What you need to know:
- You may not know that your partner has bipolar disorder unless they tell you, especially when you are still dating.
- To avoid misunderstanding your partner, get as much knowledge as you can about bipolar.
Bipolar disorder is a condition characterised by extreme mood swings.
You may not know that your partner has bipolar disorder unless they tell you, especially when you are still dating. There may be signs such as your partner being happy and excited one moment, and very irritable, sad, and lonely the next moment. These highs and lows of bipolar are so unrelated that up to 70 percent of patients are misdiagnosed at least once. These mood swings can make navigating a relationship with someone who has bipolar challenging. However, there are things you can do to support your partner and ensure the health of your relationship.
Diagnosis and symptoms
According to psychotherapist Jael Aluoch, if you suspect that your partner has bipolar disorder, the first step is to get a professional diagnosis. This can be done at a mental health facility by a qualified psychotherapist or psychiatrist. Bipolar is a lifelong condition characterised by three main symptoms; mania, hypomania, and depression. With mania, your spouse will be in high spirits and may engage in behaviours such as spending sprees, drug abuse, poor decision making, impulsive behaviour, and unprotected sex. “The behavior changes will be noticeable and can result in trouble at work or in the relationship,” says Aluoch. With hypomania, the symptoms will not be as prominent as mania. “In the depressive extreme, your partner may become suicidal or exhibit suicidal thoughts, they may look sad, bored, and unable to sleep at night,” says Aluoch.
Learn about bipolar
To avoid misunderstanding your partner, get as much knowledge as you can about bipolar. Know the symptoms and how they kick in. According to Aluoch, this will enable you to know when your spouse’s mood or behaviours are out of control. “Knowledge is the only way you will understand where your partner is coming from, how to encourage them to express themselves, and how to show them that treatment can improve the quality of their life and your relationship,” she says.
People with bipolar are highly irritable. In your conversations, avoid arguments and topics that stir irritability or undue euphoria. “Too much euphoria or irritability leads to irrational decisions in people with bipolar,” says Aluoch. Learn to actively pay attention to what they say and stay calm and attentive during conversations.
According to Dr. Tracy Todd, a family therapist and author of Practice Building for Mental Health Professionals, identify and enhance things that help your spouse maintain a healthy mental trajectory within your environment. “When your spouse is in a stable or more favorable mood, pay close attention to what environmental triggers precipitated and are maintaining the stability. Use these soothers to maintain the mood you both desire,” says Dr. Todd. You may also encourage your spouse to pursue activities they previously enjoyed without compromising his mental wellbeing.
Attend therapy together
According to the International Bipolar Foundation, one of the best ways to encourage a spouse to stick with the treatment schedule is to accompany them during therapy sessions. “Your spouse’s bipolar diagnosis will inevitably affect you. But accompanying them will ensure that the larger family dynamics are not neglected.” Be careful not to push or be heavy-handed. Your support should be empathetic.
Beware of your partner’s suicidal thoughts
According to Dr. Sidra Goldman-Mellor, a health researcher and the author of Health Effects of Economic Decline, patients with bipolar disorder have a remarkably high risk of suicide. Regardless of whether your spouse has seen a professional, you will need to keep tabs on them to nip suicidal thoughts in the bud. “Someone looking to commit suicide is hard to identify. Everything about them will look right until the very last moments when they engage in illogical activities,” says psychologist Dr. Chris Hart. Your partner could seem euphoric, but inside they may be heavily laden with stress and depression so stay alert.
Self-awareness and care
You must be able to love and care for yourself before you can love and care for your partner. Caring for a person with bipolar disorder can be draining. Be honest about your feelings, behaviors, and reactions to the things happening around you. “Consciously observe your feelings, sensations, habits, behaviours, and thoughts,” says Dr. Hart. Beware of your negative traits and tendencies that trigger your partner’s negative reactions. These include the habit of exaggerating, shooting from the hip or jumping to wrong conclusions.