Bipolar Disorder

Help, I’m married to a spouse with a bipolar disorder! Being married to a spouse with bipolar can be a very difficult challenge. Often a marriage where bipolar is present can be described by the offended spouse as being on an emotional rollercoaster. Many marriages can be serious jeopardy when the disorder is present in a spouse, but there is hope for the marriage if the disorder is properly diagnosed and both partners are willing to get outside help with their marriage and the disorder.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a neurobiological brain disorder that severely affects approximately 5.5 million Americans today or 2.6 percent of the adult population. Although bipolar disorder usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood, it can sometimes start in early childhood or as late as age 40 or 50.

Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). When you become depressed, you may feel sad or hopeless and lose interest or pleasure in most activities. When your mood shifts in the other direction, you may feel euphoric and full of energy. Mood shifts may occur only a few times a year or as often as several times a week.

The tricky part comes up when neither you nor your spouse knows bipolar disorder may be behind the tension and trouble between the two of you. Often the individual doesn’t even know she has bipolar disorder. People can go years and even decades without a diagnosis or treatment. It might take you to get them in for a diagnosis.

Below, is a list of common behaviors that may be exhibited by a sufferer of bipolar disorder

  • exaggerated optimism and self-confidence
  • an inflated perspective about abilities and qualities
  • racing thoughts
  • brisk, speech
  • impulsive behavior
  • bad decision-making
  • reckless behavior
  • excessive shopping sprees
  • irresponsible driving choices
  • rash business decisions
  • sexual promiscuity
  • experiencing delusions (holding untrue beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing and/or hearing things that aren’t there).

Another way to determine if you spouse has bipolar disorder is to consider his or her childhood. The lives of teens struggling with mood disorders can be marred by poor decisions and/or ineffective, misguided attempts to cope. Mood disordered teens may experience or perpetrate:

  • academic failure
  • destruction of property
  • struggling to maintain employment
  • social isolation
  • drug and alcohol abuse and/or addiction
  • frequent misunderstandings
  • inability to finish projects
  • reckless behavior (speeding, unprotected sex, over-spending)
  • extreme defiance
  • poor social relations
  • suicide attempts
  • explosive anger
  • extreme mood swings

Why is My Spouse So Difficult?

Keep in mind that, beyond the behaviors their chemical imbalances create, adults with bipolar disorder endured a childhood where they sensed their moods and behaviors were not the same as those of most of their peers. As a result of this sense of difference or disconnection, they developed coping strategies that often ended up doing them a disservice eventually.

Disconnection: When young people with bipolar can’t understand or predict others’ moods and behaviors, they cope by withdrawing. Usually, they interact with one or very few people who can meet their needs.

Controlling Behaviors: When you can’t predict someone else’s behavior, one way to feel safe is to learn to control others. Control is a subtle art, and often-controlling people have been practicing it for decades. A portion of the bipolar population becomes “controlling.” This at first can show up as a talkative, outgoing bent, but soon suggestions and discussions become manipulative.

Drug/Alcohol Abuse: The feelings someone with bipolar disorder experiences can be so overwhelming, the only way out is with street drugs. A significant proportion of those who abuse alcohol and narcotics have an underlying mood disorder, particularly bipolar disorder and depression.

Overspending: While in a mania or hypomania, someone with bipolar disorder can find all sorts of reasons to rationalize spending gobs of money on whatever their hearts desire. Those who treat their bipolar disorder often let their spouses control the money, particularly when they recognize a mania coming on. This may involve the other spouse keeping the credit cards or even the car keys.

Irritability: People with bipolar disorder and even those with depression can experience uncontrollable irritability. A spouse often serves as an outlet for their overwhelming anger, but so can children, other drivers and other family members.

Grandiosity: The imbalance of chemicals in the brain can cause those with bipolar disorder to have inflated images of themselves. They may feel they’re more talented or more psychic than most. They may believe that they’re needed to take care of governmental or worldwide problems.

If your affected spouse fully accepts the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and resolves to get treatment, you could begin working together and make the marriage stronger than ever.

If, on the other hand, your spouse refuses treatment, you must learn to protect yourself from abuse. Abuse can take the form of

  • verbal abuse (rampant blaming)
  • financial abuse (spending money; taking on massive debt)
  • emotional abuse (controlling, cruel behavior)
  • physical abuse (when irritability spins out of control)

If you would like help coping with your bipolar spouse and would like to begin improving your marriage please contact a licensed therapist. For those in the Phoenix, AZ area seeking help with their marriage please contact me at Family Christian Counseling Center of Phoenix

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