Practical Tips When You’re Married to Someone With Bipolar Disorder

Practical Tips When You’re Married to Someone With Bipolar Disorder

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In sickness and in health, right? Well, mania and maybe episodes of depression, too, are putting your vows to the test. With the right tools, you can cope with whatever comes your way.

You and your spouse may have knock-down, drag-out verbal matches. They might go from feeling sad to feeling elated; from wanting loads of sex to having none; from having fun times filled with energetic activities to being unable to take out the trash.

Maybe they talk your ear off at one point, yet don’t speak to you for days at other times. Or perhaps they go from saving money to wild spending sprees.

This is what a marriage to someone living with bipolar disorder can look like.

Or, with transparency, strong mutual intimacy, and having routines and a solid treatment plan, it could look like a smooth-running train: Yes, there are departures and arrivals, but you’ll both know the signs, act accordingly, and keep things moving forward.

Bipolar disorder, previously called manic depression, is a mental health condition known for sudden or intense changes in mood.

Someone with bipolar disorder may experience highs — mania or hypomania — that involve high energy, an increased sex drive, impulsivity, agitation, and even anger or irritability. Some people may also have lows, known as depressive episodes.

There are three types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder. Each type comes with its own set of similar symptoms, patterns, and cycling phases. A diagnosis may also include features or additional specifiers to better describe your spouse’s condition.

What might bipolar disorder look like? In an episode of mania, your partner may drive too fast or recklessly, overspend, act out sexually, or even become emotionally or physically abusive. On the other end, in a depressive episode they may be too depressed to get out of bed, work, or just perform everyday tasks around the house.

A small study in 2019 found a significant increase in marital distress among partners of people with bipolar disorder, including issues like:

  • family finances
  • career or job decisions
  • household tasks

The good news is that if your partner is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and moves forward with treatment, you can work together to make your marriage healthy and successful.

Since people with bipolar disorder may have different types, severity, and particular features, each person’s condition will be unique.

For example, an analysis in 2009 observed how someone’s symptoms and condition can change in type and the length of episodes as they age.

Educating yourself on bipolar disorder can help you learn what to expect from your relationship and your partner’s mood episodes.

Being in contact with your spouse’s healthcare team is also a great idea, according to Nicole Nina, a therapist in Aurora, Colorado.

If your partner agrees to include you as a contact on their medical release forms and share information access, it can:

  • provide 2-way communication between you and their treatment team, in case of emergency
  • help you know their particular diagnosis so you know what to expect in general
  • keep you in the loop on their treatment plan, therapy, and medication routine so you can be an advocate in their journey

Sasha Jackson, therapist in Brooklyn, New York, says that psychoeducation is crucial to helping your marriage.

Other ways you can help your spouse, yourself, and your marriage

Make a plan together

As a spouse, you may be the most in tune with how symptoms occur in your loved one. “Over time, you will likely be able to pinpoint when your spouse is getting ready to enter either a cycle of mania or a cycle of depression,” says Nina.

You may not be able to stop the cycle, but you can develop plans to ride them out together.

For instance, you can have a plan in place to prevent your partner from making large purchases or engaging in harmful behaviors when they’re having a manic episode.

You can also weather depressive episodes by helping them get their tasks completed or giving them a pass on the garbage or yard work when you know they’re not up for it.

Even just having plans in place for when an episode comes on can give you a sense of control and help you prepare.

Talk about impulsive and reckless behaviors

Since impulsivity and reckless behaviors can be symptoms of bipolar disorder that affect marital life, addressing them openly when your partner is in a stable state — called euthymia (you-thigh-me-uh) — can make a difference.

“Create a plan with your partner to help reduce damage from behaviors,” says Jackson. An example would be agreeing to limit access to credit cards if they have a history of impulsive spending or gambling when experiencing mania or hypomania.

Likewise, agree to opt for the passenger seat or a rideshare, or reschedule a long road trip if they have trouble with speeding or reckless driving during mania.

