Navigating any romantic relationship, whether it's dating or marriage can be a tricky endeavor. Add bipolar disorder with its roller-coaster ride of emotions into the mix, and relationships become even more challenging.
When Jim McNulty, 58, of Burrillville, Rhode Island, got married in the 1970s, everything seemed fine at first. "It was an absolutely normal courtship," he recalls. "We got along well."
Then the mood swings began. During his "up" or hypomanic states, he would spend huge sums of money he didn't have. Then he would hit the "down" side and sink into the depths of depression. These wild swings put stress on his marriage and threatened to run his family's finances into the ground. He eventually signed the house over to his wife to protect her and his two young children. Finally, he says, "She asked me to leave because she couldn't live with the illness anymore."
The Bipolar Relationship
When people get into a relationship, they're looking for stability. He explains that bipolar disorder can seriously complicate a relationship. "The person, particularly if untreated, may be prone to changes in their mood, their personality, and their interactions that can threaten the consistency that is the framework of a relationship."
He further explains that not everyone with bipolar disorder experiences the distinct mood phases of mania and depression. But when those episodes do occur they can wreak havoc on a relationship.
During the manic phase, a person can lose his or her sense of judgment. That means spending money recklessly, becoming promiscuous, engaging in risky behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse, and even getting into trouble with the law. "When you have a spouse with bipolar disorder who gets in a manic phase," he says, "it can be extremely detrimental to the relationship because they may be doing things that endanger you or may endanger you financially."
On the other side of the curve is depression. Depression can cause the person to withdraw completely from everything and everyone around him or her. "If you're a partner with someone, it's very frustrating," "That's because you want to pull them out of their shell and you don't know how to do it."
Dating With Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder can become an issue from the very start of a relationship. When you first meet someone you like, it's natural to want to make a good impression. Introducing the fact that you have bipolar disorder may not make for the most auspicious beginning. There is always the fear that you might scare the person off and lose the opportunity to get to know one another. At some point, though, you will need to let your partner know that you are bipolar.
"I don't think it's necessary to introduce your psychiatric problems on the first date "But once you sense that there's a mutual attraction and you decide to become more serious with this person, when you decide that you want to date this person exclusively, I think at that point each partner needs to come clear with what the package includes."
Knowing what triggers your cycles of hypomania, mania, and depression and watching out for warning signs that you're entering one or the other phase of the cycle can help you avoid uncomfortable situations in your new relationship. "I think the more the person knows what their cycles are, the better they might be able to be in charge of them. Warning signs, she says, can include disturbed sleep and changes in activity level.