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How Can I Support my Bipolar Spouse?

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 5/16/2011

If you are living with a bipolar spouse, you may have heard that very few bipolar marriages survive in the long run. You can take steps to strengthen your marriage long before trouble strikes, which will make you more likely to be able to weather the storms that come.

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    What is Bipolar Marriage Like?

    You may have heard the frightening statistic that 90% of marriages in which one of the partners has bipolar disorder is destined to fail. Unfortunately, this makes sense, people with bipolar disorder may go through periods of being completely illogical or unreachable, take financial risks that can leave a couple penniless, or constantly hit snags at work that can stall a career. Any of these can strain a marriage.

    But living with a bipolar spouse can be made easier by taking proactive steps, before the stress hits. Prepare in advance, and you'll see that your relationship with your spouse can become stronger, even when the symptoms of the disorder appear.

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    Make a Road Map

    The first step to improving your marriage is to sit down together and figure out exactly how bipolar disorder affects your marriage and how to deal with those effects. For example, make a list of situations that trigger mood swings in your bipolar spouse, such as strong disagreements, jealousy, or changes in sleep patterns. Then discuss how you can best avoid those triggers, as well as what you should do when those triggers do occur.

    Ask your spouse beforehand what you should do if you feel that your spouse is beginning a manic or depressive phase. You may want to make up a key sentence that you say when you think that such a phase is starting, such as "How do you feel?" or "Is something up?" Learn about what your spouse needs during these phases by asking before they arrive. Also, come to an agreement about which symptoms your spouse needs to exhibit for you to seek help. That way, you can make this decision at a time that is not overly emotional, and if your spouse later refuses the help, you'll know that it is the disorder talking rather than your spouse's true wishes.

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    Encourage Treatment

    Encourage your spouse to fully treat the bipolar disorder, and give your spouse the full support necessary to control the disorder as much as possible. This may include the use of medications (e.g., mood stabilizers, antidepressants), therapy, or alternative practices. This may also include couples counseling to help the two of you work together to communicate about the disorder.

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    Keep Your Spouse Healthy

    Living with a bipolar spouse means making sure to give your spouse has the necessary ingredients to minimize the symptoms of bipolar disorder. This would include plenty of time and space to manage stressful events, the ability to unwind as needed through long walks or music, a regular sleep schedule, healthy foods, and enough time to exercise. You can also work to make your home free of alcohol and caffeine, which can worsen the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

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    Work as a Team

    Work together with your spouse, and make sure that both of you view it as a collaborative effort. You'll need to exhibit plenty of patience and understanding to get yourself through some of the more difficult stages of the disorder. Make sure to remind your spouse often how much you love and care for each other.

    At the same time, give the spouse the main responsibility for managing the disorder. You should not be scheduling all of your spouse's therapy appointments, monitoring medications, and taking over all other aspects of controlling the disorder. Your spouse needs to feel self-sufficient as much as possible. This is only true when your spouse is well, however. During manic or depressive phases, you will need to take over. Prepare for this beforehand by opening up most of your accounts in your name (with your spouse's permission) and asking your spouse if you can have power of attorney if you feel it may be necessary.

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    References

    National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Beating the Marriage Odds." http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=41636&lstid=275

    WebMD. “Bipolar Romantic Relationships: Dating and Marriage." http://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/guide/bipolar-romantic-relationships-dating-and-marriage

Bipolar Disorder and Relationships

Are you dating a guy with bipolar disorder? Did you just find out that your spouse has bipolar? This series of articles will give you tips about how to save your relationship.
  1. Advice for Dating a Bipolar Guy: Top Five Things to Keep in Mind
  2. How Can I Support my Bipolar Boyfriend?
  3. How Can I Support my Bipolar Spouse?