Relationship Guide

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental illness characterized by extreme mood episodes of highs (mania) and lows (depression). These episodes can range from mild to severe in their intensity. The dramatic fluctuations in mood may occur as frequently as a couple times a week, or as seldom as a couple times a year. The mood episodes are often accompanied by changes in thinking, behavior, and energy levels.

There are three main types of bipolar disorder. These include:

  • Bipolar I disorder: People with bipolar I have at least one manic episode either before or after a depressive episode or mild manic episode (called hypomania).
  • Bipolar II disorder: People with bipolar II have one or more major depressive episodes lasting at least two weeks, as well as one or more mild hypomanic episodes lasting at least four days. In hypomanic episodes, people are still excitable, energetic, and impulsive. However, the symptoms are milder than those associated with full-fledged manic episodes.
  • Cyclothymic disorder: People with cyclothymic disorder experience hypomanic and depressive episodes for two years or longer. The mood swings tend to be less severe in this form of bipolar disorder.

Though there are different types of bipolar disorder, the symptoms of hypomania, mania, and depression are similar in most people. Some common symptoms include:

Depression

  • persistent feelings of extreme grief or despair (depression) for a long period of time
  • loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • trouble concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
  • anxiety or irritability
  • eating too much or too little
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • thinking or talking about death or suicide
  • suicide attempt

Mania

  • overly happy or outgoing mood for a long period of time
  • severe irritability
  • talking quickly, rapidly transitioning different ideas during a conversation, or having racing thoughts
  • inability to focus
  • starting numerous new activities or projects
  • feeling very fidgety
  • sleeping too little or not at all
  • acting impulsively and partaking in dangerous behaviors

Hypomania

Hypomania symptoms are the same as mania symptoms, but differ in two ways:

  1. With hypomania, mood swings usually aren’t severe enough to interfere significantly with a person’s ability to carry out daily activities.
  2. No psychotic symptoms occur during a hypomanic episode. During a manic episode, psychotic symptoms may develop and can include delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia.

During manic episodes, a person with bipolar disorder will have an unusual amount of energy and may not be able to sleep. When experiencing depressive episodes, they will seem tired and sad and may not want to go out or do things. These major shifts in mood can make communicating and socializing difficult. While the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be managed with medication and psychotherapy, they can still take a toll on relationships, especially romantic relationships.

How to Manage Romantic Relationships When You Have Bipolar Disorder

If you have bipolar disorder, you may already be familiar with the impact your condition can have on a romantic relationship. You may feel nervous about starting a new relationship and finding the “right” time to tell the other person that you have bipolar disorder. However, it’s important to be open and honest about your condition.

Before you make a long-term commitment to another person, tell them about your disorder. Describe what they can expect when you’re experiencing a mood shift. It’s also helpful to tell them what you usually do to manage your moods. This way, your partner won’t be surprised when you experience a mood episode and can even help you get through it.

While taking these steps can benefit your relationship, bipolar disorder may still occasionally cause strain in a relationship, even if your partner knows what to expect. The best way to reduce relationship stress is to stick with your treatment plan. This can help minimize symptoms and diminish the severity of mood swings. Discuss your treatment plan with your partner so they can help keep you on track.

Keeping an open line of communication is also important for strengthening your relationship with your partner. Tell them when you feel a mood shift occurring so your partner isn’t alarmed by a sudden change in your demeanor. If you’re having a severe episode and struggling with your symptoms, don’t hesitate to notify your partner and to ask for help when you need it. For example, if you’re experiencing a depressive episode and don’t feel like leaving the house, explain this to your partner instead of making an excuse.

How to Manage a Romantic Relationship with Someone Who Has Bipolar Disorder

Dating someone with bipolar disorder can be challenging because you can’t control when your partner experiences a mood shift. They may be perfectly fine one day and then extremely hyper or depressive the next.

The first thing you should do when you start a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder is to educate yourself about the condition. Ask them how they act during mood swings and what they do to manage their moods. It’s also beneficial to ask them what you can do, if anything, to help them during these episodes.

It can be frustrating when your partner’s mood shifts interfere with your dating plans or get in the way of you being intimate. When times get tough, take a deep breath and remember it’s the condition — not your partner — that is causing your frustration. Take a break if you need one, whether that’s taking a walk around the block or spending a weekend away from your partner. It’s also important to communicate openly with your partner. Tell them how you feel, but never blame them for their disorder.

You can show your support for your partner by making sure they stick with their treatment plan and by asking them what you can do to help during mood episodes. Sometimes, you may need some help coping with your partner’s condition and the effect it’s having on your relationship. Make sure you have your own support system of friends, loved ones, and counselors who can provide advice and encouragement when you need it.

Whether you have bipolar disorder or are dating someone with the condition, it’s possible to establish and maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship. The key is maintaining an open line of communication and making sure the person with bipolar disorder follows their treatment plan.