In a Relationship with Bipolar Disorder

Relationships are complicated enough.  Throw a mental illness on top of it and the path just got even rockier.  Anxiety, Depression and Bipolar Disorder have an effect on relationships.  My focus today is being in a relationship with someone who has Bipolar.  First a little background for those of you reading this who may be unfamiliar.  A person with Bipolar Disorder is not someone who’s moods go up and down all day.  Someone with Bipolar Disorder may feel depressed for two weeks or more before then feeling manic for at least a week.  Their moods do not shift very quickly all day or even within a couple of days.

Someone with Bipolar Disorder may have a depressed mood and diminished pleasure or interest in normal daily activities.  They may experience weight loss, insomnia or hypersomnia, fatigue or loss of energy.  They may have feelings of worthlessness, diminished ability to think or concentrate and have recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.  This has to occur over a period of two weeks or longer to be considered a depressed episode.  It is also not accounted for by bereavement or due to chemical substances.

Then for about a week they may experience inflated self-esteem or grandiosity and decreased need for sleep.  They may have racing thoughts, be more talkative and have a low attention span.  They may also have excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (gambling, spending sprees, sexual indiscretion).  This has to occur for at least a week to be considered a manic episode and is not due to chemical substances.

Without the proper treatment and medication this disorder can be very hard to live with.  A person in a relationship with someone who has Bipolar Disorder needs to understand the dynamics.  A mood stabilizing medication can help minimize the fluctuation between depression and manic episodes.  Typically with medication and counseling a person with Bipolar can live very normally.  They learn how to better manage their behavior and cope with their emotions in positive ways.  If a person decides to go off medication they put themselves at risk for a depressed or manic episode to occur.  Since their moods don’t change several times a day it can be hard to endure a week or two of severe depression or elevated mood.

If you are in a relationship with a person who has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder you have to remember that you can not control or save them.  You can not make them attend counseling or take their medication every day.  Just like being in a relationship with an addict, there is only so much you can control.  It is easy to get into a parent type role and try to manage this person’s life for them.  Please resist the urge to do this.  This is not helpful to you or to your partner.

They have to decide for themselves how they want to manage their life.  All you can control is being informed about what to expect and being supportive to the person you love.  It is helpful to know why a person does or says what they do.  It may help you have empathy for what your partner is going through and give you patience in those tough moments.  A lot of anger can be avoided when you realize your partner isn’t doing something to you on purpose.  It won’t always be easy, but if your partner is doing everything they can to take care of themselves, your relationship should be manageable.

However, if your boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t want to take responsibility for their emotions or behaviors, you have other choices to make.  We all have to think about how we impact others.  If you are single you can go home in a bad mood every day and not affect anyone else.  In a relationship, you give up that privilege.  You now have to think about how your mood is affecting your partner.  Same thing for a person who has Bipolar.  They have to realize how their emotions and behaviors are impacting you and the relationship.  All you can do is let them know how their actions are affecting you.  They then have the choice to make positive changes.  If they don’t, then the relationship will become unhealthy.  Many people decide not to take care of their mental health.  If they choose to be unhealthy, you then decide if you want to stay in that kind of  relationship or not.  Be smart and remember to focus on what you can control.  Sometimes the only option is to leave.  So be prepared to go in this direction rather than taking the control seat.

For more information on Bipolar Disorder please see the links below.

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/complete-index.shtml

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bipolar-disorder/ds00356

http://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/guide/bipolar-disorder-overview-facts

4 comments on “In a Relationship with Bipolar Disorder

  1. A good book on this topic is The Bipolar Relationship: How to understand, help, and love your partner.

  2. I have been diagnosis with bi polar and ADD in my 20′s not realizing i have been this way all my life (in my teenage years). Life for me is extremely hard and lonesome just the desire to be “normal”. At times for me
    it seems impossible to be in a relationship, and not try to distant yourself, but by reading this article I’ve learned i have to be honest with my friends about my condition .

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Not everyone is going to be able to handle it, but hopefully you meet some genuine people who will love and support you no matter what. I have found that being different in some way makes it easier to determine who is going to stick around and who is going to bail. I’d rather be honest and lose the people who can’t handle it sooner than later. The people who stick are the people who truly love you for who you are. Those people may be few and far between, but they are worth the wait.

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