous relationships……

Let Us Know… what are the greatest challenges you have experienced with relationships to do with migraine? And, what tips and ideas do you have for navigating those challenges successfully to bring in more joy?!

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