When Do I Tell My Boyfriend/Girlfriend I Have Bipolar Disorder?

Recently a commenter asked how to tell her boyfriend about her bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, this commenter had negative past experiences in dealing with her bipolar disorder in relationships. In fact, people had broken up with her because of her disorder. A scene that is far too common in mental illness.

So, when is the right time to tell the person you’re dating you have bipolar disorder?

Disclosing Bipolar Disorder

Unfortunately, many of us have had similar negative experiences. People find out about the bipolar disorder, or an aspect of the disorder, and just flat out leave. This has the nasty consequence of making us feel very bad about ourselves and it makes it really difficult to tell others in the future for fear of abandonment.

But that doesn’t make the need for disclosure, or the bipolar, go away.

42-15495679When to Tell the Person You’re Dating about Bipolar Disorder

You have three choices: now, later and never.

  • Now – this is, well, now, and most of us don’t like now and would like to avoid choosing now as often as possible.  Now runs the risk of the person leaving you before they even get to know you.
  • Later – this sounds good, at least at first blush. At least it isn’t now. But unfortunately later quickly turns into later still and can even move into never territory. And the later it gets the more attached you are to the person you’re dating and the worse it will feel if they choose to leave you after you disclose.
  • Never – this was actually suggested to the commenter. I think never is ridiculous. To suggest the person you’re dating won’t notice you have pill bottles in your bathroom, doctor’s appointments and bipolar websites bookmarked is fairly ridiculous; not to mention the fact that building a relationship on deceit isn’t beneficial for you or the person you’re dating. As bad as it feels to be abandoned because of an illness, it would also feel bad for your partner to have been lied to repeatedly.

When I Tell Someone I Have Bipolar Disorder

I tell them pretty much as soon as it naturally flows into the conversation. This might be the second date or the third, but it’s put up front because honestly, I can’t afford to have people I’m attached to leave – it just hurts too much. If a person is so weak they would leave a person over an illness, well, that’s something I’d like to know up front because they obviously aren’t the person for me.

I think there are two keys:

  1. Don’t make it seem like the end of the world otherwise they certainly will
  2. Be prepared for ignorance and step up to educate

mp9003877521As I said, I mention my bipolar conversationally. It’s not a deep, dark secret. It’s not a dead body buried in the back yard. It’s just a thing about me. It’s just like the fact that I have no depth perception – it’s not the end of the known universe. It’s a hurdle, but then, without depth perception so is parking, and I seem to manage that just fine.

People won’t know about bipolar disorder. That’s OK. That’s to be expected. Remember, when you were first diagnosed you were scared and ignorant too. It takes time to get over that. And you, as the person who understands, need to step up and help the other person learn. This takes time. Bipolar isn’t a small thing. You didn’t understand it overnight and neither will they.

It Doesn’t Always Work

But no matter what you do or how you do it, some people are never going to react well to learning you have bipolar disorder. But understand, this is about them and not about you. Some people would run from a person with epilepsy too. That’s not the epileptic’s fault, it’s the runner’s.

So be prepared for rejection. Tell the person early so the rejection won’t hurt as much. And remember, there are better people out there for you than those who would run from a person with an illness. They aren’t good enough for you anyway.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

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23 Responses to When Do I Tell My Boyfriend/Girlfriend I Have Bipolar Disorder?

  1. Monica says:

    I was lucky. My husband set me down on our 2nd date to tell me his twin brother was handicapped & will have to live with us someday so if I couldn’t deal there was no point of going further. I thought it was a good sign, so I told him I was bipolar, explained a few things, and that was it.

    I now have a brother-in-law that I call my 2nd husband who knows all my triggers & can tell when I’m having trouble who takes care of me almost as well as Jes does

  2. Sheri says:

    I told my now husband when we were dating 1 week into our relationship…I figured if he was the one he would understand and not run…and he didn’t run! Actually he was very understanding…I think that if the person runs when they find out you have bipolar…whether it is now or later, they aren’t worth your time anyway…because if they stayed but didn’t like you having bipolar they wouldn’t be understanding and supportive…so my vote is now better than later.

  3. schizzy says:

    Sounds great! N also sounds like y’all make a great family!

  4. Sandra Sweeney says:

    I told me boyfriend on the first or second date that I have bipolar disorder and he was inquisitive and asked how he would know when or if I might need help and how to provide it. I was floored by his complete acceptance! Later, he asked a question that was understandable but a bit funny, too – he asked if I had two polar-opposite personalities because I have bipolar disorder and I smiled and said, no, that would be multiple personality disorder and then proceeded to tell him more about BP. Months later, he’s still around, knows it’s safe to share difficult things about himself with me, and feels as accepted by me as I do by him!

