Bipolar disorder wears many faces.
Experiences with bipolar in a relationship run the gamut from wonderful and exciting to confusing, disappointing and devastating.
Mood swings can make your life together exhilarating and frustrating.
This article addresses some of the issues that can arise, so you and your bipolar spouse can beat the dire statistics and thrive.
Let’s dive right into it.
When things are tough, draw in a deep breath and step back.
You would accept symptoms due to something medical and treat it with medication or food. It’s important to remember that it’s the chemistry of their brain that is driving their rage or depression.
It’s the disease — it’s not the person. So remind yourself daily.
- Listen With Your Heart Then Your Head
Your best bet is to recognize the signs and problems early. Keep your cool, and take the bipolar-related challenges seriously. Question and seek to understand what they’re going through. Never tell them how they “should” feel.
Do what you need to keep your heart open and see the soul of a very young child in your husband or wife. Be ‘very quiet’ in your heart allowing them to express the pain they feel inside.
Experience the situation with this sense of peace and presence while you maintain proper boundaries and consequences.
- Build Support
Caring for your partner with a mental health disease can keep you focused on their needs or care, however, it’s important to have your own sources for support, care and advice.
- Join a support group for family members of bipolar patients
- Work with your own therapist
- A strong foundation from understanding family and friends
- Have a mindfulness practice
- Get away
Making time away for yourself can help.
Whether it’s your job, an evening out with a friend, or short travel, your time away is valuable. If it means your spouse doesn’t take his or her medications while you’re gone, maybe you can work out a solution for that. Possibly, a trusted supportive person or a tele-presence call reminder. It’s important to honour your mental health.
When your loved one’s moods are out of control, try to stay out of the line of fire.
- Control Stress
Anger or depression in someone with bipolar can often be triggered by stress.
First control stress in yourself and this will naturally transfer to the people around you. Better yet, have your spouse participate and experience your own mindfulness strategies together, such as yoga and meditation.
Insert humor into the situation to ease the stress. Laughter is a great reliever of stress.
- Enforce Medications
Make it clear to your spouse that taking their medication is non-negotiable. There might be times when it’s difficult, however do your best to stand firm on this.
Mary, who’s husband is bipolar, uses this tactic, “If he refuses to take his meds (as he often does when he is manic), I leave, though if only to spend the night at a friend’s house to make my point”. She says, “That usually gets him back on track.”
- Remember The Love Between You
There are hard times in any marriage, let alone one with a bipolar spouse. Remember things about the person you fell in love with over the years, especially when their moods are unpredictable.
The signs of that love are still there.
- Know (or Grow) Your Philosophy of Marriage
Mary believes in the commitment she made when she married her husband. “You know, I married a man for better or for worse. I did not marry a disease.”
While she acknowledges bipolar disorder is difficult, she also notes, “The person I fell in love with is still there. Do I want someone to leave me? I don’t think so,” she explains.
- Look For Stressors Or Soothers
When your spouse is in a stable or more favorable mood, pay close attention to any signs that help to change it. What environmental triggers precipitated or are maintaining the stability?
Often there are specific environmental stressors or soothers — including relationship issues — that influence mood swings.
Use the soothers to help maintain the mood that both of you are desiring.
- Ask Questions About What’s Helpful
Despite the mood swings, your spouse will have answers or advice as to what they need. Have an honest discussion about what can help your spouse when he is in an undesirable mood.
Incorporate ideas, plans, and strategies for a minimization of harmful effects.
- Keep Communicating
There may be days and weeks when it is not easy, however, communication is essential. Try to understand that the feelings your husband or wife are having are real for them.
Arguing or trying to reason with your husband or wife when they’re unstable or during a manic phase is pointless and will likely end up causing further frustration for both sides.
Communication during and between mood swings is critical to managing the accompanying stressors.
Does Bipolar Disorder Ruin Relationships?
Like all individuals, people with bipolar disorder have many good attributes, and at times, they also display less desirable qualities, such as being withdrawn, verbally abusive, irritable, moody, and depression.
They might feel affectionate and loving sometimes and cold and distant at other times. The person might welcome and enjoy sex one day, while rejecting affection the next day.
It’s tricky when neither of you knows if it’s bipolar disorder behind the tension and trouble between the two of you or not. The individual may not realize they have bipolar disorder.
