How to live with a bipolar partner

Living with someone who is bipolar is rarely easy.  I’d even go so far as to say it’s never easy.  The mood swings, being shut out during a depression, living with the consequences of mania; there are just so many things that have to be dealt with.  It really takes a very special individual who can put up with all the ramifications of a bipolar partner.

As I’ve said many times before, I am not a mental health professional.  What I offer really isn’t advice per se, but more of an insight based on years of living with this disease.  And to be completely honest, I really don’t have any idea of what it’s like to have a bipolar partner.  My opinions are based solely on an outsiders view.  Maybe it’s how I’d like to be treated.  I have known quite a few couples in this situation, and I think many of my observations come from seeing what works (and doesn’t work) for them.

So, having established my credentials (or lack thereof) what can you do about living with a bipolar partner?

Join a support group.

I think that finding a group that involves both partners can be extremely helpful.  Of course that depends on both of you realizing and accepting the illness and the willingness to work together.  If your partner doesn’t know of their condition it’s highly unlikely that they would understand or have anything to do with any kind of group support.  But assuming it’s something you’re both willing to try, not only is seeing how other couples handle their situation beneficial, but sharing your own experiences can be good for you.  If you’re on your own however, there are groups for partners only.  Or even going to a bipolar group on your own can be valuable.  Getting insight into the disease, seeing how other bipolar people handle their own illness, and sharing your own feelings with others who can truly understand is all good.

Go to therapy together.

If your partner is able to accept and work on their problems, working together with a therapist can really be advantageous.  It’s a safe place to share feelings and talk through issues.  It’s a way to see the other side of the situation. Even if your partner doesn’t believe that it’s their problem, asking them to go with you to your therapy can sometimes work too.

Get your own therapy.

It is often difficult to understand your own feelings about your bipolar partner.  There can be a myriad of emotions that are confusing and conflicting.  Anger, sympathy, self pity, embarrassment, depression, grief, and betrayal can all be part of the mix.  Even positive feelings about successes and when times are good can all be difficult to understand.  Having an outside view of your situation can also help you figure out how you really feel, and what decisions need to be made.

I know; it sounds like I’m only presuming that you can live with it.  That’s not the case.

All of these ideas apply whether the choice is to stick it out, or move on.  Support groups can help you just as much when you’ve decided that it can’t be endured.  Even a bipolar support group can help reinforce and understand your feelings.  Therapy becomes essential.  I don’t think it matters how much you love your partner, or what your feelings are about a relationship; everyone has a breaking point.  There’s no shame in accepting whatever the outcome may be.  Together or apart, keeping yourself healthy is paramount.  No one can take better care of you than you.  No partner can make you happy; it’s something you have to do for yourself.

Sometimes the best decision is to let someone go.

When I was a manager I never enjoyed having to terminate an employee.  In spite of knowing it was the best thing for the business, I was always aware of the hardships and negative feelings that the person being let go.  But it’s a fact of business; not everyone can do the job that needs to be done.  But I have learned one thing I’ve learned. I’ve never regretted firing anyone; I’ve only regretted not firing them when I knew it had to happen.  And that’s frequently the case.  When dealing with a bipolar partner, you may know that the best thing is to end the relationship.  But for feelings of guilt, a sense of responsibility, pity, children, or commitment; you stay.  My experience has been that ultimately, that doesn’t help anyone involved.  Eventually there can be resentment and anger of your partner.  Sometimes trying to make something work is the worst thing you can do.  So I think there are other things to be considered.

Make a commitment.

Whether you stay or go, making a commitment to an outcome can make all the difference.  Of course, feelings and circumstances change, and new plans have to be made.  But if you’re going to stay, put 100% of your effort in staying.  And if you have to move on, move on.  Being pulled back into a situation that is harmful and has no chance of succeeding only prolongs the healing.  Make your decision, and keep it.

Take care of yourself first.

