Bipolar disorder and relationships: How to make it work

Bipolar disorder and relationships: How to make it work

Being in a romantic relationship means being with a loving partner and a nurturing companion. There is, however, so much more to being in a romantic relationship than going on dinner dates, taking strolls on the beach, and celebrating anniversaries. It entails creating a meaningful connection with and catering to the needs of your partner.

If you or your partner has bipolar disorder, you may be aware that the condition affects your ability to have a romantic relationship, and it takes work to make it work. Most relationships are complicated, but those with bipolar disorder face certain struggles that need to be addressed.

How bipolar disorder makes relationships a struggle

People with bipolar disorder undergo mood episodes marked by shifts in energy, activity, and sleep. Mood changes can be manageable, but those who are unfamiliar with them may struggle to deal with a partner who constantly experiences them.

Self-stigma may also be a deterrent to a healthy relationship. Self-stigma, as opposed to public stigma, is a condition wherein a person isolates his or her self from other people and from social situations as a result of internalized derogatory public attitudes towards those who have a mental health disorder. This then leads to negative feelings and/or low self-esteem, and eventually takes its toll on a person’s relationships.

When you have bipolar disorder, you may also struggle to fulfill “relationship duties” due to your scheduled wellness routines. For instance, you may prefer to go to bed early and forgo social events, establish a strict physical fitness routine (to minimize stress levels), regularly meet with family and friends, and consistently attend therapy. These routines are all essential in managing manic or depressive episodes, but some of them may affect your relationships when you least expect it.

Related article: Understanding the different types of bipolar disorder

Being in a relationship with someone with bipolar disorder

Anyone who’s in a relationship with a person with bipolar disorder also has to share some of the responsibilities of managing the condition’s symptoms. It’s especially important to avoid the negative misconceptions that people with bipolar disorder are difficult, violent, manipulative, and/or unsuitable for relationships.

These and other myths are often the reason why people with bipolar disorder feel isolated and why some people avoid entering into a relationship with those who are diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

How to make a relationship work when you have bipolar disorder

There are plenty of thriving relationships in which one of the parties has bipolar disorder.
Here are some things you can do to make that happen.

  • Talk to your partner about your condition. Everything will be a lot harder if your partner isn't helping. If you plan to enter into a relationship, the earlier you can talk about the condition the better. This is a practical way to ease their surprise when you undergo manic or depressive episodes.
  • Learn more about mood shifts. Tell your partner about the nature of mood shifts so he or she can manage his or her expectations. Seek help when necessary, and maintain an open line of communication, especially during severe mood episodes. It also pays to be transparent about the onset of a particularly severe mood episode, so that he or she isn’t left wondering how to deal with the situation.
  • Follow your treatment plan. A combination of medication and psychotherapy is an optimal way to manage bipolar disorder symptoms, and sticking to a treatment plan is best to manage mood changes and reduce relationship stress.

Meridian Psychiatric Partners LLC’s mental health professionals offer Couples Psychotherapy where couples are given a platform to learn how certain behaviors can affect their relationship. Talk to us to learn more.