If your spouse refuses treatment, learn to protect yourself and any children from misconduct. This can take the form of:
- Verbal offense (rampant blaming)
- Financial misuse (spending money; taking on massive debt)
- Emotional abuse (controlling, cruel behavior)
- Physical abuse (irritability spins out of control)
However, when your spouse fully accepts the diagnosis and resolves to get treatment, it’s a sign you can begin working together and develop your marriage stronger than ever.
Many people with bipolar disorder have happy, successful marriages.
Can Bipolar Cause Abusive Behavior?
Bipolar people can be abusive, but then, so can non-bipolar people. The potential for emotional abuse can flow two ways in relationships involving a bipolar spouse.
Typically, the abuser leverages the mental health issue as a way of achieving dominance and control over his or her spouse. In an abusive relationship, first it may start out innocently enough, but it doesn’t usually remain that way.
The extreme mood shifts of bipolar disorder can have a disinhibiting effect on abusive impulses that would otherwise not get expressed. Also, if substance abuse is involved, as sometimes is the case, this would also have a releasing or disinhibiting effect.
A bipolar disorder may make it easier to be abusive even as the being bipolar probably did not “cause” the abuse.
Conversely, the partner who doesn’t question their mental health, could be a party to abusive behavior too.
Here are some scenarios:
- What may start out as an expression of interest and understanding in one’s illness may soon turn into a weapon of destruction. In no time, the husband, who doesn’t have bipolar, doesn’t recognize the wife’s legitimate emotions and concerns and dismisses them as part of the illness.
- The bipolar spouse may begin being candid about her symptoms, although, it may soon turn into a justification for refusing to take personal responsibility. Often, the offending conduct has nothing to do with the illness or any other related condition.
- Keeping healthy may involve them taking precautions like getting to meetings well in advance or taking chill breaks or rigid sleep routines. The spouse without bipolar may work to defeat these efforts through shame, ridicule, expressions of losing patience, or by not keeping to agreements.
- It is quite normal to show consideration for the needs of the bipolar husband. It’s another to put up with selfish whims. From the setting of the thermostat to hogging the remote, the prima donna always has a bipolar justification.
- People with bipolar are constantly second-guessing themselves about how well, or not, they are fitting in. Over time, the husband might assist by finding ways to undermine his wife’s confidence. Typically, the wife is reduced to being the “crazy” one, deficient, the social misfit, feeling as though it’s a wonder anyone even puts up with her and depression sets in.
- People with bipolar sometimes also elevate themselves as special above others. The wife may remind the husband of this at every available opportunity. In this context, the husband is reduced to being a stick-in-the-mud, deficient, the social misfit. It’s a wonder the wife who has bipolar even puts up with him.
Can Verbal Abuse Cause Bipolar?
Experiencing abuse verbally, in isolation to other abuses in children, has a lasting negative effect on the course of bipolar disorder, researchers have found.
Verbal abuse was associated with an earlier onset of bipolar disorder and worse prognosis compared with no abuse in the family or elsewhere. This answer was from a study led by Robert Post (Bipolar Collaborative Network, Bethesda, Maryland, USA).
Their research says, reducing the “impact of verbal abuse on the unfolding course of bipolar disorder appears to be an important target of therapeutics and worthy of attempts at primary and secondary prophylaxis.”
The effect of verbal abuse on the age of bipolar onset was related to its frequency, with patients reporting having experienced verbal abuse “occasionally” or “frequently” developing bipolar disorder earlier than those experiencing it “never” or “rarely”.
Given the potential neurobiological effects of verbal abuse of children in the family, the team of researchers recommends interventions such as family-focused treatment. This can help prevent the occurrence of verbal abuse along with other psychotherapies to lessen its effects.
How Do You Communicate With A Bipolar Spouse?
High or low periods may be emotional for both partners. For this reason, open communication is crucial. Explain how the behavior of the person with bipolar disorder makes you feel, without judging them or stigmatizing the bipolar condition.
Share your concerns in a loving way. Ask your loved one questions about how they’re feeling, and make an effort to truly listen—even if you disagree or don’t relate to what’s being said.
Remember, it’s their perspective and experience, which will be different from yours, especially when it’s the illness talking. Let them know you understand how they might be feeling and then redirect the conversation. Ask them how you can help.
Talking openly can be a powerful way to reduce the negative impact that certain behaviors may have. Life together can be more enriching when you see each other more deeply.
There are many ways to support your relationship with someone who has bipolar as a mental health issue. With information, treatment, and the strong foundation of your marriage, your relationship can thrive.
Please consider forwarding this valuable information✅ to someone who you know could benefit.