Relationships with a bipolar partner: Possible, or not?
I see a lot of writings that relate to being in a bipolar relationship. I’ve done a fair amount of it myself. I get a fair amount of comments on many of my writings, but out of all the articles and posts I’ve written, overwhelmingly the comments are about how difficult it is, and most times how impossible. I haven’t done the math, but I’ll bet that its 98% of the replies are negative. Even people who aren’t in a relationship with someone who is bipolar the common theme is bipolar people are just not capable of successful relationships. (See: https://bipolarblogging.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/should-i-stay-or-should-i-go/ For an example)
I wonder why that is?
There’s no question that being involved with a bipolar person is difficult. Relationships in general are often challenging, and having one of the partners with severe mental illness just compounds the difficulties exponentially. But is it really 98% of the relationships that fail?
There’s no doubt that dealing with someone’s illness is hard. Being the bipolar one I don’t necessarily have the insight of the other side. I do have friends though that have their own struggles. One in particular is currently battling a severe clinical depression. She’s a good friend, and I so want to help her feel better. And with all the experience I have with my own, who better qualified? But she doesn’t accept that there is an out of control condition, and she refuses to get any help. So she continues to be miserable, and takes so many unnecessary risks and dangerous behaviors. . It’s frustrating to watch someone go through this when you know things that will make it better and heartbreaking that the just keep going down.
Serious, committed relationship must be incredibly hard for the non-bipolar partner.
Still, I have to wonder. Is it really that impossible to be successful? I do know a lot of marriages and partnerships that have failed because of the illness. But I know a lot that have persevered. In the support group I used to attend there were a fair number of people who brought their spouse with them to the group. Whether they survived long term I don’t know. But I do know that they seemed to be invested in each other and making a real effort to work through the issues.
So is that the key?
The point is, these people are in a support group; they have acknowledged their disease and actively trying to address it. Pretty much everyone in the group was in treatment. We started the meeting introducing ourselves and telling what medications they were taking. Okay, that may sound a little weird, but the reason is that if you know what someone else is taking, you know who to talk to if you have specific questions. Regardless, it was rare that there was someone attending the group that wasn’t on some kind of medication. And medication is a major factor in maintaining the symptoms. The people who chose to attend a support group were trying to learn about the illness and how to treat it, and getting and giving each other support.
Maybe that’s why there were so many spouses there. To some degree, the afflicted person was working hard to get better. And in so many cases, even if not completely controlled at least some of the symptoms were manageable.
Someone who refuses to acknowledge their illness, or refuses to remain in treatment are the ones who can be so damaging to a relationship. There’s no question that when someone goes into an episode they can be impossible. Just like me and my friend, it can be devastating to watch someone you love suffering so badly and there’s nothing you can do to help. Mania in particular can really kill a relationship. Financial irresponsibility and excesses can easily bankrupt a family. It’s not unusual for jobs to be lost, just adding to the financial strain. Grandiose thinking can be ridiculous, leaving the partner wondering what the hell are they doing? A manic person can be abusive, mentally demeaning their loved ones or even with physical abuse. And of course the tendency for sexual promiscuity that frequently goes along with a manic episode. How can a marriage survive that?
Failure is almost a foregone conclusion.
So that begs the question. Is the reason there are so many negative and hopeless comments because the vast majority of relationships cannot be tended? Or are the successful ones just not being heard from? When I was first diagnosed I scoured the internet, searching for any and all information to explain what I was going through and desperately looking for hope. As I’ve felt better I’ve spent significantly less time researching. I think the odds are those people who are maintaining, or at least working towards getting better spend less time reading writings like mine. They are not searching for answers, they are working towards solutions. The readers who comment on these blogs are either struggling to deal with their situation, or looking for support and justification for a decision to leave. How many times have you heard about someone who says ‘my husband / wife is in treatment and really making progress’ decide that they can’t deal with it, and quit trying. Oh, it happens. I really think that it happened to me. Not laying blame or judging, but I feel like just as soon as I accepted my illness and started working on getting better, my spouse had suffered through too much, and couldn’t commit to my effort to recover. So it does happen, but I believe that the chances of surviving a bipolar relationship is increased dramatically when they can both work on gaining control and controlling the symptoms.
So which is it? Are the people who have a positive or at least improving partnership just not reading or commenting? Are frustrated and wounded partners more likely to speak out; venting and releasing s much pent up emotions?
Honestly? I haven’t a clue.
But I do have hope. Yes, even if there are more successful relationships then it appears from my responses the odds of failure overall are definitely higher when one of the partners is bipolar. But let’s be fair. Here in America there is only a 50% ~ 50% chance of a successful, long term marriage. So the probability of having a happy and totally rewarding life together is already risky. I think it’s reasonable to expect that a high percentage of bipolar relationships are going to fail.
Statistics and probabilities are not absolute however.
Just because there are so many who can’t survive a union with someone who is bipolar, it doesn’t mean there’s no hope. And I think that the statistics are a bit skewed because you just don’t hear as much about the ones that make it.
But still; I wonder. Am I doomed to failure? Are we all? Am I just not hearing from the ones who have made it?
I can only hope. I will always hope. .