“Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder”

For those of you who have been following my blog regularly, you will already know that my husband and I are separated.  He simply could not live with the person who I had become when my bipolar disorder became severe and I was refusing help.  He could not forgive me my indiscretions and disrespectful behavior; if he did eventually forgive, it is the forgetting he is unable to do.

I’m wondering what it’s like for other couples dealing with bipolar.  Do we all end up separated and divorced?  Is there a love out there so strong that it binds a family, regardless of illness?  Regardless of behavior?  Are there bipolar couples who get to work together on staying in love and building trust?

I often refer back to a book that I’ve read cover to cover a couple of times.  It is a book a therapist recommended for my husband when I was first diagnosed, and it sat on his nightstand for a couple of years, well leafed-through and well-read.  It made me feel happy and loved to know that he wanted to read it, that he was interested in helping me.  I used to sneak it from his table and flip through the chapters myself, wondering what it was telling him to do, what advice it was giving him.  The name of the book is, “Loving Someone With Bipolar Disease”.

It’s a great book, but it didn’t work.  At least not for me.

The book really is a fabulous resource for family members of those suffering from bipolar disorder.  It introduces the reader to the facts regarding bipolar, how to identify triggers, what therapies are available, how the disorder can affect work and money, and most importantly it coaches the partner on how to take charge of the relationship and remain a couple.

It is my belief that my husband got as far as chapter fourteen:  “The Hard Truths about Bipolar Disorder”, and it was just too much.  The subchapters include, “The Past Hurts”, “Acceptance and Loss”, and “Letting Go”.  The following is an excerpt from “Letting Go”:

“There comes a time when there is just too much to handle, and you just have to let it go.  If you want to stay with your partner, you will have to let go of what you thought your relationship would or should look like.  Try to focus on the present.  Thinking of the past can drain all your energy.  Can you embrace your partner for who they are now?  Not for who you thought they were when you fell in love.  Not for what you think they should be, but as someone with a serious but treatable illness.  To help the new plan work, try to let go of the past and any mistakes, hospital visits, money problems, sexual misconduct, and angry fights it might include.  

But some things can’t be repaired.  Your partner may have committed unforgivable acts when sick.  Their behavior may have hurt you to the bone, yet you’re still here.  But how are you here?  Do you hold past behaviors over your partner’s head?  Or are you able to let go of what happened?  Some things can’t be repaired.  So don’t try.  Forgive, forget, and move on – if you can.  This may be easier said than done, but you can choose to give it a try”.

My husband did not choose to give it a try.  He couldn’t.  He was worn down; exhausted.  He was afraid of living his life in a state of paranoia:  “Can I trust her?  Is she well?  She looks well now, but is it just a matter of time before she slips again?  Do people truly change?”  And to be honest, even though it’s been a year and I know my (in)capabilities, I know how hard I’ve worked to be a better person and I realize my faults and have made huge strides in self-improvement, I don’t blame him for not offering me a second chance.  I sit here alone, day after day, medically well but terribly lonely, watching my beautiful children thrive without the conventions of a traditional family.  And it hurts.  And although I’ve done plenty to change myself, I can do nothing to change him.

He no longer keeps the book on his nightstand.  I don’t know if he threw it away, or used it for kindling, or if it’s hiding among the piles of books he no longer needs but can’t bring himself to throw away.  But I’m pretty sure he never got as far as Chapter 15 before he stopped reading:  “How to Create Laughter and Joy in Your Relationship”.

However, there is a fresh copy of “Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder” now lying on my nightside table.  It’s not as well-worn, yet, as my husband’s copy, but I’m trying to read a little of it each evening.  Because maybe I am the person who needs to be reading this book now.  Maybe I need to learn to love myself.  Maybe the “someone” in the title is me.

“Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding & Helping Your Partner”, written by Julie A. Fast and John D. Preston, PsyD

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16 thoughts on ““Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder”

  1. I have been battling Bipolar for almost 25 years. My wife has been a tremendous advocate and care provider for me and our children over the past 22+ years. Sadly, we came to a point in our relationship where it seemed for our own mental health and for the sake of our children, our best option was to separate. I still greatly respect her and appreciate all she’s done for me. We have no intention of getting a divorce, yet at the same time I can’t conceive we’ll ever live together as we did for so long.