Don’t take mood changes personally

“It’s difficult to not take your partner’s mood dysregulation (depression, irritability, anger, or [ill-timed] happiness) as a personal attack,” says Jackson. “However, mood swings are a symptom of bipolar disorder and have to do with a chemical imbalance.”

Even though it’s hard, instead of taking it personally, communicate with your partner about ways you can help them cope and ways you’d like them to try and communicate their needs so they can avoid escalations like raised voices, the silent treatment, or personal attacks.

Ensure they have the resources they need

“Bipolar disorder is primarily managed through medication to stabilize the [mood],” says Nina.

If they ask you to hold them accountable, you can remind your partner to take their meds, keep their supply current, attend their therapy and medication appointments, and prioritize their health — eating right, exercising, and sleeping well. Lifestyle habits are known to help reduce severity of episodes.

Psychotherapy can also be a vital tool for managing the emotions that come with the condition.

Nina says helping your partner find the right therapist for them can ensure they have a trusted relationship with an objective party to help maintain and build on their progress.

Remember to enjoy time with each other

It’s easy to forget the pleasurable memories you’ve had with your spouse when managing health conditions takes so much of your time and energy. But it’s important to stay present, create space to enjoy each other’s company, have fun together, and continue to build your life.

“Every couple experiences highs and lows — spouses of those with bipolar disorder just get more heights and canyons to see,” says Nina.

Take care of yourself

Whether it’s a mental health or physical condition, taking care of a spouse, parent, or child can be taxing.

When supporting someone, you’ll want to have a self-care plan in place, where you put yourself first and make sure you get proper sleep, exercise, and downtime you need. Otherwise, you’ll burn out — or worse, feel resentful.

Choose activities that increase your energy and calm your emotions:

  • Do an exercise you love like hiking, swimming, meditation.
  • Find a hobby like reading or doing puzzles.
  • Get away for me-time.
  • Spend time in nature or with friends.

Ask for help when you need it

“Being in a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder may be overwhelming at times,” says Nina. It’s OK — scratch that — vital to get an assist from online support groups, a therapist, or your spouse’s family if they’re privy to the diagnosis, whenever needed.

You may even consider marriage counseling to help you two meet the challenges and rise above them.

Marriage is less of a static institution and more of a living, breathing, organism: It grows healthy when we nourish and nurture it.

There may come a time when you need similar support, grace, and a proactive investment from your partner who’s also managing a chronic condition. Stay encouraged. A healthy bond is adaptable — physically, emotionally, and mentally.

The Connection Between Bipolar Disorder and Hypersexuality

Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania.

Tom Merton / Caiaimage / Getty Images

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a diagnosis bestowed upon those who experience sweeping mood swings that range from depressive lows to manic highs. It's a disorder that can have a variety of adverse effects on your life, including irritability, psychosis, sadness, low energy, low motivation, or loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.

Building a support system can help

Many people enter into relationships with a bipolar person unwittingly, thinking it will be smooth sailing, Adele Viguera, MD, a psychiatrist at the Cleveland Clinic who works with bipolar couples seeking to start a family, tells Health. "Maybe they meet the person when the person is hypomanic, not realizing that mood can change," she says.

Tim, 37, tried for three years to sustain a relationship with a woman eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder. "She would cycle between extreme happiness and depression," he says, recalling her paranoia, impulsiveness, and self-destructive insecurity. "She broke up with me and started dating other people, and then when I dated other people she tried to win me back." Like many people with bipolar disorder, Tim&aposs girlfriend also struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and got deep into debt—with his credit card. Tim eventually broke down emotionally himself, ended the affair, and tried to forget the experience. "Half of me moved on, but half of me will always love her," he says.

Divorce and separation are common in relationships involving bipolar disorder, but according to Dr. Viguera, such relationships don&apost have to be destructive and separation is hardly inevitable. Both parties have to participate in its success, however. "Taking care of bipolar disorder is a team effort, involving the two people and a psychiatrist or other mental health professional," she says. While she would never speak to a spouse without her patients consent, such open communication empowers both parties to make treatment decisions that lead to a healthier relationship.

