Offering Meaningful Support to a Spouse with Bipolar Disorder

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When a loved one is diagnosed with bipolar disorder it isn’t unusual to feel overwhelmed. A caring spouse will want to know what’s ahead and how to be supportive. There are numerous books and articles on the subject, but perhaps the most helpful advice comes from those who live each day with bipolar.

Here is what they say is the most helpful forms of support:

  1. Affirm Them. All marriages run more smoothly when both partners are expressing love, gratitude and appreciation for the other. A partner with bipolar struggles even more than most with feelings of worthlessness, so be generous with your positive words of affirmation.
  2. Be Involved. The more you know about what’s going on with your partner, the easier it will be for both of you. This probably means attending at least one counseling session per year with your spouse. In between, write down things that concern you, or questions you have so that the counselor can offer input. Being involved could also mean making sure that the affected spouse is keeping up with their medications.
  3. Accept Emotional Limitations. Your marriage may not be able to divide responsibilities in the same way that other couples do. Be accepting of the fact that there will be times when doing certain things feel overwhelming to your partner. It could be paying the bills, cleaning the house or going out socially. If you are frustrated by the emotional limits, just remember that your partner is too. 
  4. Make the Most of Manic Periods. Just as there will be times when your spouse feels they can’t do certain things, there will be other times when they’re hyper-energized and ready for anything, so put them to work. Allow them to contribute to the marriage and family in a significant way when motivation and energy are there. It’s also a good time to connect romantically.
  5. Stay Close. There will be times when your bipolar spouse can be harsh and difficult. Try not to give them a wide berth. Instead, stay near and help them through rough patches.
  6. Love Covers a Multitude of Sins. At some point the affected partner will behave in a way that is embarrassing. When that happens remember that they already feel bad about it. Don’t sugar-coat these things, but also don’t make them harder to bear because of your attitude. A hug and forgiving words are what’s most needs.
  7. A Diagnosis is Not a Cure. Medication doesn’t mean that symptoms will disappear, or that the person will be cured. Help your partner to see triggers that you’ve identified. And if you see them trying to cope with an episode in an unhealthy way say so with gentleness and extra words of love.

A spouse with bipolar is the same person you married. They have a challenging illness that will make demands on your relationship. They need to know you’re ready to face those challenges together. Patience, kindness and a lot of understanding enriches every marriage, including ones where bipolar disorder is present.

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