    Bipolar is a terrible illness that claims the lives of some and the relationships of many. I pray you beat the odds and reconcile with your husband. If not, I do pray you receive God’s love and forgiveness to move on.

  2. I pray for all of those same things, every single day of my life. Thanks so much for the kind message and for sharing your story with me. And I appreciate your prayers, as well. Thank you.

  3. I am an eighteen year old kid who got diagnosed with bipolar a little over a year ago. Knowing how it is to live with it, my heart hurts for you. But I’m so happy that you’re taking the steps to embrace how God lovingly, intentionally designed you. You’re beautiful, I just want you to know that. Absolutely beautiful. Keep fighting hard.

    • Dear RJ – Welcome to “the club”, and thank you so much for your lovely message. To be truthful, I would have “designed” myself a little differently had I been given the choice. But you’re right, this is who I am and the trick is to learn to live happily and take steps to improve myself every day, regardless of a diagnosis. Thank you for your sweet reply. xo

      • My husband is bipolar he doesn’t want to take his meds. He acts like he hates me, pushes me away, humiliates me, he wants us to be roommates one day, the next he wants us to be friends only. Then he says he wants to work on our marriage. I can’t take it anymore. I’m so so sad. I love my husband and don’t want to leave him. What do I do? I need help….

      • Hi, Giselle –
        I was the spouse who didn’t want to take her meds. I was the one who acted like I hated my husband, and I treated him so poorly. I was scared about what the meds would do to me, that I would suffer from side-effects. But the problem was, it took me a very long time to find the medications that were right for me. Maybe he just isn’t on the right meds. But if he is refusing to try anything new, have you considered counseling? Do you think he would do that? Either alone or with you? And if that fails, maybe you need to go to a therapist or support group by yourself. You have the basic ingredient: you still love your husband. And if you still love him, I want to believe that there is still hope. If he says he wants to work on your marriage, jump on that opportunity and go to couples counseling, and maybe you can find a therapist who specializes in couples dealing with bipolar disorder. Another kind of therapy I’ve found very helpful is DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy. It helps the person make good decisions by melding their reasonable thoughts with their emotional thoughts. And I also encourage you to purchase the book I discussed in this post, “Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder”. My ex-husband read it when things were really bad, and I now keep a copy on my nightstand. For us, we started too late. I refused to acknowledge my disorder and how it was affecting my family until it was too late. But my husband tried everything, and you need to try everything, too. Please don’t give up on your husband. You love him so please please please try to help him. The book is full of “what to expect” with bi-polar partners, and you will be surprised at how closely it probably reflects your life. So that’s my advice: counseling, reading, support groups, and finding the proper meds. Once he takes something that works for him, he will WANT to continue taking them because they will make him feel so much better. Good luck, Giselle – please keep me posted on your progress. I’m sending good wishes your way. I know that’s not enough, but just know that you are not alone.

  4. Hello! I’m working with my husband. I’m trying not to make him angry and I’m being very patient. He said he wants to go back to smoke pot and I don’t know how to handle it. .. what do you recommend me to do? He said that if I don’t agree with it then I can leave him and take our little 7 month old with me… I’m going to see a psychologist, because I feel broken. I used to be such a strong woman. I’m not anymore. … I’m holding on to my husband with my all . But I cry almost everyday he used to be an amazing guy. He used to make feel like a princess, now I feel like the dirt on his shoes. ..

  5. Thank you so much for all your help! I’ll pray for you and your husband. …… I know how it is to be hopelessly in love. …

  6. I recently met and have fallen for a woman suffering from bipolar disorder. We’ve talked about it and I’ve read everything I can about it concerning what I can do to support her. It is daunting. I do know this; I love her dearly and no matter what happens I will always be there for her if only as a friend.

