Bipolar Disorder: Making Relationships Work

Every marriage has challenges even among the most healthy, well-adjusted adults. When you add a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder into the mix, it can really strain a relationship. If you or your significant other has bipolar disorder, you can still make your relationship work.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive disease, is a depressive disorder. People suffering with this disease have dramatic shifts in mood, from overly high (manic) to sad and hopeless (depressive). Some patients experience periods of normalcy in between mood swings. The disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that affects emotions, and often occurs along with other mental health disorders, particularly anxiety.

Bipolar disorder affects more than 2.3 million American adults 18 or older and is equally like in men and women. It normally begins in the early 20s and may interfere in work, school and a person's home life. In fact, it is one of the 10 leading causes of disability.

Bipolar Disorder and Relationships

The partner of a person with bipolar disorder often bears the brunt of their partner's emotional swings, which may include verbal, even physical, attacks. Mood swings can make an individual unable to function in the family, putting a disproportionate burden on the healthy partner.

To make these relationships work, it's important to remember that it is not your fault and to realize that the illness makes the person behave this way. It's not a character flaw and the attacks are not personal. In successful marriages with a bipolar spouse, the other spouse learns to see beyond the mood swings to the real person inside.

Bipolar disorder is treated with medication and therapy, so encourage your spouse to seek help. Being involved in his or her treatment can help stabilize the relationship.

Like any relationship, success in a relationship with bipolar disorder requires open, honest communication. Express how your partner's behaviors affect you.

You must take care of yourself as well. It's normal to feel stress, anxiety and depression yourself. Build a support system of other family members and friends. Consider joining a support group to share experiences with others who have similar challenges.

Keep in mind that how you react and respond to your partner affects his or her treatment. In a study that looked at the impact of family burden and response on clinical outcomes of patients with bipolar disorder, researchers found that the caregiver's perceived burden of caring influences the course of treatment and the patient's adherence to medications.