Bipolar Relationships: What Makes Them So Challenging?
The term “bipolar relationships” is often thrown around to describe partners that blow hot and cold with each other or who are always in conflict. In reality, being in a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder is a lot more complicated than this. Many people with bipolar can and do have successful, fulfilling relationships, but more often than not, the illness presents some problems in their romantic lives. So, what is the impact of bipolar on relationships, and are there ways to avoid the common challenges?
Bipolar in Relationships: What Are the Challenges?
Bipolar relationships can be problematic for many reasons. While no relationship is easy, having a mental health condition can significantly add to the typical challenges of a partnership and test even the strongest of bonds.
These are some of the main challenges of bipolar relationships:
Emotional highs and lows
Bipolar symptoms and behaviors are often unpredictable, and not all episodes follow a specific pattern. This makes it difficult for the partner of someone with bipolar to know where they stand. Symptoms of mania can even be frightening to witness, and it's normal to feel worried about a person's safety if they're acting impulsively or don't seem like themselves.
If your partner exhibits this kind of behavior, you may also feel detached, confused, and like you can't keep up. When bipolar swings the other way, symptoms of depression are also worrying to witness – especially if your partner talks about suicide. Hearing your partner talk this way can be upsetting, but try to remember that it's not personal – it is a symptom of bipolar disorder that requires treatment.
If you're worried that your partner may harm themselves, you should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or dial the emergency services right away.
Irritability and anger
There is a misconception that people in mania are always fun and exciting to be around. However, anger and extreme irritability are also symptomatic of mania, and they can be especially challenging to live with.
Unsurprisingly, abrupt mood changes can lead to communication problems with your partner, so it's important to make yourself aware of their triggers and try to avoid conflict during an episode.
Destructive or impulsive behavior is one of the hallmark symptoms of bipolar mania, and it often causes problems in romantic relationships. Examples include abusing alcohol and/or drugs, excessive spending, gambling and engaging in risky sex ("Bipolar Disorder and Infidelity: Why It Happens"). These behaviors, with or without bipolar, would cause strain and conflict in most long-term relationships.
Bipolar Effects on Relationships: Finding Solutions
The effects of bipolar on a relationship are complex and far-reaching, so there is no catch-all solution. What’s more, not everyone with bipolar disorder exhibits the same symptoms. While some people struggle to hold down long-term relationships, others navigate romance and intimacy with few problems – or else they find the challenges posed by mental illness help to bring them and their partner closer together.
If you have bipolar disorder, you may be worried about telling your partner or entering into a new relationship. Alternatively, if you have a long-term partner, you may be concerned that your mental illness will eventually cause the relationship to end.
It’s important to remember that relationships end for a number of complex reasons, and mental health is only part of the picture. The best course of action you can take with any of these scenarios is to be open, honest and self-aware.
What to Do If You Have Bipolar In a Relationship
Having bipolar in a relationship isn’t easy, but helping your partner understand what it’s like to live with the condition can be beneficial.
Honesty is important in this scenario, so be clear about your limitations when mania/hypomania or depression strikes and tell your partner what to expect. You should also stick to your treatment plan and try to involve your partner in your care whenever possible.
Seeing a relationship counselor can help you work through some of the challenges caused by bipolar in relationships, but if your partner doesn't support you, then you may need to accept that the relationship isn't going to work.
What to Do If Your Partner Has Bipolar Disorder
If you find out you're in a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder, the first thing you should do is educate yourself. Firstly, learn everything you can about the condition so that you know what your partner is dealing with and how it might affect your relationship. Secondly, be sure to ask about your partner's personal experience, and don't assume to know what they're going through just because you've done your research.
Going forward, patience, support and open communication are the pillars of any successful relationship. Mental illness can take its toll on the loved ones of those affected, so it’s important to have your own support network in place for when bipolar causes strain in your relationship.
Smith, E. (2019, June 19). Bipolar Relationships: What Makes Them So Challenging?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, April 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/bipolar-disorder/relationships/bipolar-relationships-what-makes-them-so-challenging