Mental health professionals arent the only ones who can lend a hand. The stigma of mental illness can make couples hesitant to look elsewhere for help, but Karp emphasizes that extended family members and trusted friends can all provide invaluable support. "Spread it around a little bit," he says. "People need support systems. By keeping the illness a secret, people place an additional burden on themselves." Karp also recommends that anyone who cares for someone struggling with bipolar person find a support group in their area.

6 CBT Techniques for Bipolar Disorder

CBT teaches several important skills that target the core ways bipolar disorder affects you, Rego says. These include:

1. Accepting your diagnosis. The first step is to understand and acknowledge that you have a disorder that's responsible for your symptoms. This is often difficult for people with bipolar disorder to accept, so teaching the signs, symptoms, causes, and course of the disorder is essential. It helps people embrace the idea of getting help while also knowing they’re not alone, Rego says.

2. Monitoring your mood. This is often done using a worksheet or journal, which is kept up on a daily basis between sessions and then reviewed with your therapist. People are asked to rate their mood daily on a 0-to-10 scale, in which 0 represents “depressed,” 5 stands for “feeling OK,” and 10 is equivalent to “highly irritable or elevated mood.” The purpose is to become more aware of mood triggers and changes.

3. Undergoing cognitive restructuring. This process focuses on correcting flawed thought patterns by learning how to become more aware of the role thoughts play in your mood, how to identify problematic thoughts, and how to change or correct them. The therapist teaches the patient how to scrutinize the thoughts by looking for distortions, such as all-or-nothing thinking, and generating more balanced thinking.

4. Problem-solving frequently. This step involves learning how to identify a problem, generate potential solutions, select a solution, try it, and evaluate the outcome. Typically first taught in therapy, problem-solving is then practiced between sessions. Problems can be in any domain of life, from relationship distress to unemployment to credit card debt. All of these stressors, if not resolved, can put you at greater risk for a lapse.

5. Enhancing your social skills. Some people with bipolar disorder lack certain social skills, which causes them to feel that they aren’t in control of a certain aspect of their lives. Learning skills such as assertiveness can help you manage interpersonal relationships better.

6. Stabilizing your routine. Engaging in activities on a regular and predictable basis establishes a rhythm to your day, which helps stabilize your mood. Examples include exercising in the early afternoon, setting a consistent sleep and mealtime schedule, making social plans, and doing chores around the house.

10 Tips for Coping With a Bipolar Spouse

Living with a husband or wife who has bipolar disorder can be difficult. Try these tips for coping with the inevitable mood swings.

If you’re married to someone living with bipolar disorder, you already know it’s a rough ride sometimes. The mood swings can make your days together sometimes exhilarating and other times frustrating. Yet you and your bipolar spouse can beat the dire statistics that predict the end of many of these marital unions.

New Orleans resident “Mary” has been married to her husband for 25 years. Almost halfway through their marriage, he was hospitalized at age 42 and received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The diagnosis was not surprising due to a strong family history — but it helped to clarify the situation, says Mary, age 51.

“The diagnosis made it easier, because you know the reason, but it doesn’t change anything. It is a roller coaster. You can have months that are perfectly fine and then all of a sudden it will come from nowhere,” she says.

Mary says she knows the statistics showing higher rates of divorce and abuse in marriages that include one spouse with bipolar disorder. She describes her husband as a “rapid cycler” (“On a day to day basis you never know what it’s going to be,” she explains) and says there are many days and weeks when she is tired, frustrated, and wondering why she is still married. After so many years of marriage and successfully raising a daughter together, she has developed a philosophical and compassionate view of her husband and her relationship.

Coping with Bipolar Spouse Mood Swings

Here are some tips for surviving and thriving in your relationship:

Breathe. When things are tough, take a deep breath and step back. “It’s a disease — it’s not the person. So you try to remember that,” advises Mary.

