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Why Do Bipolar Relationships Fail?

Why do bipolar relationships fail? Discover the many complex factors and find ways to avoid common stumbling blocks on HealthyPlace.

What are the common reasons bipolar relationships fail? The answer is rarely clear-cut, of course, and there are many complex factors to consider. Many people with this condition have happy, fulfilling partnerships just like everybody else. Bipolar is also treatable, so most adults with the disorder are good at recognizing their triggers and knowing how to respond. Navigating a romantic relationship can be challenging at the best of times, but everyday issues become more complicated with a mental illness in the mix, especially one as unpredictable as bipolar disorder. So why do bipolar relationships fail, and how can you stop it from happening?

Do All Bipolar Relationships Fail?

Not all bipolar relationships fail. It's important to recognize this, as it's easy to blame yourself or your illness if things aren't working out for you and your partner. Relationships end for all kinds of reasons, and your diagnosis (or your partner's bipolar diagnosis) is probably only part of that equation.

Mental illness does bring its own issues to a relationship, however. The statistics for divorces involving a person with bipolar disorder are substantially higher than the national average. An estimated 90 percent of these marriages end in divorce, according to a 2003 study, compared with just 40% where neither partner has bipolar disorder. So how can you beat the bipolar relationship odds?

Reasons Why Bipolar Relationships Fail

Here are some of the common reasons why bipolar relationships fail:

Unpredictable moods and behavior: Bipolar disorder exists on a spectrum, but most people with either bipolar type I or II experience episodes of mania/hypomania and depression. Both of these mood states can make people behave unpredictably in relationships. Mania, for example, may induce pleasure-seeking behavior such as heavy drinking, partying or excessive spending, while depression can cause people to withdraw and detach from their partners, which can seem as if they don't care. These mood changes are very challenging for people with bipolar disorder, but they can also feel difficult for their partners.

Infidelity: Infidelity in bipolar disorder is a common, and often tragic, consequence of mania. However, this typically occurs in people who have not yet been diagnosed or are off medication for some reason. According to Bipolar Lives, the reasons infidelity occurs in bipolar disorder are as follows:

  • Hypersexuality
  • Impaired judgment
  • Poor impulse control
  • High self-esteem
  • Grandiosity, feeling invincible

The stress of dealing with a partner who has a mental illness: According to David A. Karp, professor of sociology at Boston College and author of The Burden of Sympathy: How Families Cope with Mental Illness, supporting a partner with a mental illness like bipolar disorder can be more difficult than having a partner with cancer.

Bipolar Relationship Breakups: How to Cope

While not all bipolar relationships fail, we all have to deal with breakups at some point. The end of a relationship can be challenging to cope with for all of us. However, relationship breakups can be especially difficult for people with bipolar disorder, not just because of the emotional instability that ensues, but also because of the change in routine, stress, and loss that can trigger either mania or depression.

Let yourself feel the emotions

Everybody reacts badly when they are hurt or rejected, but when you have bipolar disorder, your reactions can be extreme. These emotions can feel uncomfortable for someone with bipolar disorder, but they are a normal part of a relationship breakup. Give yourself time to work through your feelings one by one, and remember they are a normal part of the grieving process when a relationship ends.

If feelings of depression become overwhelming or you feel suicidal, inform your doctor or seek urgent help by calling 911 or your local emergency number.

Protect yourself

Relationship breakups are hard, so you owe yourself some compassion. It doesn’t matter why the relationship ended or who was at fault – you must not blame yourself for the breakup. Somewhere down the line, you'll learn from any mistakes you made, but right now, the most important thing is to look after yourself and try to avoid engaging in behavior that triggers bipolar episodes.

Ask your doctor for help

When bipolar relationships fail, we often feel like we can’t cope. If your emotions get too much, be sure to ask your doctor for additional support. If you’re going through a particularly difficult patch, your doctor may suggest adjusting your medication or upping your therapy sessions.

Reach out to your support network

Your support network is vital during a bipolar relationship breakup, so be sure to ask for help if you need it.  If you don't have a support network nearby, resist the urge to reach out to your ex-partner unless it's an emergency. You need to heal, and you can't do that if you're always in touch with the person you broke up with. Try attending a bipolar support group instead to help you manage your moods and avoid triggers.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, June 19). Why Do Bipolar Relationships Fail?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/bipolar-disorder/relationships/why-do-bipolar-relationships-fail

Last Updated: June 25, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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