Living with Someone with Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar disorder is a difficult condition to live with, but when it’s well-managed it presents no barriers to good relationships. Uncontrolled bipolar disorder is another story. The extreme highs and lows associated with bipolar disorder can prove disruptive to even the strongest of bonds. The lack of stability in a person’s mood and the significant  alterations in a person’s behavior can be devastating to a relationship. 

Bipolar disorder consists of periods of normal functioning, divided by phases of depression, mania, or mixed episodes

  • Mania. Manic episodes lead to a bipolar spouse or partner becoming easily irritable and quickly angered. The false euphoria may boost risk-taking behaviors, wildly excessive spending, binge drinking and more dangerous behaviors with long-lasting consequences. For example, a person experiencing a manic episode can easily blow a family’s savings.
  • Depression. In the depressed phase, a person will feel intensely sad and may become very withdrawn and uncommunicative. They’ll usually lose interest in spending time with their spouse and their sex drive will decrease. This is easy to misinterpret as rejection.
  • Mixed Episodes. During a mixed episode, a person with bipolar disorder may have symptoms of mania or hypomania and depression at the same time. This may be confusing or stressful for their partner, who may not know what kind of reaction to expect.

Typically, a person with bipolar will spend weeks to months in a fairly stable mood, with depressive episodes interspersed throughout. Some people however are “rapid cyclers” and will go through at least 4 full phases of mania and depression a year.


How to Live With a Bipolar Spouse

When a bipolar person is in an average mood, everything goes along normally. When a person’s bipolar disorder is well-managed with medicine and therapy, their moods are much the same as anyone else’s. If your bipolar husband or wife stops taking their medication, the disorder will show up as a rapid, severe mood shift.  Your loved one may seem like a stranger during a severe depressed or manic phase. 

It takes a structured and methodical approach to prevent a bipolar marriage breakdown, but it’s possible. Consider the following steps to keeping your sanity when living with someone with bipolar disorder.

  1. Get the facts about bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a complex illness. The more you know about it, the less frightening and confusing it’ll be.
  2. Get into therapy. You need professional support when living with a bipolar spouse. People typically experience many powerful emotions, like anger toward a bipolar spouse, frustration, sadness and disappointment. 
  3. Take care of yourself. The very first step in living with a bipolar spouse or partner is to take care of yourself. Don’t neglect yourself for one moment. The disorder is exhausting for everyone, and too many spouses of bipolar people run themselves into the ground. Remember, you’re not responsible for your spouse’s mental health. You’re a partner in their psychological well-being, but you cannot be responsible for anyone’s mental health but your own.
  4. Establish healthy separation. Avoid codependency. Your bipolar husband or bipolar wife has a mental illness. Many people compound the problem by making their own happiness dependent on how happy or stable their partner is. When you’re living with a bipolar spouse, you must learn to enjoy life on your own terms.
  5. Set boundaries. Bipolar people may invade boundaries and push limits, primarily in their manic phase. You have to keep all boundaries firm.  People in manic phases will challenge them.
  6. Be proactive when setting safeguards. It’s important to do things like establishing separate bank accounts
  7. Develop a support system. Your family and friends can provide you with essential support. Don’t cut yourself off from others. It’s important that you feel supported, too.
  8. Insist on medication compliance. It’s likely your spouse will need medications to control their bipolar disorder. Insist that they take them exactly as their physician prescribed, with no changes, every day. Getting the benefit from psychiatric medication requires taking it regularly, without skipping doses.
  9. Keep the lines of communication open. Keep talking to your partner. Ask them what they need from you and let them know your needs.
  10. Be kind to yourself. Living with a bipolar partner is challenging. You deserve good treatment, too. 

This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer. 


Works Cited

Barrios, C., Chaudhry, T. A., & Goodnick, P. J. (2001, December). Rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11825328

Bipolar Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

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