Build support. Caring for someone with a disease can keep you focused on his needs, but you also need your own sources of support. Joining a support group for family members of bipolar patients can help. Working with your own therapist may also be a good idea. Support from understanding family and friends is also invaluable. Mary has never joined a support group — and says she probably could have benefited from one — but she does find support in her friends.

Get away. Mary says part of what keeps her sane is her job, for which she occasionally travels. Despite the fact that her business trips often coincide with times when her husband stops taking his medications, she values her time away. At home, when her husband’s moods are out of control, Mary acknowledges, “I try to avoid him.”

Laugh. Whether you can insert humor into the situation and get a good response is highly individual, but Mary says this tactic works for her. “I try to make him laugh, to get him out of it,” she says.

Enforce meds. Mary has made it clear to her husband that taking his medication is non-negotiable. “If you can keep them on the meds, you’re okay. It’s a fight. It’s like having another child,” she says. If he refuses to take his meds (as he often does when he is manic), she leaves, even if only to spend the night at a friend’s house to make her point. That usually gets him back on track.

Recall your love. There are hard times in marriage to a bipolar spouse, acknowledges Mary. But she prefers to see the man she fell in love with, even when his moods are unpredictable.

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. Would I want someone to leave me? I don’t think so,” she explains.

Look for triggers. “When your spouse is in a stable or more favorable mood, pay close attention to what environmental triggers precipitated and 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,” advises marriage and family therapist Tracy Todd, PhD, based in Alexandria, Va.

Ask. Despite the mood swings, your spouse can tell you what he needs. “Have an honest discussion about what is helpful to your spouse when he is in an undesirable mood. Incorporate ideas, plans, and strategies so that there can be a minimization of harmful effects,” advises Todd.

Keep talking. There may be days and weeks when it is not easy, but communication is essential. “Communication during and between mood swings is critical to managing the accompanying stressors,” says Todd.

Ultimately, Mary’s experience has given her a unique depth of compassion, both for family members whose loved ones have bipolar disorder and for people who live with bipolar disorder. “[I've said before] that I would hate to be in his head — I can’t even imagine how he feels,” she says.

Tips to Managing a Relationship when your Spouse has Bipolar Disorder

If you are married to someone who is suffering from a bipolar disorder, you know that it is a rough ride at times. Having a spouse with bipolar can put the other partner in the role of caretaker in a relationship. He/she is required to hold everything together when the situation turns bad.

A person with bipolar disorder may be loving and affectionate sometimes and then cold and distant at other times. These erratic behaviours and mood swings of a bipolar partner can be quite challenging, disappointing and frustrating for the spouse. 9 out of 10 people say that they find it difficult to keep the relationship going with a bipolar partner. However, with the right plan and support you and your spouse can beat this statistic and have a happy life.

We share some tips with you to manage and make your relationship work with a bipolar spouse.

Tips for Coping when your Spouse has Bipolar Disorder

  • Help Your Spouse Find the Right Medication: There are many types of medication techniques to treat bipolar disorder. Every medication works a little bit differently so take care you find the right doctor and the right medication that works best for your spouse. Make sure to accompany your partner for his/her doctor’s appointments. Be interactive, ask questions and understand the progress of the treatment from the doctor. Good medication and support, can make a big difference to their quality of life.
  • Educate Yourself: Educate yourself about what your spouse is going through. Find time to read and research about mental illness. Look for triggers, stressors, and soothers that influence your partner’s mood. When your partner is in a stable mood, pay close attention to environmental triggers that can help to keep them stable. Encourage them to use these soothers to maintain their mood.
  • Encourage Your Spouse to Go for Counselling: Counselling is another effective means to combat bipolar disorder. Effective counselling from a social worker, mental health therapist or a relationship counsellor can help your spouse break the negative patterns of this disorder. Counsellors guides the person through the hard times and teach the skills which can help them change their view of the world around them. Counselling, in turn, can also help you to manage your emotions while in a relationship with a spouse who has bipolar.
  • Encourage Them to Participate in Support groups: The main aim of these support groups is to bring together people with bipolar disorder on a common platform where they can share their experiences and talk about their problems with others. There are also support groups for family members and this may be helpful for you as well. Help look for a support group with your partner. If there is no group in your area, take initiative and consider starting one. This will help you and your spouse to overcome the situation and help keep your relationship on track.
  • Build Support: Relationships are all about giving love and support to your partner. Extend your support by giving them the time they need, going out for a dinner date and talking about their day or checking in on how they feel. These small things can have a big impact on your relationship.
  • Recall Your Love: When things are tough, take a deep breath and reminisce about the good old times that you both have spent together. Look at old photographs, recall funny stories and spend time with your spouse. Your spouse’s illness is something which you can both fight against as a team, it’s not who your spouse is.

