10 Tips for Coping with a Bipolar Spouse
I know I’ve put my own wife through some very trying times in past seven years of marriage. Times of worry, anger, frustration, hurt. You name it. And that could be all in one day. She has had to learn to cope with my many changing emotions and behaviors.
If you’re married to someone living with bipolar disorder, you already know it’s a rough ride sometimes. The mood swings can make your days together sometimes exhilarating and other times frustrating. Yet you and your bipolar spouse can beat the dire statistics that predict the end of many of these marital unions.
Coping with Bipolar Spouse Mood Swings
Here are some tips for surviving and thriving in your relationship:
- Breathe. When things are tough, take a deep breath and step back. Remember, It’s a disease — it’s not the person. So you try to remember that.
- Build support. Caring for someone with a disease can keep you focused on his needs, but you also need your own sources of support. Joining a support group for family members of bipolar patients can help. Working with your own therapist may also be a good idea. Support from understanding family and friends are also invaluable.
- Get away. Part of what can keep you sane is your job. Small travels with friends and family can be beneficial.
- Laugh. Whether you can insert humor into the situation and get a good response is highly individual.
- Enforce meds. Making it clear that taking his medication is non-negotiable. “If you can keep them on the meds, you’re okay. It’s a fight. It’s like having another child.” Refusal to medication can result in stipulations.
- Recall your love. There are hard times in marriage to a bipolar spouse. Preferring to see the see the one you fell in love with, even when moods are unpredictable.
- Know (or grow) your philosophy of marriage. Believe in the commitments made when you married your spouse. “You know, I married a man for better or for worse. I did not marry a disease.” While a acknowledging bipolar disorder is difficult, also noting, “The person I fell in love with is still there. Would I want someone to leave me? I don’t think so.”
- Look for triggers. Many times my wife noticed triggers before I did. “When your spouse is in a stable or more favorable mood, pay close attention to what environmental triggers precipitated and are maintaining the stability. Often there are specific environmental stressors or soothers — including relationship issues — that influence mood swings. Use the soothers to help maintain the mood that both of you are desiring,” advises marriage and family therapist Tracy Todd, PhD, based in Alexandria, Va.
- Ask. Despite the mood swings, your spouse can tell you what he needs. “Have an honest discussion about what is helpful to your spouse when he is in an undesirable mood. Incorporate ideas, plans, and strategies so that there can be a minimization of harmful effects,” advises Todd.
- Keep talking. There may be days and weeks when it is not easy, but communication is essential. “Communication during and between mood swings is critical to managing the accompanying stressors,” says Todd.
These are only ten suggestions. Each couple is different and has what can work for them. We all have specific needs we need as individuals from our spouses. As a bipolar spouse the most important advice I can give to a spouse is to never forget that the bipolar spouse’s behavior is not a reflection of you. It is their disease. If their current treatment is not working, even if you are questioning whether or not it is working, then see their doctor.
Communication is the key. Even if it takes a therapist. Bipolar marriages are not doomed and set up for failure. Yes they require a lot of work. But they are eventful and well worth it.