Couples coping with clusters: Lived experiences of cluster headache patients and partners

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2021-05

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Abstract

Cluster headache (CH) is a primary headache disorder associated with excruciating pain around the eyes or temples. The pain is compared to having red-hot pokers or ice-pics driven into and through one’s eye. Approximately 124 out of 100,000 people experience CH during their lifetimes. Scant research has examined the impact of CH on couple relationships. There is also a paucity of research examining the lived experiences of individuals (partners) in committed romantic relationships with CH patients. When CH is conceptualized using the biopsychosocial-spiritual model and family systems theory it is assumed that cluster headache holistically influences relational systems.

I utilized interpretive phenomenological analysis to explore (a) partners’ lived experiences with CH and (b) the relational experiences of CH patients and partners. I conducted interviews with seven couples wherein at least one partner had CH. In all, 20 interviews (13 individual and seven dyadic) were analyzed. Seven major themes and 21 associated subthemes were identified during analyses.

Couples had dreams, plans, and their sense of normalcy disrupted by CH and its impact on their lifestyle. They developed unique patterns of support for behaviors and communication during attacks. Partners experienced sorrow and powerlessness trying to help patients deal with CH. Partners also actively sought diagnosis and treatment for CH alongside patients. Couples found community as they intentionally formed connections with others impacted by CH. Their experienced relational tension and misunderstanding because of CH. However, their headache experiences also resulted in relational togetherness and strength. The report that follows includes clinical implications for primary care providers and systemic family therapists.

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Keywords

Cluster Headache, Biopsychosocial, Biopsychosocial-Spiritual, Medical Family Therapy, Family Systems Theory, Couples

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