Skip to Content

How hard is it to be in a relationship with a bipolar person?

Being in a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder can be challenging at times, but many relationships between a person with bipolar disorder and one without bipolar can thrive with empathy, communication, and education about the disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by extreme shifts in mood and energy levels. A person with bipolar disorder may experience periods of extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). While the severity of symptoms can vary between individuals, bipolar disorder often significantly impacts relationships if not well-managed. However, a diagnosis of bipolar does not preclude someone from being a loving, committed partner. With effort and understanding from both partners, a strong, lasting relationship is possible.

How does bipolar disorder impact relationships?

During manic episodes, a person with bipolar disorder may exhibit behavior that strains the relationship, such as:

  • Impulsiveness with money or substance misuse
  • Recklessness and impulsive decision making
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Racing speech and thoughts
  • Poor judgment and risky behavior
  • Insomnia and loss of inhibitions

On the other end of the spectrum, depressive episodes may lead to:

  • Loss of motivation or interest in most activities
  • Fatigue and feelings of worthlessness
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Difficulty feeling pleasure
  • Sadness and frequent crying
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

These mood swings, especially if severe, can understandably strain communication, increase conflict, and eventually erode intimacy in a relationship. The partner without bipolar may start to feel more like a caregiver and struggle to reconnect emotionally with their loved one during or after an episode. It’s important for the partner without bipolar disorder to also prioritize their own self-care, seek support, and communicate their own needs in the relationship.

Setting realistic expectations

While bipolar disorder can significantly impact relationships, it does not have to be an insurmountable barrier to having a strong, healthy partnership. However, it’s important to let go of any expectations you may have about what a “normal” relationship looks or feels like. There will be unpredictability, and things may not always be “smooth sailing.” Being ready for the ups and downs and understanding they are not anyone’s “fault” is key.

It can be helpful to think of a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder the way you would any relationship involving a major illness. Be patient, flexible, empathetic and learn as much as you can about what your partner is experiencing so you can weather the stormy periods together. Expect that you will both need to work hard to strengthen your communication skills and your bond so it can endure. However, a bipolar diagnosis does not mean someone is incapable of being a loving, committed partner.

Tips for the partner without bipolar disorder

Here are some tips that may help if your partner has bipolar disorder:

  • Educate yourself – Learn about bipolar disorder so you can better understand what your partner is going through and how to support them. Be aware of triggers, warning signs of mood swings, and their individual symptoms.
  • Support treatment – Encourage your partner to stick with their prescribed treatment plan. Therapy, medication compliance, avoiding drugs/alcohol, and a regular sleep/wake cycle are key.
  • Establish routines – Try to maintain regular routines around meals, sleep, exercise, social time together, etc. This structure can help minimize mood episode triggers.
  • Watch for warning signs – Know your partner’s individual warning signs that a manic or depressive episode may be developing. Address it proactively and gently.
  • Have a crisis plan – Know what to do and who to contact if your partner has a major mood episode or is at risk of harming themselves or others.
  • Set healthy boundaries – Decide what behavior you are willing/not willing to accept to protect your own well-being. Communicate these in a loving way.
  • Seek support – Having a partner with bipolar can be isolating at times. Connect regularly with trusted friends/family or join a support group.
  • Practice self-care – Focus on your own mental and physical health with regular exercise, healthy eating, stress reduction, and doing things you enjoy.
  • Communicate – Share your feelings openly and make “I” statements rather than accusations. Seek to understand each other’s experiences.
  • Get help – Seek couples counseling if you are struggling, to strengthen your communication and learn new coping strategies.

Tips for the partner with bipolar disorder

If you have bipolar disorder, here are some tips for strengthening your relationship:

  • Commit to treatment – Take medications as prescribed, attend therapy, avoid substance use, maintain sleep routines and other recommendations from your treatment team.
  • Learn your triggers – Get to know your personal triggers for manic/depressive episodes so you can try to avoid or manage them proactively.
  • Communicate openly – Share your experiences with your partner and let them know what support you need during mood episodes.
  • Recognize your partner’s efforts – Acknowledge the ways, big and small, your partner provides you with support and care.
  • Apologize when needed – If you’ve caused harm during an episode, take responsibility and sincerely apologize.
  • Seek counseling – Work with a therapist on strengthening relationship communication skills and coping strategies.
  • Educate your partner – Offer to provide resources to help your partner better understand bipolar disorder.
  • Identify triggers – Work together to identify early warning signs and triggers so steps can be taken to minimize symptoms.
  • Have a crisis plan – Develop a plan for how your partner should respond if you have thoughts of self-harm or experience a major episode.
  • Give space if needed – Respect your partner’s boundaries and give them space if they need to disconnect briefly after a difficult episode.

With concerted effort, patience and compassion from both partners, a strong relationship is absolutely possible despite the challenges of bipolar disorder. Developing resilience, adjusting expectations, and leveraging all available support can help you weather the storms together and build an even deeper bond.

