Relationships can be a challenge for those who live with a chronic mental health condition such as bipolar disorder.
Can those who live with bipolar have successful relationships? I personally believe that individuals who have bipolar disorder, or any mental illness for that matter, have the same amount of risk in relationships as those who do not live with a mental illness.
First of all, most people who live with mental illness tend to have a negative self-image or low self esteem which can make them ultimately feel undesirable and develop constant worries when in relationships, but people who don’t live with a mental illness can have those very same feelings too. We are never alone in the ways we feel. It’s human to have feelings and emotions, but those with bipolar disorder tend to feel those emotions at a greater intensity and more often. This doesn’t mean that people with bipolar can’t be involved in successful or happy relationships. Yes, there may be challenging times, but this is true with any couple. They are still most definitely capable of being good spouses or partners. Sure, those who don’t live with a chronic mental illness might not face as many obstacles, but we all will make mistakes as we are all human.
With bipolar disorder, individuals tend to experience periods of alternating highs and lows often referred to as mania and depression (manic-depression). Some people may be wondering or are curious as to why people with bipolar disorder may struggle in relationships. Well, there may be a few factors which can make relationships a bit more difficult for them than others.
Some factors that may affect relationships may be:
- = advice for the partners of a bipolar spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend
1 . Excessive spending – Mania can cause times where those with the disorder may want to spend more money and this can greatly affect a bank account negatively, worsen mood problems (guilt, depression, regret, sadness), and ultimately it can affect the relationship. Mania can also cause hyper sexuality, rapid and excessive speech, and irritability.
- -When the partner of a bipolar individual notices any signs of mania and/or excessive spending, he or she should take control of the money (credit cards, check books, cash, etc) and also notify their doctor and/or document the mood changes noticed just to be safe. This also applies to other types of mood changes. It helps people with bipolar to have a responsible and understanding partner who can help support them when they experience the mood changes.
2. Mood swings/Anxiety – With the constant mood changes it can be very difficult to have a smooth sailing relationship without conflict. All relationships, no matter who you are, are going to experience conflict. With bipolar disorder, they often have times where they feel irritable, angry, emotional, and also have times of mania (euphoria- elevated hyper mood) and sometimes for no apparent reason or cause. Sometimes the trigger can be identified, but sometimes there are moods where everything flips the switch the wrong way seemingly without cause. This can make for a very frustrating and rocky relationship without the right strategies to conquer it.
- It is important that the partner can help redirect him/her when the bipolar individual is experiencing mood swings and/or obsessive thoughts. It is helpful to have a partner who knows when to help the person struggling, but who also knows the times when to walk away from behaviors to prevent escalation and over stepping. Sometimes staying around while he or she is experiencing a mood swing can make matters worse. The key is to know when because there are times where things could go horribly wrong. When it’s noticeable that the bipolar partner is starting to get irritable, it is best to try and catch these mood changes very early to prevent it from escalating any further, if possible. There are times where they may say or yell hurtful things that may possibly make you second guess or become frustrated in your relationship. It is important to keep in mind, for the sake of the relationship and sanity, that these moments do not last forever and more than likely the bipolar individual is having a mood swing. Deep down, they aren’t meaning to anger you or upset you. A good strategy might be to ask them “Talk to me about it.”, “What’s bothering you?”, “How can I help?”, “What would make you feel better?” ,”Let’s go find something enjoyable to do.”, etc. More than likely, your bipolar spouse would love your attention, know that you are listening, and can see that you care. Support is a must–have during these times.
3. Devastating Lows – Experiencing recurrent, sometimes even severe episodes of depression is common and to be expected when you have a diagnosis such as bipolar disorder. This can greatly interfere with relationships because the depression can cause the individual to retreat, shut down, and will lack any motivation whatsoever. On the particularly rough days, they may never leave their bed, may not interact with anyone, and they may even push loved ones away. During times of depression they most likely won’t be able to be supportive or be there for another person as the symptoms they are experiencing are too overpowering. This is not to be confused with selfishness, but this may definitely cause frustration and stress on their partner’s end of things because the depressed individual is unable to help or support them if they need it at the time.
Advice to those in a relationship with a person who has bipolar disorder:
Research! Research! Research! Learn about the disorder, go to doctors’ appointments, and listen to them. Also, observe and get to know them both inside and out. Know what their triggers are and recognize the mood changes.
Lastly, the key to making a relationship work when someone struggles with a mental illness would ultimately be to have the right person by their side who will support and understand them. They often need someone who is open-minded, patient, dependable, willing to listen and to help them. Also, communication is essential. I cannot stress that enough. This is key to any successful relationship. A lot of common mistakes in relationships is lack of communication and simply not being with the right person. If it’s not the right person, the relationship and the mental and emotional health of each individual will be negatively impacted, causing extreme distress.
In closing, can a person with bipolar disorder have successful relationships? YES!
Never give up thinking that a person cannot have successful relationships just because they live with bipolar disorder. It is more than possible, but it takes time, patience, and understanding as well.