Other Tips: You can also follow some general tips to manage the relationship with your spouse. These tips are:

  • Don’t argue with them when they are in deep depression. Arguing will cause more tension and stress for both of you.
  • Don’t blame your spouse for the situation it’s not their fault that they are ill. Rather, talk to them about how you feel or what hurts you.
  • If you are experiencing marital problems because of their illness, consider visiting a marriage counsellor for help when your spouse is mentally stable.The number of people experiencing bipolar disorder is increasing year after year. This problem is common in both men and women however, it is more likely to affect women.

At The Family Enhancement Centre, we provide counselling for individuals as well as couple related issues. Our team of experts including social workers, mental health therapists and relationship counsellors can help guide you and your spouse and in turn, help save your relationship. Call us now at 905-799-2228 to check us out and see for yourself.

My Story…

My husband was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at age 40, one year before I met him. (He’s now 55.) Prior to that, I had never known anyone with mental illness (who goes around talking about it?) and there was no evidence of it in my family (did you know there’s a genetic component?)

I spent 3 years in denial, 5 years in therapy, 7 years in intense research to “figure this illness out” and 13 years doubting myself and beating myself up, knowing that if I could be a better wife, then…

If you’re like me, you probably already have. Despite mountains of reading, exhaustive web searches, many support groups and discussions with my husband, I always felt terribly alone in my struggle.

Where were the other husbands and wives of Bipolar spouses. I never met any. I never read about them. There were only 2 or 3 in my support groups. And they weren’t interested in forming a “band of brothers.” I felt totally isolated and helpless.

Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Al was a very wise man. So I decided to try a new approach. And it worked for me! When I say “worked,” it didn’t solve my husband’s bipolar disorder. But it saved ME!

There is only ONE ANSWER for saving people like us who are married to mania.

I identify and explain all the options in my book. In the “Married To Mania” E-book or printed copy (your choice), I give you a plan to grab back control of your life. You’ll learn concrete ideas for handling unexpected mood swings, uncontrollable outbursts of anger, inevitable guilt and remorse (yours and theirs), and the devastating emotions you’ll have when you realize that the life partner you’ve chosen is no longer the person you married.

How to Relate to Someone Struggling with Bipolar Disorder

November 4, 2014 , Kelsey Andrews Bridges to Recovery

Quick Links

There is arguably nothing more difficult to deal with or impactful on a relationship than bipolar disorder. In fact, one study claims bipolar disorder is only surpassed by severe forms of cancer in the adverse effect it has on marital life. So, how do you deal with a bipolar loved one? Is there a way to effectively communicate and cope?

Bipolar disorder can make you feel like you have little control. However, there are lots of things you can do to manage your symptoms and increase your wellbeing:

Get to know your moods add remove
  • Monitor your mood. It can be helpful to keep track of your moods over a period of time. You could try using a mood diary (there are many freely available, such as this one from Bipolar UK).
  • Understand your triggers. For example, if you often feel high after a late night or low when facing a deadline, it can help to recognise these patterns. Then you can take action to avoid the trigger, or minimise its impact.
  • Learn your warning signs. You may start to notice that there is a pattern to how you feel before an episode. This could be:
    • changes in your sleeping pattern
    • changes in your eating patterns or appetite
    • changes in your behaviour.
      Being aware that you are about to have a change in mood can help you make sure you have support systems in place and that you can focus on looking after yourself. It can also help to discuss any warning signs with family and friends, so they can help you.
  • "I have to be careful how much social contact I have – too much can send me high. I have to start saying 'no' to demands."