Every airline preflight safety briefing will tell you that in the event of a loss of cabin pressure, place your mask on first before trying to assist others.  If you aren’t as healthy as you can be, you can’t look after anyone, including yourself.  The responsibility for your own happiness and success is completely depending on you.  If your choice is to continue a relationship, it’s very important that you are in the best place you can be.  And if you are not able to stay, do all you can to protect yourself emotionally, financially, and physically. Life continues, with or without a bipolar partner.  Prepare yourself.

Forgive yourself.

If you reach the conclusion that you can’t continue in a bipolar relationship, don’t beat yourself up.  There is no blame to place on yourself.  You cannot control anyone but yourself.  There’s only so much anyone can be expected to accept.  Everything happens for a reason, and there is a purpose to whatever outcome.  Learn from your experience, accept your mistakes, take care of yourself and make the most of it all.  It’s not your fault.

So now I’ve broken every rule.

I’ve been very presumptuous and assuming.  I’ve projected my own thoughts and perceptions onto others.  I have absolutely no business giving anyone advice; yet advice I’ve given.  I’ve said what I think you should do as though I’m the ultimate authority.  This blog contains all the things that it shouldn’t, for so many reasons.

How terribly arrogant.

So, I truly hope it’s understood that this is all an opinion.  Every single situation is unique, and there is absolutely no way that can be understood except by being in that situation.  I’m really not saying what I think is what should be done; it’s really what I should do, or what I think I would do.  Whether this applies to anyone else or not, there is no judgment or expectations.  My only hope is that maybe through my own experience and viewpoint I can offer a little bit of help.  Even if the help is a complete disagreement in my thinking that only reinforces your own.  There are a lot of comments and searches that deal with bipolar relationships.  I’m just throwing my two cents in for what it’s worth.  I am not an expert by any means, and I hope my motivation can be accepted at face value.  Please don’t take offense; it’s not directed at anyone and it isn’t personal.  It’s just my opinion.

And if the opinion isn’t yours, then, please forgive me.  I really only want to help.

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2 Responses to How to live with a bipolar partner

  1. My wife whom I married came into this relationship knowing about my BiPolar disorder. She has her up and down days as well as I do when my medication is not working. She has done a lot of research on my condition and over the years has come to better understand what I deal with. She still walks on pins and needle from time to time but she is strong and is devoted to our marriage.

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  2. risingthirteen says:

    I was a very devoted girlfriend (of a year) . . . only to be “discarded” of, twice in one month . . . due to my reactions to my bipolar boyfriend. His grandiosity and extreme risk behaviors were causing an underlying level of anxiety and stress in our relationship. I did not judge him when he lost 5 separate jobs in a one year span. My biggest trigger was his “need” for female adoration or attention from former lovers, ex-wives and even prostitutes that he had hired that he kept in touch with via emails and via phone calls. It appeared to me that his lack of confidence and self-love and his constant need of admiration from ALL was a low self esteem . . . yet I did not directly associate this trait as a part of his bi-polar disorder.

    I did not really seek out the details of this disease until after the demise of our relationship and I had moved from our shared residence (4 months ago).

    How could he not accept my feelings – I pondered?! Should I not feel hurt by his constant needs and not seeing me . . . yet his blame was directed at me and I was the cause of his issues! Where was his responsibility to himself I thought, and to me ? . . . yes he was diligent in taking his meds . . . but in addition – he also “self medicated” with alcohol and pot . . . yet I was the one that exacerbated his problems – according to him. A recent DUI – did not even make him see the light! Always so easy to blame the one standing firmly next to you . . . much harder to look inward!

    I am in my own therapy to heal from the turmoil of this recent relationship . . . though my inner critic often haunts me with self blame for the demise of our relationship . . . I have sought and received much insight from reading your blog. I thank you for your bravery to share . . . please know that your courage has helped me today.

    FYI – we were a couple of a mature age (he in his mid 40’s – and I 50) – that were about to get married this Fall – though that plan was more than likely a result of his manic “projecting” phase.
    Emotionally, I miss him terribly and still Love him . . . logically, I am calmer without him (very hard to admit this).

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