  7. I wanted to add something to my previous reply. We both are educated in psychology. I hold a master’s degree in clinical psychology but do not pretend to be a psychologist nor have a deep understanding in the disorder. Her previous promiscuity, suicide attempts, hospitalization, anxiety and agoraphobia worry and scare me. Last week, she began withdrawing and eventually acknowledged in a email that she was feeling down and would write later which she did not. She finally sent a text message that she was spending the night and next day with her mother and aunt and that she loved me. Have not heard from her since and suppose all I can do is wait it out. I have sent a couple of texts and emails just talking about how my day is going and confirming that I love her and will be always be here. My question is; What should I do? Continue sending her texts and emails? Leave her alone? Give up??? That’s one thing I will never do. I love her.

    • Hi, Richard –

      Please please please please do not give up. Continue to contact her and remind her that you love her and are there for her if she needs support. Of course, don’t make her feel like you are suffocating her, but I truly believe that she needs to know you are waiting for her when she is ready. In your first message, you mentioned that she is “suffering from bipolar disorder”. I’ve always believed that one can have bipolar but not actually “suffer”, especially if she is seeking the right kind of help. I also believe that bipolar disorder can’t be solved by one kind of therapy alone. I have learned, through both my own experience and recounts of others’ experiences, that bipolar disorder requires attention in the form of therapy, medication, and support of friends and families.

      You mention promiscuity: people with bipolar often have indiscretions of many kinds. We can be compulsive liars, and manipulative. We have unrealistic anxieties. We have paranoia. Have you read the book I mentioned in the post, “Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder”? My husband found it helpful at the time, but Richard, he couldn’t cope. The damage was too deep that I caused to our family. He held on as long as he could, and then he just couldn’t take it anymore. But he keeps the book in his nightstand drawer and I know he has read it cover-to-cover, several times. You have the benefit of a psychology background, so you can understand the science behind bipolar disorder, and that gives you an advantage.

      Has she tried Dialectical Behavioral Therapy? Very helpful. No laying on the long leather couch recounting her feelings. Rather, she learns tools to cope with mood swings and behavior. Is she on medication? If she refuses medication, she needs to be assured that there are some meds that actually can improve her quality of life, as many people are afraid of side effects and addiction. But the way I look at it, I have no problem with an “addiction” in the form of legally prescribed meds for the benefit of helping me feel happiness. Maybe she’s tried meds in the past and they haven’t been quite right for her. It took me years to find the right combination, and I’m doing quite well. Lastly, has she considered ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy)? As archaic and scary as it sounds, and although I consider it kind of a “last resort” choice, it worked for me. It can be very effective with the right person.

      But Richard, the one thing I want to emphasize with you is that she will only do these things if she truly WANTS to feel better. Many people I’ve met with bipolar disorder have lived with the disease for so long, untreated, that they are actually afraid of what might happen if they didn’t feel that way anymore. The pursuit of happiness can be scary, especially if she’s been depressed for so long. She may not want to do the work that is required to get to the point where she feels happy. That’s where you come in. You love her, and you clearly want what’s best for her. So you need to push her, gently, into mental well-being. If she’s depressed, she may not have any desire to try to please YOU right now. She is probably only thinking of herself. It’s not a selfish sentiment, necessarily, but rather a sentiment she’s simply accustomed to and doesn’t know any different. But you can be her support. You can encourage her to do these things. You can remind her how life can be wonderful and happy, but she has to want to get better. You need to show her what “better” feels like.

      So, again, don’t give up. Please don’t give up. My husband gave up, and the road to recovery was so much harder without him. But at the time, I didn’t want him. So I did it myself and it sucked. And it was hard and painful and it took a very long time. I keep thinking how much easier it would have been if he was there for me, there with me. So please give her that opportunity. But Richard, like I said earlier, she has to WANT to feel better. If she doesn’t want that, then the best you can do is continue to remind her that you love her and that you will be there for her when she is ready.

      She’s lucky to have you.

      • Thank you so very much for your reply!

        Yes, she is on medication which her psychiatrist has changed and I think that’s what precipitated the recent change in her behavior. I’m not sure right now exactly what is in her “cocktail”. I’m pretty sure he had her on Abilify and took her off. Why I do no know. Right after the adjustment to her medication, she mentioned feeling out of it and foggy and then began pulling away. She does want to feel better and I’ve been encouraging her all along. But, now, with her being incommunicado I am at a loss. I am continuing to communicate through email and text but only with light reports about what’s going on at my house and gentle reminders that I love her and will be here when she’s ready. She did send a very brief thank-you which I, of course, hold onto with great hope. I am doing my best to remain strong and wait.

