Navigating any romantic relationship -- whether it's dating or marriage -- can be a tricky endeavor. Add bipolar disorder with its roller-coaster ride of emotions
into the mix, and relationships become even more challenging.
When Jim McNulty, 58, of Burrillville, Rhode Island, got married in the
1970s, everything seemed fine at first. "It was an absolutely normal
courtship," he recalls. "We got along well."
Then the mood swings began. During his "up" or hypomanic states, he would
spend huge sums of money he didn't have. Then he would hit the "down" side and
sink into the depths of depression. These wild swings put stress on his marriage
and threatened to run his family's finances into the ground. He eventually
signed the house over to his wife to protect her and his two young children.
Finally, he says, "She asked me to leave because she couldn't live with the
When people get into a relationship, they're looking for stability, says
Scott Haltzman, MD. Haltzman is clinical assistant professor in the Brown
University department of psychiatry and human behavior. He's also medical
director of NRI Community Services in Woonsocket, R.I. and author of The
Secrets of Happily Married Men and The Secrets of Happily Married
Women. He tells WebMD that bipolar disorder can seriously complicate a
relationship. "The person, particularly if untreated, may be prone to changes
in their mood, their personality, and their interactions that can threaten the
consistency that is the framework of a relationship."
He adds that not everyone with bipolar disorder experiences the distinct
mood phases of mania and depression. But when those episodes do occur
they can wreak havoc on a relationship.
During the manic phase, a person can lose his or her sense of judgment. That
means spending money recklessly, becoming promiscuous, engaging in risky
behaviors like drug and alcohol
abuse, and even getting into trouble with the law. "When you have a spouse
with bipolar disorder who gets in a manic phase," he says, "it can be extremely
detrimental to the relationship because they may be doing things that endanger
you or may endanger you financially."
On the other side of the curve is depression. Depression can cause the
person to withdraw completely from everything -- and everyone -- around him or
her. "If you're a partner with someone, it's very frustrating," Haltzman says.
"That's because you want to pull them out of their shell and you don't know how
to do it."