It’s Complicated: Bipolar and Relationships

It's Complicated: Bipolar and Relationships

Emotions, day-to-day stresses and raising a family make most romantic relationships difficult to navigate. When you add mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder to the mix, an average partnership can quickly turn into a manic relationship where both partners constantly struggle to find common ground. While bipolar disorder is a common and treatable condition, it comes with additional challenges for couples, as the person suffering from the condition often acts in ways that hurt and confuse their significant other.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition, formerly known as manic depression, that causes extreme mood swings. Those with this condition alternate between periods of intense hyperactivity, known as mania and hypomania, and phases of major depression. Around 4.4% of American adults experience symptoms of bipolar, making it one of the most common mental health disorders.

There are two known types of bipolar. People with Bipolar 1 experience a severe form of mania for at least a week; symptoms can sometimes include hallucinations and loss of touch with reality. Bipolar 2 sufferers experience less severe hypomania.

Symptoms of both types of mania include impulsivity, increased energy levels, insomnia and risky or self-destructive behaviors. During periods of depression, patients experience low energy, inability to focus, feelings of hopelessness and low self-esteem.

Struggles of a So-Called ‘Manic Relationship’

Symptoms can disrupt day-to-day activities, so it’s understandable how Bipolar 1 or Bipolar 2 and relationships can often lead to heartache. During a manic episode, the partner with the disorder can act in confusing and upsetting ways.

How does a bipolar person act in a relationship? They can be easily irritable and say hurtful things, go on spontaneous spending sprees and start projects they’re unlikely to finish, such as a home renovation. Often, during mania, people engage in high-risk activities such as alcohol and drug use and even promiscuity.

Extreme mood shifts in behavioral patterns can cause confusion and emotional exhaustion. Studies show that some of the most significant negative impacts bipolar disorder has on a couple include:

  • Relationship insecurity. People tend to seek safety and stability from their partners. The daily struggle and emotional roller coaster that comes with manic episodes can weaken the bond and lower the chance of long-term commitment.
  • Social stigma. During manic episodes, people with bipolar can often act inappropriately and do things they later regret. This can lead to the couple cutting off their social circle and avoiding seeing people out of embarrassment.
  • Intimacy struggles. While mania is characterized by hypersexuality, during depressive episodes, the partner with bipolar may show no interest in their partner or their relationship. It’s also worth noting that mania may cause infidelity.

Bipolar disorder is treatable with medication and psychotherapy. However, some patients may discontinue treatment or be sporadic in taking their prescribed drugs as they miss the euphoria accompanying manic episodes. For their romantic partner, however, this can be difficult to understand.

Do Bipolar Relationships Always Fail?

While symptoms of bipolar disorder can strain a romantic relationship, they’re not always doomed for failure. People with this condition suffer from severe symptoms, and the drastic emotional changes can become tiring. However, with the proper treatment and coping strategies, couples can overcome the difficulties associated with this illness.

Couples that face hardships together can strengthen their bonds and gain a deeper trust in each other. Working together toward a common goal can also increase levels of compassion, empathy and understanding — all pillars of a successful life together, even if one partner has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Obsessive relationships, however, can be harmful. While it’s possible to have a happy life together when one person has bipolar disorder, it’s also important to set clear boundaries and take time apart when needed.

If you find yourself constantly sacrificing and putting your own well-being second to caring for your partner with the disorder, it might be time to let go of the relationship. Or, if you’re in a relationship with a person who uses your mental health diagnosis against you and constantly belittles you for it, they might not be the best partner for you.

Coping With Bipolar Disorder as a Couple

Romantic relationships where one partner is struggling with a serious mental health condition are complicated. However, there are ways for both partners to work together and better understand each other and their needs. Here are some tips to help you navigate life together after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder:

  • Research the condition. You need to understand how the disorder works and how it manifests so you can better support your partner and the way they act. Knowing why your partner acts the way they do can help you not take their behaviors to heart.
  • Don’t blame everything on bipolar disorder. Both partners are responsible for communicating their needs and working on the relationship. While the disorder can be debilitating, it doesn’t remove individual responsibility for hurtful actions such as infidelity.
  • Set healthy boundaries. Tell your partner what behavior you won’t tolerate and establish these boundaries together.
  • Stick to your treatment plan. If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it’s important to take advice from a mental health professional and keep your partner up to date on your treatment and progress.
  • Self-care. If you’re supporting a partner with the disorder, don’t neglect taking care of yourself. Make time for activities and hobbies that are beneficial to your well-being.

When to Seek Professional Help

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition, and you need to stay in touch with a mental health professional who can manage your treatment and medication. This disorder doesn’t just go away on its own, but it can be managed with the help of medications such as lithium or antidepressants along with talk therapies. Couples counseling may also help you and your partner navigate this condition and learn healthy coping methods to minimize the negative effects on your relationship.

If you think you may have bipolar disorder and it’s been complicating your relationship, don’t delay getting the help you need. At Restore Mental Health, our team of counselors and psychiatrists offers both inpatient and outpatient treatment options. Get in touch with us today and begin your journey to recovery.