        She does have friends and family who I do not know well, but they seem to be available and I can only assume they are lending support, too. I’ve encouraged her many times to seek a good therapist and she does want to but insurance and money troubles are stopping her. I know there are some who bill on a sliding scale and have mentioned that a few times but do not want to push.

        She had warned me in the beginning that this could happen and when I asked what I should do she simply said to be supportive and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. God, I love her and hate knowing she is going through this.

        Thank you, again, for your website that I just happened to stumble upon in my search for support. I am saddened to read of your struggle but encouraged by your work to live a better life. I will definitely be reading the book.

        Thanks, again.

        Richard

  8. I have to share with you my frustration with the lack of therapeutic care available to people with mental illnesses who do not have insurance or the money to pay for the sessions. I think that counseling is an essential part of mental wellness, and unfortunately, it is not available to everyone. But I have heard that there are services available on a sliding scale basis, as you mentioned, and possible also some Good Samaritans who are willing to do it for free. Maybe check with local hospitals and see if they can provide any recommendations? It should be readily available to everyone, regardless of financial standings. Maybe someday……

    Please continue to stand by her. She may not recognize your support right now, especially if she is in a very bad place. She may push you away. But please don’t allow yourself to be pushed. Continue to support her because when she arrives back at a stable place, she will see that you are still there and I can vouch from experience that it is a wonderful thing to open your eyes following an “episode” and realize you are still loved.

    Please keep me posted, Richard.

    C

    • Finally heard from her this morning and she reports being down and out. But, just to know she is alive and safe is enough for right now and encouraging me to hang in there with her. The fact that she had the energy for a brief message is enough.

      I’ve encouraged her, before this depression set in, to seek out a therapist and she says she wants to but it doesn’t go much further. I know she talks with her psychiatrist but not sure how therapeutic those sessions are and suspect he’s just doling out the drugs. This recent change in her behavior followed right after the change in medication and I should hope he is aware.

      Thankfully, she’s not pushing me away but, rather withdrawing. I will, with your encouragement, continue to stand by her and welcome her return. I’ve order the book and look forward to reading it cover to cover.

      Thank you!

      Richard

  9. Hello! Looking for advise! I had recently got engaged to someone with bipolar disorder and wanted to make sure I could help him when he would go through an episode. I bought the book you mentioned above. Unfortunately last month, my fiancé left me with less than a month before our wedding and with no visible warning signs to me. I’m at a complete loss at what I can do for him. I know he’s going through an episode but he says he doesn’t love me and isn’t happy with me in his life. He moved out of our home and back in with his parents. He has completely cut me out of his life. I’m scared for him and concerned for his health. His dad is so controlling and had been medicating him before we moved out together. Now with him back at home and relying on his dad to care for him I don’t know if he will ever be well again.. If anyone reads this and has any insight for me please let me know! I need all the help I can get. Even though he’s left and done some really terrible things to me I want things to work between us. I love him and I know these behaviors aren’t his. I know that it’s the bipolar talking. Please help me so I can help him!!! Thanks!

    • Good morning – I’m sorry to hear that your fiancé has left. This is going to sound harsh, but you need to search your heart and be sure that what you truly want for him is to get the help he needs. And then you need to search your heart again and consider that getting the help he needs might not include having you in his life right now. If he’s going through a manic episode, he may be unreachable. Maybe the best way you can help him is to contact him and tell him you love him and support him, and then back away for a while until he can figure out his thoughts. It’s very possible that when he is rational again, he may reflect upon the terrible things he’s done to you and decide that he can’t be in a relationship right now. My advice is to tell him how you feel, and then let go. Let him make his way back to you. If he doesn’t, you can’t take it personally. If your concern really truly is with his mental health, and not with whether or not he will come back to him, then it will be easier for him to make a good decision. I hope everything works out for you. I’m simply speaking from experience.

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