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Can This Relationship be Saved? My Partner has Manic-Depressive (Bipolar) Disorder

Updated on May 28, 2014

The love of your life is adventurous, exciting and so driven! These qualities are a perfect match for your more passive, laid back personality. You now become confused and discouraged when after an argument, he/she has withdrawn, won’t speak to you or anyone and was finally diagnosed as being ‘manic-depressive’ or suffering from Bipolar Disorder. It is now time to find out what this means for both of you.

What are the symptoms?

Persons who are diagnosed with this disorder will have displayed recurring difficulty in relating to their friends, family and acquaintances. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Dramatic mood swings ranging from major depression to extreme elation. These mood swings can range from mild to extreme, quite suddenly or over an extended period of time.
  • Persistent ambivalence regarding feelings or attitudes towards others. This ambivalence may also affect how individuals feel about their life goals, career, lifestyle and even sexual orientation.
  • Persons with Bipolar Disorder will often abuse alcohol and other drugs, spend excessively and participate in other risky behaviors such as gambling, stealing, driving recklessly, or practicing unprotected sex.
  • Persons with Bipolar Disorder are usually extremely insecure. They may fear being abandoned and demand continual reassurance. They may become enraged towards others who they blame for how they feel.
  • Self-harm is also commonly seen with this disorder. This may take the form of cutting or burning. Drug overdose, eating disorders, alcohol/drug abuse and suicide attempts are also common.


What causes Bipolar Disorder?

As many as 10-14% of the general population are known to have this disorder. It may be dormant for years and suddenly triggered by a period of severe stress. Women are in fact two to three times likely to be diagnosed than men. Genetics or hormonal influences are thought to be major contributors. Premenstrual syndrome has been proposed as a key factor in women. About 50% of persons with Bipolar Disorder have a close relative with a diagnosed mood disorder such as Depression.

Can a relationship survive this diagnosis?

Being in a romantic relationship with someone whose moods change sporadically can be a very confusing experience. It is important for you to understand the reason for these changes, keeping such instability in perspective and not over-react to every situation.

Persons who live with this disorder report feeling overwhelmed and out of control. The relationship can eventually feel like an emotional roller-coaster, creating fear and anxiety for both of you. In an effort to regain control, you may start to play the role of parent, ensuring that you partner takes his/her medication on time in an effort to prevent any more ‘drama’. Taking on this role of parent can undermine the emotional health and viability of the relationship.

Bipolar Disorder & Romantic Relationships

So what can you do?

  • You will be a better partner in the relationship if you are educated about this disorder, seeking out others who are in relationships with manic-depressive partners.
  • Find a therapist and discuss how this situation is affecting you. Address the frustration and anxiety that can be a natural consequence of this type of relationship dynamic.
  • Prepare for passion, unpredictability, dramatic confrontations and other emotionally ‘charged’ encounters.
  • Commit to remain calm during these emotional episodes, being determined not to add to the already volatile atmosphere.
  • Stay rational while enjoying the high points of the relationship that can be full of excitement and adventure. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into risky behavior to please your partner.
  • Do not allow yourself to be dragged down in the low phases of the relationship. Keep a healthy emotional, if not physical distance, doing things for yourself that will keep you positive and hopeful, until this phase passes.

The way forward

You will have realized by now that being in a romantic relationship with someone suffering from Bipolar Disorder is a challenging undertaking. The love you feel for your partner will not prevent you from feeling overwhelmed at times. Couple’s therapy is highly recommended for such a relationship, allowing a third impartial party to explain and manage any difficulties that you go through together.

Is there hope for you? Yes. Many couples with a Bipolar Disordered partner live happy and fulfilled lives together. A firm commitment to staying the course and working as hard as necessary to make things work is what will be required. Being alert and aware of your own moods and feelings as well as your partner’s is a skill that, if acquired, will improve the likelihood of this relationship’s success.

Manic-Depressive (Bipolar) Disorder is a condition that can be successfully managed with medication and therapy. When you love someone with this disorder, you will ensure that they get the help they need to be well, so that you both can enjoy your life together. You will also love yourself enough to safeguard that you do not succumb to the inevitable emotional strain that may arise, but you will also seek out the help you need to be an emotionally healthy, happy partner.

Do you know someone with Bipolar Disorder?

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The text on this page, unless otherwise indicated, is owned by happiness coach (karen mcgibbon) who hereby asserts her copyright on the material. Permission must be granted by the author in writing prior to copy or republish this article in print or online. Thank you.

© karen mcgibbon


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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Can This Relationship be Saved? My Partner has Manic-Depressive (Bipolar) Disorder sounds a challenge.

    • happiness coach profile image

      Karen McGibbon 4 years ago from Jamaica

      Thank you for sharing your experience Denise. I am sure being aware of your own weaknesses in the situation have made you an even better mom.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I have a daughter who was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder as an adult and I also work for someone with the disorder. You are right in that it is an emotional roller coaster, and the only way to cope is to keep myself on an even keel through both the highs and the lows. The most difficult part is that I tend to be a nurturing person and put myself out trying to help when things are tough. I have to really be careful to avoid overextending myself.

    • happiness coach profile image

      Karen McGibbon 4 years ago from Jamaica

      Thank you dashingscorpio. Your comment was an important 'reality check' for everyone who chooses to enter a romantic relationship.

    • dashingscorpio profile image

      dashingscorpio 4 years ago

      Life is a personal journey.

      It's important to remember you are responsible for your own happiness. Yes, it is possible to have a relationship with anyone who has a mental illness if both people have decided they aren't going to leave one another. However the simple act of (staying together) is not how we should view a relationship as being healthy, happy, or successful.

      The magic formula is "Know thyself, Love thyself, and Trust thyself".

      If you want "stability" to be the backbone of your relationship than dating someone who is "bipolar" or "manic depressive" is a bad choice for (you). People with mental illness have to be diligent with taking their meds as well as being in tuned with changes coming on much like when a person senses they are about to catch a cold.

      You have no control over whether or not your mate takes their meds! If you experience drama filled nights it's your fault if you choose to stay. Don't blame them for being mentally ill and don't allow them to make you feel guilty for leaving to pursue a happier existence with someone else. Each of us chooses our own friends, lovers, and spouse.

      It's easy to fall into a co-dependent trap.

    • jjackson786 profile image

      Jennifer 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Great hub. It is also important to note that Bipolar Disorder is characterized by extreme mania ("highs") and depression ("lows"), each lasting anywhere from several days to several weeks. This unpredictable behavior pattern can be incredibly stressful on a relationship, especially if the afflicted partner is not seeking treatment as both ends of the spectrum are extreme- mania is typically characterized by increased frenetic activity, irritability, and less need for sleep; depression is characterized by an excessive need for sleep, less energetic activity, and lowered self-esteem. It is easy to see how stressful it would be to be caught within these behavior patterns. Voted up!