While it’s difficult to get consistent data, people with bipolar disorder do have a higher divorce rate than the general population. Considering that more than 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce, we can see how maintaining long-term relationships in general is challenging, and for people with bipolar disorder there will be added considerations.
Some important points to remember are:
• Let your spouse/significant other know that it’s okay for her to talk about your bipolar disorder, and that if she believes you’re having symptoms it’s safe for her to say that. For many couples this becomes an effective early warning system that a mood episode is starting to brew.
• While your spouse/significant other is not your therapist, including her in occasional visits with your practitioner(s) can be useful. This will offer her the chance to ask questions and get answers.
• Avoid making important decisions about your spouse or significant other while in the midst of a mood episode.
• When depressed, people often overstate the burden they believe they are.
• “You’d be better off without me.”
• “I’m holding you back. You can do better.”
• When manic or hypomanic, increased self-importance and grandiosity and heightened sex drive may have the person with bipolar disorder look toward what he considers a more exciting partner.
• “You’re too dull . . . no fun . . . a bore.”
• If you did something to hurt your spouse emotionally while in the midst of a mood episode, it’s important to say, “I’m sorry.” This can be a challenge, as you want to take responsibility for your behavior but also acknowledge that some element of it came as a result of your mood state.
• Consider couples counseling, either in an ongoing way or when needed, to get through the rough spots. This will be different than having your spouse come to meet with you and your regular therapist. In couples work it’s best to have a therapist who isn’t going to take sides.
• It’s also important to remember that the problems occurring in a relationship may have little or nothing to do with your bipolar.
• Control issues (especially around taking medication and following treatment recommendations) are a frequent source of conflict in relationships. Being able to air these in therapy and come up with compromises that you and your spouse are comfortable with can be very helpful.