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Bipolar Romantic Relationships: Dating and Marriage

Whether you or your loved one has bipolar disorder, you can learn to make the relationship work.
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Dating With Bipolar Disorder continued...

"I don't think it's necessary to introduce your psychiatric problems on the first date," Haltzman says. "But once you sense that there's a mutual attraction and you decide to become more serious with this person, when you decide that you want to date this person exclusively, I think at that point each partner needs to come clear with what the package includes."

Knowing what triggers your cycles of hypomania, mania, and depression and watching out for warning signs that you're entering one or the other phase of the cycle can help you avoid uncomfortable situations in your new relationship. "I think the more the person knows what their cycles are, the better they might be able to be in charge of them," says Myrna Weissman, PhD. Weissman is professor of epidemiology and psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She is also chief of the department in clinical-genetic epidemiology at New York State Psychiatric Institute. Warning signs, she says, can include disturbed sleep and changes in activity level.

Bipolar Disorder and Marriage

Any number of things, from work stress to money issues, can lead to arguments and put strain on a marriage. But when one partner has bipolar disorder, simple stressors can reach epic proportions. That may be why as many as 90% of marriages involving someone with bipolar disorder reportedly fail.

McNulty watched not only his own marriage fall apart, but the marriages of others with bipolar disorder as well. "I've been running a support group for almost 19 years," he says. "I've seen dozens of couples come through the door with their marriage in tatters." Bipolar disorder "puts a huge additional strain on a relationship, particularly when you don't have a diagnosis."

Healing a Troubled Relationship

Having a relationship when you live with bipolar disorder is difficult. But it's not impossible. It takes work on the part of both partners to make sure the marriage survives.

The first step is to get diagnosed and treated for your condition. Your doctor can prescribe mood stabilizing medications, such as Lithium, with antidepressants to help control your symptoms. Therapy with a trained psychologist or social worker is also important. With therapy you can learn to control the behaviors that are putting stress on your relationship. Having your spouse go through therapy with you can help him or her understand why you act the way you do and learn better ways to react.

"I think the more a partner can learn about these things, the better role he or she can play," Haltzman says. "Being involved in treatment can really help make the treatment for bipolar disorder a collaborative effort. And it will actually increase the sense of bonding."

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