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Marriage is never easy. Ups and downs and disagreements are a normal part of married life, and to be expected. If you don’t experience an occasional disagreement in your marriage, you might be living under a rock. But what happens in a marriage when mental illness such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder is present in one or even both spouses?
To put it rather bluntly, your married life may often seem more like a circus freak-show or a scene from a horror film, than a beautifully scripted fairy-tale where the afflicted spouse(s) never morph into fire-breathing dragons and everyone lives happily ever after.
When mental illness such as bipolar disorder is present in a marriage, the never-ending rollercoaster ride of off-the-wall mood swings often leaves both spouses head’s spinning and wondering which spouse is sane and which is crazy.
The erratic moods and behaviors of a manic, depressed or psychotic spouse can shake the foundations of even the strongest marriage. The diagnosis of a life-long, life-altering and life-threatening illness can quickly scare a spouse away.
Of course, no marriage is ever easy. In the United States and Canada, it is estimated that 40-50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. However, the statistics for marriages involving a person who has bipolar disorder are especially sobering—tragically, an estimated 90 percent of these marriages end in divorce, according to a November 2003 article, “Managing Bipolar Disorder,” in Psychology Today.
Being in a committed relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder is a tremendous challenge.
Despite these odds, countless couples who struggle with bipolar disorder and other psychological and personality disorders are making it work. Of course, their partnerships have been rocky at times, however with a strong commitment to one another, the help and guidance of a professional therapist, fervent love for each other, and complete acceptance of the illness, these couples have not only stayed together, they also grow stronger together as a couple, as they learn to weather the storms of bipolar disorder.
Couples can quickly fall into a downward spiral when the spouse who suffers from bipolar disorder is behaving in ways that are both highly provocative as well as highly reactive. This often leads to conflict with their partner, whose negative responses to this bipolar behavior makes the bipolar spouse feel ashamed and guilty for their illness, which then causes them to feel more stressed and insecure, in turn triggering even more episodes of mania and/or depression. And thus the cycle of rapidly shifting moods continues.
Sometimes an infectious or contagious type of quality to bipolar disorder may be noticeable when one spouse is afflicted.
In many marriages involving bipolar disorder, the non-bipolar spouse and the even marriage itself have been known to take on a bipolar life of its own. As the non-bipolar spouse see-saws between solicitous and extreme caregiving during their husband’s or wife’s depressive episodes, feelings of blame, resentment, anger, and betrayal when their spouse is in the manic phase of bipolar disorder erupt thus creating yet even more tension and strife. Ironically, this only perpetuates the cycle of rapidly shifting moods even further.
Thus the relationship can rapidly become very turbulent and uncertain. It is all too common for spouses of people with bipolar disorder to understand and be extremely, even overly, solicitous in response to depression in their spouse. However, it is as equally common for them to have more difficulty in seeing manic episodes as part of the illness.
Unfortunately, the non-bipolar spouse is more likely to perceive manic behavior as malicious and deliberate. Especially after the spouse with bipolar disorder has been stable for some time and behaving in a more loving, consistent, and predictable manner.
Being in a committed relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder is a tremendous challenge. But that does not mean that your marriage is doomed. There are several wonderful resources available to help couples who struggle with this devastating illness cope and learn to enjoy a happy and healthy marriage. Here are a few resources that I have found to be incredibly helpful:
Individual as well as couples therapy.
Regularly practicing self-care.
Regular exercise such as Yoga.
A healthy and nutritious diet, such as The Bipolar Diet.
For me, as a woman living with rapid cycling, treatment-resistant bipolar disorder, along with many other psychological as well as personality disorders, maintaining a healthy and happy relationship is not as easy as committing to a strict medication regime and laying on the psychiatrist’s sofa once a week. Instead, I use natural remedies such as prayer and meditation to relieve tension, stress, and anxiety. I also use natural supplements such as St. John’s Wort, Rhodiola Rosea, and CBD oil. While these remedies may not work for everyone, I have personally found them to be safer and more effective for me than conventional psychotropic drugs.
Do you or your spouse struggle with bipolar disorder or other mental illness? Do you have a helpful resource or natural remedy not listed here? Share it in the comments below!