Having a spouse with bipolar can be challenging. Here are techniques for coping with bipolar spouses.
Having a bipolar husband or bipolar wife, often puts the other spouse in the role of caretaker and caregiver of the relationship. Because they live with a bipolar spouse, they are expected to hold everything together when emotional hurricanes hit their families. They hang on in spite of everything that is flying around them just waiting for the calm. Many people close to them expect them to be strong and almost heroically brave, when sadly, they, too, have weaknesses and fears.
So many people in their community are focused on the well-being of the bipolar person that they forget about the spouse. It can be very difficult to be the other half of a partnership in which someone is chronically ill. The spouse feels like all he/she ever does is put up and put out and that they never get anything back in return. It can be emotionally and physically draining when your spouse is continually the one that is the focus of your combined attention. The spouse often forgets to acknowledge his/her own needs and wants because their attention is so completely funneled to their partner. They may long for someone they can confide in, someone to listen to their concerns. Sometimes, the spouse can become resentful of the bipolar sufferer, and then, unfortunately, the relationship hits the rocks.
Not all relationships involving bipolar sufferers and their spouses are doomed to fail. In fact, I can think of at least three at this moment that are flourishing. These relationships survive because the two people involved are fully aware of the illness they share. That is right, share. They see their situation as a team effort. They make every effort to learn about and understand this disease together. They have established limitations and boundaries that must be respected in order for the relationship to exist and prosper. Honesty and a willingness to be open about the issues involved with manic depression is vital. And, most of all, they focus on the fact that they love each other enough to commit to the relationship in the first place. Why should that change now? Keep that love in the forefront of your mind.
As the spouse of a bipolar sufferer, you may be called upon to do things you never thought you would ever have to do. You feel the ups and downs almost as painfully as they do. You are the one expected to be strong, take care of matters at hand, and then desperately try to steer your household back from the brink. You are someone to be admired, you deserve admiration. My husband is my hero. Not just because he does heroic deeds once in a while, but because he also shows me his tears. We cry together sometimes. He shares his fears with me and tells me his weaknesses. It always amazes me that after all the hell we may go through, he can still muster a smile and hold me tight in his big, manly arms. It feels good. It also feels good to know that we are one in this big old mess of mental illness, not two alone in this freaky universe.
Some coping techniques for spouses of bipolar sufferers
- You may dearly miss the person you fell in love with. Keep in mind that with proper treatments and your support, that person will come back to you
- Find your own therapist. You may need a professional to help guide you through the hard times
- Look for a support group for partners of bipolar sufferers. If there isn't one in your area, consider starting one
- Go with your spouse to a few of his/her therapy sessions and talk to their therapist. Ask questions, listen to the therapist's conclusions or views of your spouse's care. Try to be interactive in their care rather than inactive. Don't be overwhelming, though.
- Find time for yourself with such things as hobbies, walks, jogging, sports, and writing. Sometimes it helps to vent a bit of frustrated energy. You can go for a vigorous walk and clear your head.
- When your partner is in a healthy mental state, talk to them about your needs and hurts. Don't be confrontational, don't blame, just gently tell them how you feel about things from your perspective.
- Remind yourself continually throughout the day that there will be better times ahead. Make it a mantra.
- Allow yourself to reminisce about the good old times when you were both happy and give yourself hope that the good times will come again. Look through photographs of better days, read old love letters and watch family videos. Spend time with the kids talking about funny family stories.
- Research and find reading material about mental illness. Get to know what you and your spouse are battling against.
- View your spouse's illness as something you both have to fight as a team.
- Help monitor your spouse's medication so that you can be aware they are taking the prescribed medications or not. You don't have to be a nazi about it, just let them know you are keeping track.
- If you have family, spend time with them.
- If your spouse is hospitalized, ask family and friends to help out with the children, housework, cooking, and even with visitation. Ask for help, this is very important.
- Treat yourself ever so often. Allow yourself to sleep in one day a week or take a long, hot bath.
- Have a good cry once in a while. You don't always have to be the strong one.
- When your spouse is enjoying good mental health, spend pleasurable time together. Go on a date. Spend time with the children. Go for walks, etc.
- Try not to take unpleasantness personally. It is not your fault that your spouse is depressed or suicidal for that matter. They may be emotional powder kegs ready to blow at any moment, irritable beyond belief, even spiteful. You must remember that most of the time it is the illness talking, not them. I know, this is easy to forget.
- Learn to relax when you don't have to be on guard. If stress is physically manifesting itself as backaches, sore and stiff muscles, or general aches and pains, consider going to a massage therapist.
- Let the people around you know when you are going through an especially trying time. If possible, take some time off work.
- Don't argue with your spouse when they are in a deep depression or manic. It is of no use. They will not be able to see your point of view and it will just cause more tension for everyone.
- If your spouse is hospitalized, talk to their nurses about their progress. It is a great way for you to get daily updates on your spouse's condition.
- If it is hard for you to visit a hospital, ask if you can have an off ward pass for a few hours. Take your spouse to a nearby park or restaurant and visit with them there.
- Don't have high expectations of someone in poor mental health. You are setting yourself up for disappointment.
- Do not turn to drugs or alcohol to take away your pain and frustrations. You need to be strong for you and your spouse's welfare.
- Laughter is always good medicine. Rent a few comedies one evening and invite a few good friends to come down and watch them with you. Laugh.
- If you have become so resentful and angry at your spouse that you have begun to experience marital problems, consider visiting a marriage counselor when the spouse is mentally stable.
- Don't blame everything on your spouse. It is not their fault that they are ill.
- Don't blame everything on yourself. That is not fair.
- Try to focus on what is best for both of you.
- Don't get muddled up with all that is wrong with your spouse. Instead, look for the person trapped deep inside, the one you dearly love.
- Sit down and take stock of your life, what is important and what is not.
- There are a lot of motivational self-help books out there. Go find a few and read them.
About the author: Tatty Lou has bipolar disorder.