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In love with someone who is fighting Bipolar Disorder: Can it Work?

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Written by Bharat Hegde

They say life is like a rollercoaster, there are exhilarating highs and devastating lows, and you can either scream or laugh through the ride. But what do you do when the person you love is a rollercoaster themselves? That’s how people who have been in relationships with a person fighting Bipolar Disorder describe the experience. 

A person with Bipolar Disorder often has severe mood swings that can range from the lofty heights of mania to the deep lows of depression. It is a serious mental health disorder that needs management. Medication, Therapy, counseling, and strong family support all help. However, Bipolar Disorder remains to this day, a disorder that needs long-term management and support.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder and its effects on a relationship.

As mentioned before, a person with Bipolar Disorder faces extreme mood swings. The swings range from episodes of mania to episodes of depression. While this is extremely difficult for the individual themselves, it is also very difficult for their partners. 

This difficulty and strain spill into the emotional, sexual, financial aspects of the relationship. During episodes of mania, the individuals can become very sexually active, can become very agitated, or go on spending sprees. During this phase, individuals also become very impulsive and could also indulge in potentially risky behavior, and promiscuity. It's often the partners who are left behind to pick up the pieces. 

Similarly, when the person is going through a depressive episode, they may become completely withdrawn, not initiate any conversation, and isolate themselves. The partners have to deal with this, which is also very difficult. 

Over time, these swings and constant changes in the way their loved one reacts can affect a partner deeply. It can strain a relationship enough to cause its end as well. But is living with a Bipolar spouse always doomed? How to deal with a bipolar spouse? Is it possible to have a healthy relationship with them?

Yes, but it will take effort. ( But all relationships take effort, so here we go)

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Learn about the disorder and its triggers

Once you know your partner is fighting Bipolar Disorder, the first thing you should ideally do is learn as much as you can about the disorder. This could be through talking with a mental health professional or doing your research. In this case, ignorance is not bliss. Not understanding why your partner is behaving the way they are can do you a lot of emotional damage. 

Once you start understanding the disorder, you will also start observing your partner closely. You will slowly be able to identify certain stressors that can initiate the episodes. Over time, you will learn to manage these stressors and help your partner even avoid some of them. 

Be firm about seeking treatment and sticking to it

Bipolar Disorder needs professional help. That’s something you and your partner need to be clear about. You can slowly guide your partner towards seeking help from a mental health professional. However, for a lot of individuals fighting Bipolar Disorder, sticking to treatment paths becomes difficult, especially during episodes of mania. 

Why? Well, because being in a manic state sometimes triggers feelings of euphoria. This makes the individuals reluctant to come back from that state. Sometimes, they may even try to trigger episodes of mania to feel that euphoria again. For example, sleep loss is one of the triggers for mania. Your partner may skip their sleep cycles to induce such an episode. 

Hence, it is important that you make it clear that sticking to treatment and medications is one of the non-negotiables within the relationship. Be firm about it because it’s good not only for you but for them as well. 

Have your own support system

Human beings are social animals. We have all learned this in school, but it is especially relevant here. Sustaining a relationship with someone who is bipolar is not easy, and you too will need your support systems. This could be your family, friends, a mental health professional, or anyone you feel comfortable opening up to. A study of caregivers of individuals fighting bipolar disorder found that 86% of the caregivers felt that they experienced major stress due to their partner’s illness, and almost 90% said they found it difficult to keep the relationship alive. 

So, take support and help. There are bipolar support groups specifically for caregivers as well. These could be helpful in sharing experiences and understanding how to manage your own loved one better. All of this helps and keeps you emotionally healthy as well. 

Set Boundaries, and Keep Communication Open

While this is true for any relationship, setting boundaries becomes very important for a relationship with a person fighting bipolar disorder to work. Explain to them clearly about what works and what is absolutely not okay in the relationship. This could include adherence to medications, behavior during an elevated phase, financial details, and more. The clearer the boundaries, the easier it becomes for your partner also to understand what the limits are. It will save both of you a lot of pain.

A precursor to setting boundaries is to keep your communication open and honest. Acknowledge the illness they face and assure them that you are willing to work with them to help them. Also, acknowledge your own difficulties and emotions while interacting with them. It helps keep both of you on the same page, and your partner will also understand how you feel about certain things. 

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You Matter: Caring for Yourself

It is sometimes easy to lose yourself in a relationship. While helping your partner deal with their illness, and the consequences it brings with it, you may disregard your own feelings. So, it’s important to take time for yourself. Do things you love and keep a check on your own mental health. 

It might be a good idea to have your own therapist with whom you can discuss your issues. Try to build parts of your life that are separate from your relationship and your partner. This will help you when you are going through any turbulent times in your relationship. 

When any situation within such a relationship seems overwhelming, take a step back. Remember that it is the illness that makes your partner behave in such a manner, and it is not who they are. Recall your love for them during the trying times. 

All relationships come with their set of challenges. A relationship with a person fighting bipolar disorder certainly has a fair share of them. But with love, communication, collaboration, and determination, people with bipolar disorder can have healthy and fulfilling relationships. 

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