How to Manage Romantic Relationships with Bipolar Disorder

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Bipolar disorder can be debilitating for the person with it and can also deeply impact their significant other. Sustaining a healthy marriage or other romantic relationship when one partner has bipolar can be extremely challenging and many couples struggle.  

Over time, the struggle can become even worse. The neurotypical partner is often left wondering what is going to happen next. Understanding bipolar disorder and how it affects somebody can help manage these relationships and strengthen them. 

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder causes changes in mood and energy, resulting in the person experiencing “mood episodes,” which are intense emotional states. Bipolar people have periods of mania (abnormally happy or irritable) and depression. There are three kinds of bipolar disorder.

Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder is categorized as experiencing manic episodes, which result in an increase in energy. Often they feel on top of the world and may try to get a lot done in a short period of time. 

Others also experience neutral mood and some have depressive or hypomanic episodes. However, depressive episodes are not required for a diagnosis of bipolar I.

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II disorder is categorized as experiencing at least one major depressive episode and at least one “hypomanic” episode, which is less severe mania that lasts only a few days. Other individuals will also experience neutral mood and some have manic episodes. 

That is to say, if their mood swings are dominated by mania it is typically bipolar I, while bipolar II leads to depression and much milder mania. Bipolar II is also often comorbid with anxiety and/or substance use disorder.

Cyclothymic Disorder

This is a milder form of bipolar which results in periods of hypomania and depression that occur frequently, but are typically a lot less severe than with bipolar I or bipolar II.

How is Bipolar Disorder Treated?

For bipolar I and bipolar II treatment is similar, involving medication and psychotherapy. Medication is very important for treating bipolar disorder. It is not something which can be fixed with talk therapy alone, although talk therapy can help people deal with their symptoms. The following are common medications that are prescribed:

  • Mood stabilizers such as lithium. These medications correct the imbalanced signaling in the brain. They must be taken even if symptoms are mild.
  • Anti-depressants in the case of bipolar II.

How do Bipolar Symptoms Affect Intimate Relationships?

The symptoms of bipolar disorder can affect those around the person as well, and both manic/hypomanic and depressive episodes can affect relationships with partners. Specifically, manic episodes can:

  1. Increase the desire for sex, and in some cases the likelihood of cheating.
  2. Result in uncontrolled spending or gambling.
  3. Decrease need for sleep 

Depressive episodes can:

  1. Reduce the desire for sex (sex drive can also be lowered by lithium).
  2. Result in changes in appetite and desire for food, which can result in forgetting to eat.

Bipolar in general can be frightening for any children in the relationship and make it much harder for the affected person to hold down a job. Bipolar symptoms can include irritability and aggressive behavior, pessimism or optimism, and suicidal thoughts. 

How to Sustain a Relationship With Somebody With Bipolar Disorder

Dealing with these various symptoms and issues can make it truly challenging. People with bipolar disorder have a higher rate of divorce and a lower rate of marital adjustment compared to people without mental health challenges although, notably, they have a lower rate than some other disorders, such as schizophrenia.

However, these challenges can be overcome. Here are some ways to sustain and strengthen the relationship:

Couples Counseling

Couples counseling is absolutely key to having a healthy romantic relationship when one member of the couple has bipolar disorder. It allows them to work together to develop strategies and helps avoid the phenomenon where the “healthy” partner becomes the caregiver and treats the one with bipolar like a child or a helpless person.

Education

It’s very important to understand that bipolar disorder is a disease, not a change in personality. Learning about the symptoms and the how and why of them can be helpful. So can reading books and blogs by both people with bipolar disorder and their partners.

Even more important is talking to their partner and understanding how they feel during episodes and what helps them deal with the mood swings.

Medication Management

Unfortunately, people with bipolar are notorious for not taking their medication, especially if they are “feeling better” or they don’t like the side effects. The medication starts working, they stop taking it and have a relapse, repeat. Understanding why their partner might not take their medication can help partners encourage them to take their medication and work with them and their doctor.

Get Professional Help

Get support when you need it. Sometimes, you may need some help coping with your partner’s condition and the effect it’s having on your relationship. Make sure you have your own support system of friends, loved ones, and counselors who can provide advice and encouragement when you need it.

How Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center Can Help

Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center offers mental health treatment including residential treatment for people with bipolar disorder. While residential treatment sounds scary, it can often be the best way to get somebody on track after a diagnosis or a relapse. We then design a comprehensive treatment plan moving forward, which includes couples and family therapy as well as treatment for substance use disorder.

If you or a loved one has bipolar disorder and needs help, contact Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center today.