Imagine owning a business with your spouse. That’s a lot how it is when you’re supporting your spouse in managing his or her bipolar disorder or attention deficit disorder.

You have to take into consideration each of your personalities, skills, life experiences, hopes, and dreams as you work out the challenges together – and you have to work intimately, every step of the way.

Yeah, owning a business together is a lot like marriage…and dealing with bipolar together has a lot of similarities. Here’s an illustration:

My parents own a sheep ranch together. Both do the grunt work, my mom is in charge of the bookkeeping, my dad is in charge of marketing, and both make management decisions jointly. They talk to each other about everything, whether about the farm or the family. My husband’s parents also live on a farm. But his father is in charge of the farm, and his mother is in charge of the home. I’m sure they talk, but each leaves the respective decision-making up to the appropriate person.

My husband and I live on a small acreage. We have a large garden, a flock of chickens, and a few sheep. Our sheep are a profitable enterprise, and we’ve had some success with selling eggs and garden produce to my husband’s coworkers and passers-by. My husband is very interested in trying to make this less of a side business and more of a money-maker. I would like to support him, but I want to go forward very slowly and carefully. I already own a communications business, one I started six years ago after working in the industry for a more than a decade. It takes a great deal of time and energy, and the thought of a second business doing the same is a little daunting and I’d like to help my husband ease into the responsibilities.

My husband shares a lot more about his thoughts and plans than he used to. He readily brings up a topic for discussion when it would require money. I hold the purse strings in this family, especially after his last manic episode. We live on a tight budget, and I need to make sure that bills are getting paid and we are able to get groceries before we buy something special.

But, he is less inclined to discuss other parts of his plans with me. If I’m going to be a part of something, I must have an active position in the management of that something. I cannot stand idly by, watching him celebrate triumphs from afar or deal with difficulties on his own. Maybe it’s my oldest-child, Type-A personality, but this is the way I work. The farm and home are not separate entities in my mind; they’re intertwined, each benefiting the other.


So, I need him to talk…about everything, from major purchases all the way down to what variety of green beans he wants to plant. He’s not used to checking in on everything.

I understand the need to have freedom in marriage, the need to have your own “thing” going on. But it’s dangerous for this thing to be something that requires money or a lot of time, when there are four other people in the family – not to mention, when one of these people has a history of impulsive spending. Who’s to say that one person’s thing should be allocated a higher percentage of the family money, or time, than another person’s?

To encourage my husband to talk more, to involve me more on his plans for this budding business, I have been talking with him about plans for my communications business – asking for his thoughts on pursuing new clients, going in new directions, and of course buying new equipment.

I’ll ask him to look over finished drafts as a test subject before the client sees it. I’ll get his input on ideas for projects I’m pitching. I’ll involve him on organizing my office, such as building a shelf. I try to appeal to his interests, of course; he would rather read over an article related to agriculture than one about breastfeeding.

For the most part, I’ve left the selling eggs up to my husband. I did help him register the farm with the state regulators. And I’ll help customers who knock on our door. But most of his customers are through his job, so he does make most of the decisions regarding this side business. But the garden is a little different.

It takes more labor – the planting, weeding, harvesting, etc. – and with my husband already working a full-time job, he will need my help to keep up on it all. So this is why I want him to talk to me more about all of his plans. With both the eggs and the garden, a good portion also goes to feed the family, and so the plans to sell products needs to be balanced with the needs of the home.

So, to remind my husband to talk to me about what he’s thinking regarding these ventures, I start the conversation. I ask him questions, and I give him charge of the projects, but I don’t hesitate to share my opinions or to suggest setting parameters. Our home, acreage, family, and our respective jobs all work together, and while one may be my or his “own thing,” everything together is “our thing.”

And that’s a lot how it is when supporting a spouse with a chronic illness – he has bipolar disorder and ADD and I have celiac disease, and we each have to take charge of our “own thing,” but together, bipolar-ADD and celiac are “our thing” and we have to support that. I hope that makes sense.