Bipolar Relationships: Are They Possible?

By on April 1, 2012

By Katie Brind’Amour –

Here’s the good news: yes, it is possible to be in a solid, healthy, and loving relationship in which one of the members suffers from bipolar disorder. The bad news? It’s not easy.

Bipolar disorder can have many side effects – spillover challenges and difficulties for the family members or loved ones of a bipolar person. Extreme mood swings are not the only things that characterize this mental illness. Extreme behavior alteration is also common, which can threaten relationships even more than the stressful changes between depression and mania.

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Bipolar relationships are not easy, but with understanding and hard work they can blossom.

Challenges of a Relationship with a Bipolar Person

Imagine giving your heart and soul and all your possessions to someone only to have that person, in a fit of mania, gamble away your money, steal a car, and have sex with strangers. Alternately, imagine loving someone who has everything to live for – a family, a career, and more – attempt to take their own life in a period of depression because they forgot to take their medication.

These activities are not pictures of life with every bipolar individual, but they represent the degree of uncertainty that individuals must live with when they are in a relationship with someone suffering from bipolar disorder. Sleeplessness, violence, and even criminal tendencies are common parts of mania episodes, and suicidal thoughts or intentions are frequently part of depression episodes. Dependability and control become a thing of the past, and the future becomes unpredictable and centered on helping manage the loved one’s illness.

The Pros of Having Relationships if Bipolar

For bipolar individuals, maintaining relationships with people who genuinely care about them is essential to receiving proper care and appropriately managing the illness. Loved ones often help bipolar individuals remember to take medication, visit a therapist, and stay encouraging during periods of depression. They provide valuable stability and support and can offer tremendous comfort to a bipolar person coming out of an episode or trying to cope with the illness between episodes.

In some cases, people in a relationship – as a parent, child, or significant other – with a bipolar person can use the disorder to grow closer. Knowing how crucial they are to one another can build a sense of trust, companionship, and determination to care for each other through thick and thin. The challenge of loving someone with a disorder that can seriously disrupt normal life can stress both parties, and in some cases it does not get easier with time; however, families and partners who make a commitment to each other to love and care for one another can extract plenty of enjoyment from their shared love during times of good health to carry them through periods of bad health.

Helpful Tools to Manage a Relationship with a Bipolar Individual

Many families or partners of people with bipolar disorder benefit immensely from family or individual psychotherapy. Having an outlet to discuss the difficulties of managing life with a bipolar individual can help them seek the comfort and reassurance they need, particularly when the bipolar member has acted uncharacteristically deceptive, reckless, disloyal, or criminal.

Support groups that help both bipolar individuals and their families connect with other people experiencing the same challenges can also help build a network of new friends who truly understand the difficulties of relationships with bipolar people.

If anything, having more – rather than fewer – relationships makes life with bipolar disorder more livable and enjoyable for everyone involved. Leaning on the support of friends, therapists, and loved ones can help the improbable become possible: fulfilling, loving relationships with bipolar disorder in the picture.


Katie Brind’Amour is a Certified Health Education Specialist and freelance health and wellness writer. She is certified in Mental Health First Aid and enjoys working to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. She loves blogging about friendship and life in the not-so-fast lane while chipping away at her PhD in Health Services Management and Policy. 

About Katie BrindAmour

Katie Brind'Amour, MS, is a Certified Health Education Specialist and wannabe wine aficionado. She enjoys blogging for and is painstakingly chipping away at her PhD in Health Services Management and Policy. She's looking forward to a an exciting and healthier 2013 for herself and her loved ones!

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Bipolar Relationships: Are They Possible?