When Your Partner Has Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is one of those diagnoses that can be difficult for a medical professional to figure out, let alone someone who has no mental health training.

Bipolar disorder can show up in many different forms, and for both the person experiencing it and their partner, the shifts in mood can be baffling and frustrating. Getting upset can make it worse, but so can not doing anything, either.

If your partner has a bipolar diagnosis, there are a number of things you need to know in order to be a supportive partner.


Communication Strategies with Mentally Ill Partners

Even during the best of times in a relationship, misunderstandings and disagreements occur.

When a partner is experiencing an illness, whether it’s mental or physical, the chances of struggles in communication skyrocket. Miscommunication during an illness can literally be deadly if the ill partner does not receive needed treatment because he/she was not able or willing to speak up.

Here are some tips to help with communication during tough times:

Have a plan before illness strikes. On a basic level, talking with your partner about what to do when illness occurs can prepare both of you for what will happen. Deciding what symptoms or signs of illness equate putting the care plan in motion can relieve stress of the unknown for both partners.


Self-Care to Prevent Relationship Burnout

Self-care is vitally important when you have a partner who experiences mental illness.
For some people, having an ill partner is a reality of everyday life; for others, their partners may have a period of stability and then relapse, throwing the relationship a curveball and requiring quick adjustments to accommodate.

For either situation, having consistent routines and self-care strategies in place all the time will help you ride the wave of illness and land safely on shore.


The F-Word in Mental Illness

That’s the “f-word” people often try to avoid or deny, especially when it comes to the implications of mental illness. Partners often report getting angry with their ill loved ones, but psychologists will tell you that anger is a secondary emotion that masks a primary emotion.

That primary emotion is often fear: fear of the illness’ effects on your partner, fear of the illness’ effects on you, fear of what will happen to your relationship, fear of not getting what is needed, whatever that may be, etc.


How to Select a Good Support Group

Earlier, I wrote about the benefits of support groups for partners of people with mental illness. Today I have some tips for how to go about selecting an appropriate group.

I'm not going to lie and say that every support group is terrific and that no matter where you go, it'll be a positive experience. I will tell you that doing some homework, like you did when researching your partner's illness, will go a long way in your actually getting support from a group.


Benefits of Support Groups for Partners

People tend to have strong opinions about groups:
love 'em or hate 'em.
People tend to have even stronger opinions about support groups, and it's generally on the hate 'em side.

"What's the problem?", I ask my clients.

I'm not a "sharing" kind of person.
I don't want others knowing my business.
Support groups are boring and/or a waste of my time.
I already know what they are going to say.
People who need to attend support groups are losers. I can handle this myself.

Got that out of your system? Feel better now? Okay, good. Keep reading.

When You Learn Your Partner Has a Mental Illness: Part 2

[Yesterday we discussed the first steps in how to handle a diagnosis of a mental illness in your partner. Read that post here.]

As you gather information, talking with your partner about what you find is extremely important. After all, it’s his or her life. Just because you find a treatment that sounds promising does not mean your partner will agree. Your role as the partner is to be supportive.

This is a tricky balance because you probably want to help, and you want to help quickly because you don’t want to see your partner continue to struggle. On the other hand, this will be one of your first lessons in learning about how mental illness works. You will quickly discover that treatment and recovery only go well when all the other aspects of the patient’s life—including partner support—are going well, too.


When You Learn Your Partner Has a Mental Illness: Part 1

When it comes to illness—of any kind—we tend to be a society that sticks its head in the sand until the problem presents itself in a way that can’t be ignored. With a mental illness, there may be many signs along the way that something isn’t quite right: your partner’s mood changes, they aren’t interested in activities they once loved, responsibilities aren’t being taken care of, there are more arguments, they gain or lose a significant amount of weight, etc.

Even with obvious signs, the diagnosis of a mental illness can come as a shock. And as the partner, what can you do?

First, do not panic. It’s understandable that you will feel a range of emotions—from shock to sadness to anger to fear, and more—but the bottom line is that the diagnosis is probably not an emergency.** There is time to learn about the diagnosis, talk with doctors and therapists, and formulate a treatment plan. While you and your partner will probably be eager to alleviate the symptoms, taking time to research and investigate the options will most likely result in a better outcome.


Ten Ways to be a Supportive Partner

What does it mean to be a "supportive partner" to someone who has a mental illness? There are many ways you can help your partner, both during times of acute illness and when life is in in "maintenance mode."

Here are ten ways you can be a supportive partner:

1. Listen carefully and listen well.

Listening well is a skill and takes practice. However, the benefits of being a good listener...