Bipolar’s Impact on Relationships


It’s not easy living with a person who suffers from mental illness. The depression can seem contagious and the manic behavior exhibited by a person suffering from bipolar disorder can literally be life threatening. Jobs can be lost, social circles may diminish and your own relationship can suffer.

Once a person has been diagnosed and is in treatment, often the partner is hoping for a quick fix; that soon life will be “normal” (whatever that is), but they may be disappointed that relief will take time, patience and a lot of hard work. So, how can you avoid the pitfalls of depression and all the other illnesses that may accompany this disorder, where do you go when you need help, and who can you, as a caregiver, reach out to when you need a shoulder to cry on?

Affects on relationships

The highs associated with this disorder may have been what first attracted you to your mate. There is a charm in the silliness, the seeming confidence, sexual spark and the quick-wittedness. Unfortunately, with that can come hostility, inappropriate behavior, irritability, hypersexuality, psychosis, sleeplessness and reckless behavior. The depressive side of this disorder can cause a person to retreat from others and favorite activities: there may be thoughts of suicide, fatigue, weight loss or gain, a lack of pleasure or interest in life and an ability to concentrate. For parents of teens suffering from manic-depression, every day can be a challenge, and for spouses, it can almost be impossible to predict how your partner will react to stress or obstacles on any given day.

Identifying moods

Once your loved one is in treatment, seeing a therapist regularly and taking medications on time every day, you may begin to see some improvement rapidly, or it may seem to take forever before you see change. It depends upon the individual. Helping your loved one make a mood chart may be one way to help him see the stressors in his life. The few minutes per day that this activity takes can also help catch mood swings before they get out of control. When you work in tandem with your loved one, you can offer a fresh perspective and a more objective viewpoint. Learning about the disorder can help you see more clearly what the patient is going through on a daily basis. If you are a caregiver, you may want to confide in your own employer to let her know of the situation and any emergencies that may arise, so that she understands when your family is in crisis.

Establishing routine

Most people with bipolar disorder find routine mandatory for successful treatment. The key is a schedule: do the mood chart, get enough rest to stabilize bio-rhythms, exercise regularly to keep calm and rid tension, eat properly and try to reduce stress. Above all, those suffering from mood disorders have to stop using other substances to cope. Alcohol and drugs can exacerbate the symptoms and can conflict with the necessary medications. If your loved one is attending school, it may be good for him to speak to a guidance counsellor or nurse to get help. If your bipolar loved one is working, she may want to speak to the workplace counsellor or nurse in confidence. The entire family may benefit from regular visits to a licensed psychotherapist. Find a routine that works for you and your loved one and stick to it.

Community support

Community and online support groups such as the DBSA can be the key for coping. Interacting with like-minded individuals and other families going through the same stresses and challenges as you can, quite literally, prove to be a life-saver. The sense of isolation that can overwhelm you will sometimes seem less when you know that you are not the only one going through this relationship-challenging experience. While it’s essential to find a means of support for your loved one, a place where they are understood and where they feel confident enough to share and learn about his or her own disorder, it’s also invaluable to also find that means of support yourself.