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Bipolar Relationships

Arjun Kulkarni
Bipolar disorder is a type of mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings. Living with a bipolar spouse/partner can be difficult at times, but it is definitely not impossible. Here is a valuable advice if you really want to make it work or otherwise.

Did You Know?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder are said to have at least one close relative with a similar disorder (say unipolar major depression), which suggests that this condition could be hereditary.
Manic depression, or more commonly known as bipolar disorder, is a mental illness, the cause of which is not yet clear to researchers. This illness is characterized by alternating episodes of extreme agitation or high (known as mania) and extreme depression.
A person suffering from this disorder may engage in highly risky behavior, like substance abuse and sexual promiscuity, while he/she is going through mania, and may become suicidal during the depressive episode. In some cases, manic depression also affects an individual's ability to function in daily life. 
Bipolarity can be especially annoying for the family members of these individuals, as they have to deal with the constantly changing moods of the person while still keeping their cool.
While it is difficult to handle manic depressives, you can follow some simple guidelines if you really want to make life easier for them, as well as for yourself.

Get to know bipolar disorder

Understand the psychology and physiology behind bipolar disorder. Read up on this illness as much as you can to be better able to understand what your loved one is going through. You can watch the BBC documentary The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive presented by Stephen Fry, a bipolar himself. You can also talk to a psychiatrist to know more about it. 

Do not stigmatize

Bipolarity does not necessarily have to render a person non-functional. Many famous and highly accomplished people have been manic depressives―Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, Vincent van Gogh, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Jean-Claude Van Damme being just a few of them. 
Understand this yourself, and also tell your loved one the same. Do not stigmatize the bipolar person for having this disorder, as that will only make him/her reluctant to talk about the condition.

Try to understand their behavior

Do not take what a bipolar person says too personally, as they do not mean it most of the time. Try to view their behavior in the context of their illness. If the person is very angry or defensive, it is mostly a symptom of their illness. Try not to lose your head in such a situation, and attempt to empathize with what your loved one is going through. 

Try to be cheerful

Watch your behavior when you are around your bipolar spouse/partner, as any resentment or anger on your part will be transmitted to him/her, which could plummet him/her into depression. You don't have to handle the person with safety gloves though. If you cannot handle their mood swings, tell them so upfront. They will be thankful to you for that.

Treat them normally

Behave with your bipolar spouse/partner just as you would with any other person. Do not treat them as if there is something terribly wrong with them. Just because they have a mood disorder does not mean they are terminally ill, neither would they like it if you behaved that way. 

Keep a journal

Encourage the person to keep a track of his/her moods on a daily basis. The mood swings generally occur in a cyclic manner, so a journal or mood chart would help you as well as the person to know when to expect a shift in mood. 


Encourage the person to talk about what he/she is feeling. Depressive episodes, many a time, result in suicidal tendencies and extremely low self-worth in a bipolar individual.
In such cases, talking to them might reveal such thoughts to you, and you will be able to act on them before it is too late. Telling them good things about themselves that are true might help them regain some of their lost self-worth.

Regular medication

Make sure that the person is taking his/her medication, if at all, on a regular basis. Encouraging them to meditate might also help to keep the mood swings under check to a certain extent. 

Regularity in meals and sleep

Make sure that the person is having his/her meals on time and is getting enough sleep, as any irregularity might trigger a mood shift. 

Be careful during a manic episode

Protect money from the manic depressive person when he/she is having a manic episode. Bipolars lose track of how much they are spending when they are on a high, and end up buying things that they do not need. Many have even lost their life's savings in just a few days. 
Also, keep a check on who the person is spending time with during these episodes, as they are prone to indulge in sexually risky behavior or substance abuse during this time.

Support groups

Encourage your loved one to join a support group for bipolar disorder. This can go a long way, as the person will know that he/she is not the only one suffering from this disorder, which will blunt the stigma attached to it to some extent. 
Most of all, do not treat your loved one like he/she is crazy or mentally deranged, as that will only aggravate the situation. With lots of love and care, you can help the person lead a happy life, while also leading a meaningful life yourself. 
But while following all these guidelines, do not ignore your own needs and desires. Get help for yourself by talking to a psychologist or therapist when you think that the stress of maintaining sanity in your own life in the face of your partner's illness is becoming too much for you.
Remember that you have a life of your own, and your loved one's manic depression is no reason you should not lead it the way you want.