  5. Paul says:

    For me it has been more of an issue of being unwilling to start relationships because I feel I haven’t made enough progress towards trying to transition back to work. When people know me as an acquaintance, I can pass as a normal person. This can be comfortable in the short term; however, in the long run it is very limiting and a strong barrier to intimacy. When someone does initiate a relationship with me, they are usually very desperate and have a lot of chaos in their life and/or significant differences in our values and personality exist which make it very difficult to establish a healthy relationship. I almost always agree to give the relationship a chance but end up focusing mostly on trying to be helpful to them rather than having a more balanced and reciprocal relationship. These are women I wouldn’t initiate a relationship with simply because they have to focus on taking care of themselves first. I have no problem being there for them; however, making it into a romance seems to always be forcing the issue and makes it more difficult for both of us. Clearly my need to feel good about myself by being attractive and helpful (my attempts may not always be so helpful) is a barrier to me being more upfront about how I really feel about them.

    It seems to me that I won’t be able to have a balanced and healthy relationship until I can feel more confident about myself and willing to risk initiating a relationship rather than staying in the background until a needy woman comes along who would like some help and I become her love interest rather than a friend.

  6. Tony D says:

    I think its different for women than it is for men. If a man finds a woman to be attractive, I think he will be more tolerant of her bipolar disorder. For a man (and I have been through this many times) there is no good time to disclose a mental illness. First date, second date, etc. I tell and she’s gone. The only longer term relationship I had was with a woman who was also bipolar. In fact, we met in a support group. I don’t even date. I would rather live alone.

  7. 1bigbadmama says:

    Such a hard discussion to begin I think with anyone in our lives…I let them get to know me the let them know I have depression NOT a lie it is Manic depression” thats all I tell them. IF they are worth of being in my life they won’t care at all about Dx. ; D

  8. Aloha girl says:

    I just told my best friend and my boyfriend of 8 months I have bipolar disorder. My best friend was understanding and tried tk tell me to show my boyfriend the bipolar slides how from ” it’s a good lil article” . Well I told my boyfriend and I was bjipar he said he’s be there for me but I don’t think he truely understood what bipolar disorder was . The next day I showed him the article from web md and he said he doesn’t know what to say, personally I’m freaking out caus he’s told me he loves me and I love him too, but I didn’t realize I had his problem till about 2 months ago and I’m . Scared of him being scared of this issue (i am too). We have already told each other how much we love each other but I’m afraid my a anxiety attacks that occur when im trying to exlain my disorder to him , scare him away:(. Any advice? It’s because I care about him am much I think I explain things wrong cause of my nervousness. When we first became a couple he tried so hard to get me and I finally let in and I’m happy I did he’s amazing and he says the same about me . The only thing that we have had an issue over is me not telling him everything that goes on with me . Now I’m starting to and I feel like his is what I’m scared off but at the same time it’s what he wants and it’s bigger than I think he expected.

  9. Aloha girl says:

    Does anyone have ADvice on how to act or approach the subject when I try to talk to my boyfriend about this so i don’t scare him away? Or in decrease the chance of me having an anxiety attack?

  10. Rebecca says:

    They aren’t your boyfriend or girlfriend in a committed, long term sense if they don’t know. Not really

  11. suddenly_18 says:

    i just told the guy last night that I’ve been seeing 3times and he said he will be there for me and not to think too much.. I don’t know if he’s sincere but hoping for the best. but if he disappeared after knowing it then atleast my feelings is not as deeper yet.. hoping and praying that all of us who have bipolar can find a one true love!

  12. Miranda vd Broek says:

    Natasha, you have beautiful blogs and the rest of you beautiful posts. I especially loved Monica’s post about the 2 husbands. How great and simple life can be (alright, also complicated for many of us).

    My husband was my boyfriend for a year or so when I got hospitalized and diagnosed. So I didn’t have to tell him anything… Instead of moving house ( we would move in together the next day), he tried to get a psychotic woman to the doctor… Can’t have been too charming. But he stayed…. (my hero :-) )

  13. Andi Lynn says:

    So, I’ve been in a long term relationship and was just diagnosed with bipolar II today. I’ve always been able to control my mood swings but as I’ve gotten older (I am almost 21 now) they got so bad that I finally went to a doctor. He has no CLUE that I even might have a mood disorder, since I always thought that my moods were simply pms and that they were getting worse because of my birth control. I just don’t know how to tell him. I’m terrified that its going to freak him out before he really has a chance to understand.

