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.
When 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 ("Dating with Depression: How Can I Hide My Depression?").
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:
- Don't make it seem like the end of the world otherwise they certainly will
- Be prepared for ignorance and step up to educate
As 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.
Tracy, N. (2011, August 6). When Do I Tell My Boyfriend/Girlfriend I Have Bipolar Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/08/when-do-i-tell-my-boyfriendgirlfriend-i-have-bipolar-disorder
Author: Natasha Tracy
I can understand being scared. That is a very real and realistic fear.
That said, it's an elephant in the room, and as you said, there's only so long you can hide it. Understanding this means planning on telling your boyfriend. This can be hard, I understand, but there is no option here. Bipolar doesn't go away and if your boyfriend cares for you he's going to have to accept that part of you too.
Try to sit him down and have a calm conversation where you give him some real facts about bipolar disorder, understanding that he likely doesn't know anything about it except what he's seen in the movies/on TV. Give him some time and space to digest the news -- remember, he might take it hard because he cares about you. And then have an open conversation and answer his questions if he has them.
It's a hard thing and I can't promise it will work out well, but I can promise that you need to do it.
- Natasha Tracy
There are all very real and very reasonable concerns. I can't tell you what will happen if you tell your husband but what I can tell you is that if you have a mental illness, you will need people's help. You can't find this in a vacuum.
What I recommend is that you talk to your therapist about all your concerns and make a plan. Make sure you get straight what is important to you, and what is important to say in any conversation. Also, you may choose to have your husband come to your therapy appointment when you tell him. That way you are both in a safe space when it happens.
Also, make sure you provide him with information about the realities of your diagnosis when you do tell him. Knowledge is power and a knowledge vacuum leads to fear.
- Natasha Tracy
Thanks for your comment. When and how to tell someone about your mental illness will always be a personal decision but I like to this about this: would I rather he break up with me now or later? I'm a proponent of telling someone early because if they're going to break up with me, I'd rather it happen sooner.
That said, you don't want to make a breakup more likely, so make sure when you tell him, you give him all the facts about the illness, speak calmly and rationally, and answer any questions he may have. It's also a good idea to give him a place to get more information (like here at HealthyPlace, book, etc.). It's also important to tell the person that while you do have an illness, you are in treatment and doing much better.
Mental illness can be a scary topic, but it is possible to bring it up and still have things hold together -- but you'll only know that once you try.
- Natasha Tracy
We started chatting online with each other for two days now and within the next week I am going to ask her if she wants to start talking over the phone. Not to long after that I am going to ask her to see if she wants to meet in person for like a coffee or something.
I became stable and am on medication and functioning quite well, much better than what I was. Otherwise I wouldn't even considered putting myself out there looking for my future soul mate.
Here's the problem, when should I tell her that I have Bipolar II Disorder and am on disability (CA. disabled)? As I was saying, we've only been talking for about 3 days now. On one hand I figure I should now because I don't want to waster her time. But on the other hand, I figure until our first date in person which could be 2 weeks from now?
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
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.
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 :-))
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.
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