Often highly intelligent and very creative, the success and spontaneity of a spouse with Bipolar Disorder may, at times, make things exciting. However, untreated symptoms like spending sprees or gambling may cause financial stressors, while extreme behaviors like sexual acting out or substance abuse may strain marital relations. Impulsive behavior, poor judgment, and other high risk behaviors may unintentionally put the spouse or children at risk. Here are some tips for coping with a bipolar spouse:
The high-high’s or low-low’s that your spouse experiences do not have to be yours. One 45-year-old man endured the false accusations and emotional outbursts of his wife. A 36-year-old woman grieved when her husband would withdraw emotionally. It is vital to maintain your own emotional equilibrium and utilize coping skills to breathe your way through these difficult moments (or months).
One couple agreed not to spend more than $100 without talking with the spouse first, thus setting limits on spending sprees. Another family needed to keep a strict schedule to maintain predictability for the bipolar dad and teenage daughter. One 25-year-old woman agreed with her friends not to call or text after 10 p.m. or before 8 a.m.
One couple set aside 15 minutes every night after the kids were in bed to talk about positive experiences during the day. In the mornings, they took 15 minutes before breakfast to communicate about schedules and family business. One bipolar woman knew that regular exercise helped stabilize her emotional responses, and so her husband participated by walking with her every night after dinner. Another family with a bipolar dad and two bipolar teenagers blocked out Saturdays for a family day and spent it outside hiking, camping or fishing.
One woman could endure her husband’s need to play loud music after work if she could take a quiet bath after dinner. A man kept a journal of positive self-talk countering hurtful things his wife said so that he could keep her clinical issues separate from his personal self-worth. Another woman learned by experience that arguing reality didn’t help, so she started “waiting it out” because she knew her husband would be back to himself in a few days. One man learned to laugh at the silly things his wife did, which felt better than being impatient with her.
Having your own hobbies, besides caring for your spouse, will help you find opportunities to interact with others who are healthy. Having quality friends can model for you both how to maintain a stable relationship, as well as give support when needed. It helps to have friends who understand the difference between illness and behavior.
One of the biggest risk factors for people with Bipolar Disorder is the dangerous mix of impulsivity with high-risk behavior. It is also common for people with Bipolar Disorder not to follow through with treatment or take medications as prescribed. Often their poor judgment has isolated them from friends and family, limiting their support system. Yet, it is that very support system that offers hope to someone struggling with Bipolar Disorder.