  14. Cameo says:

    Trust me ~ don’t tell unless you are involved in a loving relationship w/whomever and feel they will understand or make the effort to understand. Everyone, every person I have told I am Bipolar has rejected me: every coworker/long term friends/new friends/neighbors etc. It’s difficult to have this huge secret and hide meds/books/articles etc. I’m 60 so my swings are far and few: but people still look at me like I’m weird. In fact, I’ve had a very interesting and productive life but am always challenged by relationships. I DON’T TELL ANYMORE. I live with this secret as best I can: very alone.

  15. jane says:

    I don’t need to tell anyone anything– they all talk about it all on their own– Seriously, my personal life, my career and every opportunity presented has been ruined by the STIGMA of being different, having something wrong with me– Say nothing, and someone else will tell them for you. The world is sicker than I am–

  16. AnonymousBipolarChick says:

    I choose never. I don’t care .__. I really don’t. I don’t keep my meds in the bathroom anyways nor do i have bipolar websites bookmarks, since I’m not obsessed with my mental illness, and I just look up my info, leave, delete history end of story.So derp derp. I don’t want that “oh im sorry” pitiful look nor do I want to deal with the “omg get away from me freak” from others. I hate it when people feel sorry for me or shy away from me because they think I’m ‘crazy’. So my mental illness is secret, I and I prefer to keep it that way. My family(cousins and aunts already says things like: “Oh I saw so and so today at the CooCoo Clinic or Nuthouse or Crazy Doctor”. But my mom and friend(1 very very close friend who is like my brother) are the only ones who knows about my illness

  17. Lindsey says:

    I told my (ex) husband when we were still dating but had started to talk about marriage. Huge red flag here that I ignored, he didn’t believe me. Should have been a major indicator that he wanted the idea of me instead of the real me.

    Because the way a guy handles it is now a very real indicator of how he thinks of me, I have zero problem telling guys as soon as they bring up being exclusive. Most have run at this point, but my current boyfriend (of 5 months) dove into doing his own research and asked me about how I would like him to handle my moods. It actually helped us grow closer. He doesn’t expect me to be happy all the time, and he doesn’t take the depressions personally.

  18. Simone says:

    I’m on the opposite side now.i think I met her on her manic phase 4 weeks ago,she was all happy and everything now she still says she want to be with me and everything but she’s absent and had no enthusiasm saying it,she sleeps a lot and takes medications but She didn’t tell me yet. Should I think she’ll still want me when she’s out of this phase or should I think she built this all up cause of her manic state?

  19. toni says:

    i was clinically diagnosed with bipolar since 2009. my first and only relationship only lasted for four months. people find me interesting and entertaining but i can only tolerate casual acquintances. the serious, intimate relationship seems to be too much for me.

  20. BPDandOK says:

    I haven’t disclosed to the person I’m dating yet, but plan to today (it’s only been 3 weeks, but I like him and there’s long-term potential). I’ve lost friends and even a job after disclosing, but I’ve also gained much deeper friendships as well and love when people ask me about BPD because I feel less alone. Having had both good and bad experiences I know what to expect and that I’d rather not waste my precious time on someone who is incapable of seeing past this and appreciating me for me and all I’ve managed to accomplish in life, in spite of my Illness.

  21. Mila says:

    For me its been hard finding someone who would understand. I ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and i suffer from anxiety. Having hard time to connect with people i am always in an awkward mode. Its hard for me to function, and i dont know what would reaction be u=if i said i am bipolar.

  22. Maria says:

    I told my ex soon and he romanticized it I should of took that as a clue. He didn’t try and understand and when I said let’s make a plan for my moods he agreed but we never did it was 3 months barely
    I can’t do a relationship till I’m stable and ok AND till I find someone who is grown understanding and willing to work with and support me and understand me I’m only 19 so I have time
    I really need to fix my abandonment issues first though
    I’ve held onto my ex for a few months after and we finally stopped talking today and I feel like my world is ending but I’m ok and need to get better before I let anyone new seriously into my life

  23. Eva says:

    I never used to have a problem just blabbing it out to everyone. But in the past few years, men have had an issue with it before they get to know me. I think it’s because the internet has spread the stigma.

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