How Bipolar Disorder Makes Relationships More Difficult

How bipolar makes relationships more difficult

Every relationship comes with its own set of complications, but if you or your partner has bipolar disorder, it may cause a lot of emotional turbulence. Not knowing what to expect on a daily basis or how to communicate with your partner are the top reasons why bipolar relationships fail. Understanding this mental health condition, why your partner experiences certain behaviors and what you can do to help can lead to a healthier, more stable relationship for both partners.

What Does Bipolar Disorder Look Like?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by sudden changes in mood, energy, concentration and activity level. People with the disorder typically experience periods of uncharacteristic behaviors that may cause undesirable or harmful effects, intense emotions and disrupt daily functioning. These periods are called mood episodes, and they can involve either manic or depressive symptoms.

Manic symptoms can include:

  • Feeling extremely high, elated, irritable or touchy
  • Feeling wired or more active than usual
  • Excessive appetite for food, sex, drinking or other pleasurable activities
  • Feeling unusually powerful or important
  • Racing thoughts and talking fast about many things
  • Decreased need for sleep

Depressive symptoms can include:

  • Feeling extremely down, sad or anxious
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Lack of interest in most activities
  • Talking very slowly and feeling forgetful
  • Feeling restless or slowed down
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

It’s also possible for people with bipolar disorder to have mixed episodes, meaning they experience manic and depressive symptoms simultaneously. Sometimes people also experience less severe manic periods referred to as hypomanic episodes. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 2.8 percent of the American adult population is affected by bipolar disorder.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are three types of bipolar disorder, all involving distinct changes in mood, activity levels and energy. Each type is defined by the severity of symptoms:

  • Bipolar I disorder: Manic episodes that last at least 7 days and depressive episodes that last at least 2 weeks. Severe manic symptoms sometimes require immediate hospitalization, depending on the person.
  • Bipolar II disorder: A pattern of depressive and hypomanic symptoms less severe than manic episodes in Bipolar I disorder.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: Recurrent hypomanic and depressive symptoms that aren’t as intense or persistent as full hypomanic and depressive episodes.

Reasons Why Bipolar Relationships Fail

Living with bipolar disorder can already be difficult without the stress of a relationship. Being able to identify bipolar disorder relationship patterns can contribute to a healthier, more satisfying partnership. There are a few reasons why bipolar relationships fail without the proper treatment or communication between partners.

Unpredictable Moods and Behaviors

Fluctuating between manic and depressive episodes can make it difficult to form a stable bipolar disorder relationship. For example, manic episodes may induce pleasure seeking behaviors, including excessive drinking, spending or partying. Depressive episodes can cause an individual to withdraw from their partner or seem as if they don’t care about the relationship. These mood changes can be challenging for both the person with bipolar disorder and their partner and may create conflict within the relationship.


Hypersexuality during a manic episode is common for people with bipolar disorder. Your partner may initiate intimacy more than usual. Individuals may also engage in reckless behavior, such as unprotected sex or extramarital affairs. People with bipolar disorder in relationships may commit infidelity due to impaired judgment, poor impulse control, high self-esteem and feeling invincible.

During a depressive episode, your partner may experience a lack of interest in sex completely. This can cause confusion or painful feelings of rejection, especially after increased sexual activity during a manic episode.


Work performance can also be affected by bipolar disorder. Depressive symptoms, such as disinterest or low energy, and manic symptoms, like poor impulse control, can make it difficult to stay productive and maintain a job. Stress at work may also worsen symptoms, causing your partner to feel overwhelmed. If your partner cannot hold a job, they may not be able to contribute financially, putting more pressure on you to pay the bills.


Parenting can be a stressful job without the effects of a mental health condition. Erratic behavior caused by bipolar disorder may be confusing to children and create an unstable household where they won’t always know what to expect. Helping your partner acquire the proper treatment, such as therapy and medication, can produce a more secure home environment to raise children.

How to Make a Relationship with a Bipolar Partner Work

Nurturing a healthy relationship with a partner who has bipolar disorder requires patience, understanding, and open dialogues about issues that may arise. Avoiding discussions about bipolar disorder can lead to either partner misinterpreting verbal and non-verbal behaviors that may frustrate the development of a strong, unambiguous bond with one another.

Long-term bipolar disorder relationships can be self-sustaining if both partners actively foster mutual respect and empathy for each other’s feelings. Proactively approaching potential problems instead of dealing with difficulties after they arise will reduce the potential for escalating conflicts that are more challenging to resolve.

Communicate: Talk honestly with each other about the struggles of having and coping with bipolar disorder. Sharing thoughts and concerns and being transparent with one another can help you work together and plan for how to manage manic and depressed episodes.

Stay Informed: Continuously learning about bipolar disorder makes it easier for two partners to talk about BPD. Reading about recent research, attending workshops or support groups, and staying informed about new treatments and management strategies empower relationships by removing misconceptions about BPD.

Establish Stability in the Home: People with BPD do best in more stable, predictable environments. Ensuring a partner with BPD knows what to expect each day (for the most part) significantly reduces the risk of triggers that cause anxiety and stress.

Take an Active Role in Your Partner’s Treatment Plan: Attending individual therapy appointments and adhering to medication management guidelines are vital to your partner’s mental health and well-being. Driving them to an appointment and asking if their medications are still working shows that you truly care about them and their happiness.

Seek Couples Therapy: A therapist can help couples dealing with BPD identify and resolve conflicts sensibly and effectively. In addition, partners attending couples counseling can express their feelings in a more emotionally safe environment. Therapy can further help prevent the development of codependency by ensuring both partners maintain their independence and individuality in the relationship.

Pay Attention to Your Mental Health: Engage in “me time” several times a week by doing activities that you enjoy. While relationships focus primarily on the two people sustaining the relationship, don’t neglect family and friend relationships. Practicing self-care is a core component of establishing boundaries in a relationship. Knowing when to say “no,” respecting personal limits, and having a support system outside the relationship reduces the risk of feeling resentful and burned out.

Having a partner with bipolar disorder presents unique challenges that can be overcome with patience, understanding, and acceptance. Consistently applying these tips to your relationship can help forge a resilient and rewarding bond.

How to Manage the Bipolar Relationship Cycle

If you have bipolar disorder and are worried it may be affecting your relationship, being honest with your partner and explaining your condition is critical. If you’re in a relationship with someone with bipolar disorder, understanding the condition can help you care for your partner and yourself. There are a few ways to work through the disorder as a couple.

Couples Counseling

Couples counseling can be beneficial for maintaining a healthy, stable relationship with your partner, especially if they were recently diagnosed. Counseling can be used to address your partner’s past hurtful or offensive actions and be honest about how they made you feel. You can also set boundaries or goals and determine the best way to move forward together.


It’s important to take care of your mental and physical well-being when caring for someone with a mental illness. Try engaging in activities that make you feel calm or happy, such as attending a yoga class, taking daily walks or seeing a therapist alone. Even though you want to support your partner, taking time for yourself is just as important.

Mental Health Treatment

Professional treatment can be the best way to manage bipolar disorder symptoms and regulate mood swings. Being involved in your partner’s treatment can help you gain a better understanding of the illness, learn to spot signs of impending episodes and provide additional insight for the doctor. It can also teach you how to become a better support system.

If you or your partner is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, Restore offers a variety of treatment programs that can help. Contact us today to learn more about what you can do to improve your mental well-being and get a personalized treatment plan.