I often get asked questions about relationships both as a friend and as a partner. The two themes seem to be 1) should I tell prospective partners about my disorder and if so when and 2) how can I help as a friend or partner of someone with Bipolar?
People’s opinion on disclosing tends to vary a lot; personally I think the more we talk about it the less scary it is and the easier it is for people to make educated decisions early on. I have never had a problem with people not wanting to be romantically involved with me because of the bipolar when they fully understand how it affects me and a relationship. What I don’t like is when people make that decision without asking questions or basing that decision on stereotypes. That said I have had instances where people have become involved and then several months in decided that its not for them which is hurtful and frustrating and which is why I feel it is important for me to disclose early on.
When you have a good treatment plan in place and are compliant the Bipolar has very little day to day effect on a relationship. You may need to consider stresses and triggers with your partner and work out ways of managing those but I personally don’t think these are that different to navigating your partners needs in a typical relationship. When you are unwell you can do and say things which can be very hurtful and distressing for those around you and this can put a strain on relationships. During mania you might recklessly spend money or become hypersexual, when depressed those around you can feel helpless and you may shun those who care about you which can be upsetting. To avoid these more destructive consequences you can work with your partner to identify triggers and warning signs which will help prevent you becoming unwell. You can also create care plans to help your partner know how to cope when you do become unwell , for example I have a rather lame spider diagram of triggers, warning signs, symptoms and things that help, this allows my partner to help me when I am not well enough to articulate what I need.
Having been on both sides of the relationship I believe there are several things to consider. Firstly, how interested are you in this person when they are well? If you really like them then the shit stuff is a pain but ultimately your feelings for them are more significant. Secondly are you happy to make compromises to keep that person well? For example if you want to travel would you be happy to accept shorter holidays that don’t overwhelm or would you find this restrictive? Thirdly, to what degree is that persons compliance with their treatment plan important to you; I have learnt that I have less tolerance when someone is ill if they have not been compliant. This is for two reasons, one – I am not willing to pick up the pieces if you are not willing to help yourself and two – What does it say about your feelings for me if you can put me in a position where I can get hurt by your actions? Ultimately it is simple maths, do your feelings for this person outweigh the negatives that come with Bipolar Disorder?
In terms of friendships I believe the same principles apply. If you can be open about the things you need to stay well you can avoid arguments and hurt feelings. For example I get bouts of very bad insomnia and get nervous about staying at other peoples houses when I don’t have a room to myself where I can be up and about if I cant sleep. This is annoying and previously prevented me from staying over, even at partners houses, but now my friends try and accommodate that (even if it means them squishing up in one bed!) and it means I relax. My friends being so understanding and supportive means a great deal to me and I try to ensure that when I am well I make a concerted effort to be there for them too. One of the key things for me is feeling that I am a good partner and friend and that the relationship isn’t unbalanced.