    Take practical steps add remove
    • Stick to a routine. Having a routine can help you feel calmer if your mood is high, motivated if your mood is low, and more stable in general. Your routine could include:
      • day-to-day activities, such as when you eat meals and go to sleep
      • time for relaxation or mindfulness
      • time for hobbies and social plans
      • taking any medication at the same time each day – this can also help you manage side effects and make sure that you have a consistent level of medication in your system.

      "I have an alarm set on my phone so I take my meds at the same time every day."

      • Manage stress. Stress can trigger both manic and depressive episodes. There are lots of things you can do to make sure you don't get stressed or look after yourself when you do encounter stress. (See our pages on managing stress for more information.)
      • Manage your finances. You can contact National Debtline for free, impartial financial advice. (Also see our page on money and mental health for information on the relationship between money worries and mental health and our legal page on financial decisions and capacity for information on your rights.)
      • Plan ahead for a crisis. When you're in the middle of a crisis it can be difficult to let others know what kind of help you would find most helpful, so it can be useful to make a plan while you are well for how you want to be treated when you are unwell. (See our pages on crisis services for more information.)
      Look after your physical health add remove
      • Get enough sleep. For lots of people with bipolar disorder, disturbed sleep can be both a trigger and a symptom of episodes. Getting enough sleep can help you keep your mood stable or shorten an episode. (See our pages on coping with sleep problems for more information.)
      • Eat a healthy diet. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet can help you feel well, think clearly and calm your mood. (See our pages on food and mood for more tips.)
      • Exercise regularly. Exercise can help by using up energy when you're feeling high and releasing endorphins ('feel-good' chemicals in the brain) when you're feeling low. Gentle exercise, like yoga or swimming, can also help you relax and manage stress. (See our pages on physical activity for more information.)

      "The trick for me is not to be seduced by the 'high' and to look after myself – get enough sleep, good nutrition."

      Build a support network add remove

      Building a support network can be really valuable in helping you manage your mood. A support network might include friends, family or other people in your life who you trust and are able to talk to. The kind of support they can offer includes:

      • being able to recognise signs that you may be manic or depressed
      • helping you look after yourself by keeping a routine or thinking about diet
      • listening and offering understanding
      • helping you reflect on and remember what has happened during a manic episode
      • helping you plan for a crisis.

      "When I tip the balance by going too high or low, I approach people for support."

      Peer support

      Making connections with people with similar or shared experiences can be really helpful. You could try talking to other people who have bipolar disorder to share your feelings, experiences and ideas for looking after yourself. For example:

      • contact Mind's Infoline or a local Mind to see what support there is in your area
      • try an online peer support community, such as Elefriends and Bipolar UK's eCommunity
      • find a local support group through an organisation such as Bipolar UK
      • check out our tips on peer support.

      It can also be helpful to see if your local area has a recovery college. Recovery colleges offer courses about mental health and recovery in a supportive environment. You can find local providers on the Mind Recovery Net website.

      If you're seeking peer support on the internet, it's important to look after your online wellbeing. (See our pages on how to stay safe online for more information.)

      "No two people's experience is the same but there's a peace and joy in not having to explain. Of shared understanding. Of coming home."

      A Word From Verywell

      It's natural to feel frightened the first time you have to speak in front of your class. However, if you fear continues, interferes with your daily life and keeps you awake at night, it may be helpful to see someone about your anxiety.

      Try talking to a parent, teacher, or counselor about how you have been feeling. If that doesn't get you anywhere, ask to make an appointment with your doctor. Severe public speaking anxiety is a true disorder that can improve with treatment.


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