Bipolar disorder can affect the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. This includes how they act when in a romantic relationship or when dating. Managing treatment and learning about the condition can help with long-term partnerships.
People with bipolar disorder experience periods of extremely high or low mood. These are called manic (or hypomanic) episodes and depressive episodes, respectively. The right treatment can help many people with bipolar disorder maintain healthy relationships.
This article discusses how bipolar disorder may affect relationships. It also provides relationship tips for a person with bipolar disorder and their partner.
Bipolar disorder need not be a barrier to healthy, long-term partnerships.
If a person with bipolar disorder experiences relationship problems, those problems are likely to be a result of the
There are many ways to treat bipolar disorder. A combination of medication and psychotherapy often successfully reduces symptoms.
With the right treatment, people with bipolar disorder may have long periods of stable moods or may have only mild symptoms, which are unlikely to significantly affect their relationships.
Here is a brief summary of the types of episodes a person with bipolar disorder may experience and how those may affect a relationship:
- Manic episodes: Without effective treatment, manic episodes may cause a person with bipolar disorder to become irritable. A person may disagree with their partner more easily during a manic episode. They may also engage in potentially harmful behavior such as spending sprees or binge drinking.
- Major depressive episodes: A person may be less communicative during a period of depression. They may also become tearful or feel hopeless and pessimistic.
- Mixed episodes: Sometimes, a person may have symptoms of mania or hypomania and depression at the same time. This may be confusing or stressful for their partner, who may not know what kind of reaction to expect.
Dating someone who has bipolar disorder can affect many aspects of a person’s life, such as the relationship itself, their career, their family, and their children.
People with bipolar disorder have a greater chance of experiencing sexual problems.
During manic episodes, they may desire sex to an excessive degree, whereas during depressive episodes they may not desire it at all. In addition, during depressive episodes, they may associate intimacy with negative emotions.
Having low self-esteem may reduce a person’s sex drive or cause them to feel less affectionate. Having bipolar disorder can also affect a person’s perspective of their sexuality.
All these factors may affect the person’s partner and the relationship.
Work or school
The shifting moods of children and adolescents living with bipolar disorder
Having bipolar disorder can make it difficult for adults to find and maintain a job. In fact, prolonged symptoms place a person at a
Research suggests that partners of people with bipolar disorder may have to give up a lot of their leisure time and self-care in order to attend to the needs of their significant other.
If a couple has children, the partner without bipolar disorder may have to take on greater parenting responsibilities, as well as greater responsibilities around the home in general.
A person without bipolar disorder might have a hard time understanding their partner’s condition or knowing how they should react to various symptoms, which can be distressing for both partners.
This can create negative, unresolved emotions such as loneliness, powerlessness, and anger. These feelings can be hard to resolve without professional help.
Experiencing stress related to a partner’s bipolar disorder can cause physical symptoms such as muscle pain and insomnia, which may increase the other partner’s need for medical care.
All these factors can lead to emotional distancing in a relationship and potentially to the loss of social or family contact.
In some cases, the resulting stress may lead the person without bipolar disorder to judge their partner for their mental health condition. This can negatively affect the trust in the relationship.
If the person with bipolar disorder is also engaging in risk-taking behaviors, that can add to the stress on the relationship.
All relationships take work, and being in a relationship with a person with bipolar disorder is no different. A healthy partnership requires empathy, communication, and self-awareness.
There are many ways to build a strong relationship with a partner who has bipolar disorder, including:
- Learning about the condition: This can help a person understand what their partner is experiencing. Reading reputable, well-sourced health information websites can help give a balanced view of the condition.
- Asking about triggers: This means knowing and avoiding the things that are more likely to worsen the symptoms of a manic or depressive episode in a partner. Possible triggers include stressful work situations,
lack of sleep, and missed doses of medication. However, mood changes can also occur without triggers.
- Asking about behaviors: Asking what behaviors are typical for a person with bipolar disorder during high or low periods can help their partner recognize these shifts in mood. This enables the partner to distinguish usual behaviors from symptoms of bipolar disorder.
- Supporting treatment: This can start with discussing what the treatment plan involves, and it may help reduce anxiety in the relationship. It is crucial to talk about how a person can best support their partner’s treatment and whether there are any aspects of treatment that their partner does not want to discuss.
- Creating a support plan: It can be useful to plan activities, make a list of useful contacts such as a trusted relative or a therapist, and adjust the daily routine to help a person with bipolar disorder cope from day to day. Having a support plan in place reassures both partners that they will know how to respond to a very high or low period.
- Communicating feelings: High or low periods may be emotional for both partners. For this reason, open communication is crucial. A partner should explain how the behavior of the person with bipolar disorder makes them feel, without judging the person or stigmatizing the condition.
- Practicing self-care: It is vital for the partner of a person with bipolar disorder to support their own mental health by practicing self-care. This can strengthen the relationship and improve their ability to care for their partner. Self-care strategies include:
- talking with a friend or family member about relationship issues
- practicing a hobby
- getting regular exercise
- seeing a therapist
- not being the partner’s only source of support
- practicing stress-relief techniques such as mindfulness or meditation
Below are some relationship tips that people with bipolar disorder may want to consider:
- Sharing the diagnosis: A person with bipolar disorder may feel empowered by sharing their diagnosis in a new relationship. Not everyone will understand how bipolar disorder can affect a person’s life. Telling a partner about bipolar disorder and noticing how they respond is one way to gauge whether they are likely to be supportive.
- Being consistent with treatment: This is the best way to reduce symptoms, but the treatments that work best may vary for each person. Regular exercise, yoga, mindfulness, or journaling may also help support a person’s overall well-being.
- Sharing mood changes: This can help both partners recognize and respond to a high or low period before it worsens. Telling a partner what to expect during manic or depressive episodes, as well as recognizing and telling them about warning signs, can help ensure that they do not blame themselves.
- Listening to feedback: If a partner tells a person with bipolar disorder that they have noticed signs of a mood change, it is vital to listen to them. Listening to and discussing feedback without being defensive can help improve intimacy.
Can bipolar relationships last?
When it comes to marriage, research suggests that couples in which at least one partner has bipolar disorder have a
However, as in any relationship, success usually depends on the effort that both partners make. A mental health condition may present an additional challenge, but it is possible for the relationship to last.
Can a bipolar person have a healthy relationship?
A person with bipolar disorder can have a healthy relationship. Having a diagnosis of bipolar disorder does not mean that a person will have relationship problems. However, if a person does not receive effective treatment, bipolar disorder symptoms may cause relationship tension.
As long as a person with bipolar disorder follows an effective treatment regimen, they are likely to have long periods with few or no symptoms.
Additionally, if a romantic partner can separate the person they love from the mental health condition, they may be able to better exercise empathy, communication, and emotional awareness.
Both partners need to put in the effort to make a relationship work, as would be the case in any other romantic relationship over the long term.