Living with a bipolar spouse is very difficult. Marriages in which one spouse is bipolar do not have a good success rate. Reportedly, 90 percent of all marriages in which one spouse is bipolar fail. Understanding the illness, what you can do to help a spouse suffering from bipolar disorder and taking care of yourself are all important steps in helping your marriage survive. Both partners have a responsibility for managing the illness. It is easy for the healthy spouse to become overwhelmed.
An Introduction to Bipolar Disorder
In bipolar disorder, a person often experiences mood shifts from mania--an elevated, often euphoric feeling--to depression. A patient may experience hypomania, a milder form of mania, or dysphoric mania, which is a mixed mania. In a mixed episode, a patient experiences symptoms of mania and depression simultaneously. There are four subtypes in the bipolar spectrum: bipolar I, bipolar II, not otherwise specified (NOS) and cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar II. The disorder usually presents in adolescence or early adulthood, but occasionally presents in childhood.
Living with a Bipolar Spouse
Bipolar disorder can be severely disabling for the patient and difficult for his or her significant others. By understanding the illness and making some modifications, you can help your spouse and yourself. One of the key skills to learn if you have a bipolar spouse is the ability to recognize bipolar triggers and symptoms. Recognizing behaviors that arise from environmental factors versus behaviors that arise from the illness itself is important as well. It's important, as well, not to take anything a bipolar patient says or does personally. The ability to detach your emotions from a bipolar person's actions is key to your own emotional well-being.
Medication plays a large role in the stability of anyone with bipolar disorder. One of the dangers of medication is that the person with bipolar disorder often wants to quit taking the medication when he or she starts to feel the positive effects of the medication. Gently helping your spouse remember that the reason he or she is feeling so good is because of the medication is helpful for your spouse. So is helping them stay on their medication.
Some couples recommend making a list of the bipolar spouse's symptoms and attempt to agree on when the bipolar spouse needs to seek help. The healthy spouse eventually becomes very good at recognizing symptoms and can play a large part in helping the bipolar spouse seek help. If a couple sits down and creates a plan ahead of time and adheres to the plan, it can help make decisions easier for the healthy partner. If spending is an issue, healthy spouses should keep their name on all financial accounts and also handle the finances. Consider, as well, giving power of attorney to the healthy well spouse so he can make decisions when the bipolar spouse is not able to.
Caring for the Caregiver
Just as your bipolar spouse needs a support team, so do you. Seek out support groups, therapy, Internet message boards and email lists. Talk to family and friends. Participate in activities and have interests away from your spouse. Don't let yourself be swallowed up by the illness. Don't let your life become all about the illness. Try to find an outlet. Other activities and interests are crucial to helping you get through the difficult times.