How to support your bipolar partner during a depressive episode

When a person with bipolar disorder sinks into a depressive episode, they need understanding and support from their partner. Here are some tips:

  • Give them space but check in often – Don’t overwhelm them, but remind them you are there and willing to listen or help as needed.
  • Help minimize their responsibilities – Take on extra household tasks and relieve any pressure during this time.
  • Offer support but let them retain autonomy – Encourage them to do basic self-care but don’t force activities on them.
  • Provide reassurance – Offer positive messages reminding them you love them and this low period will pass.
  • Help them get to appointments – Go with them to therapy, psychiatrist, or medical appointments if motivating themselves to go is too difficult.
  • Watch for suicidal thinking – Ask directly if they are having suicidal thoughts and take it very seriously, never leaving the person alone if you suspect danger.
  • Suggest small goals – Small accomplishments like a short walk, shower or shared activity can lift mood.
  • Limit relationship big talks – Important or contentious discussions may be too much for them to handle constructively when depressed.
  • Learn their triggers – Note factors that seem to worsen their depressive symptoms like isolation, certain behaviors, or relationship issues.
  • Encourage treatment compliance – Politely remind them it’s crucial not to stop medications or psychotherapy during this time.

With close emotional support, practical help, patience, and quick contact with their medical team if suicidal thinking develops, you can help anchor your depressed partner until the episode passes.

How to cope with a bipolar partner’s manic episode

When a bipolar partner experiences a manic episode, their extreme energy, impulsiveness and unusual behavior can be difficult for loved ones to deal with. Some tips for coping:

  • Note early warning signs – Irritability, distractibility, less sleep, racing speech – and address them proactively.
  • Don’t escalate conflict – Your raised emotions may further increase their agitation. Remain calm.
  • Establish firm boundaries – Calmly explain what behavior you will not accept and leave if needed.
  • Avoid big plans or decisions – They may make commitments they’ll later regret. Delay.
  • Protect finances – Don’t allow large spending sprees. Monitor accounts.
  • Seek support – Having trusted friends or relatives help monitor the situation can provide you with respite.
  • Don’t ignore the issue – Hoping their mania will just go away risks dangerous consequences. Professional help may be needed.
  • Call for medical help if needed – If psychosis, violence, health risks arise, call their doctor or 911.
  • Prioritize rest – Gently encourage sleep. Don’t energize the mania by staying up late together.
  • Limit substance use – Avoid alcohol or drug use that could make mania worse. Politely prevent access if needed.
  • Prepare a stabilizing space – Have a comfortable spot they can retreat to if overstimulated – with soothing music/objects.

With close observation, firm boundaries, professional help, and avoiding escalation, you can address the manic episode with your loved one’s health and safety as the priority until it subsides.

Early warning signs of mania to watch for

Behavioral signs Physical signs Speech and thinking signs
– Increased activity level – Less need for sleep – Racing thoughts
– Bursts of euphoria – Increase in energy – Racing speech
– Irritability – Heightened senses -Jumps between topics
– Impulsiveness – Decreased appetite -Distractibility
– Risky behavior – Weight loss -Grandiose ideas

Key ways to support a depressed bipolar partner

Emotional Support Practical Help Promoting Treatment
– Give them space but check in often – Help reduce their responsibilities – Drive them to appointments
– Offer words of reassurance – Remind them of basic self-care – Note and address suicide risk
– Be patient and don’t take it personally – Do extra household tasks – Ensure they keep taking medications
– Suggest small goals each day – Make meals, snacks available – Provide resources to learn about bipolar
– Avoid relationship conflicts – Help them get to bed on time – Contact their doctor if needed

With close support, sensitivity, and proactive care from their partner, a person with bipolar disorder can persevere through the depths of depression, retain hope, and protect the relationship through the low period.

Tips for improving communication with a bipolar partner

Open, compassionate communication is key to maintaining a strong relationship when bipolar disorder is present. Some tips to improve communication between partners:

  • Educate each other about bipolar disorder – Increased understanding breeds increased empathy and support.
  • Share feelings openly using “I” statements – For example, “I feel concerned,” not “You are worrying me.”
  • Choose times when symptoms are well-managed – Avoid big talks when emotions are running high during a mood episode.
  • Take turns speaking without interruption – And summarize what you heard your partner say.
  • Give each other grace – This is hard for both people. Criticism will only make it harder.
  • Identify triggers / warning signs together – Then you can address them as a team early on.
  • See a couples counselor – Having a neutral third party guide difficult conversations can be very helpful.
  • Carve out quality time together – Stay actively engaged as a couple, not just as caretaker / patient.
  • Check in about needs and boundaries – These may evolve over time on both sides. Adjust accordingly.
  • Have an action plan for new episodes – Discuss ahead of time how you each want to handle them.

Staying emotionally attuned, keeping expectations flexible, and engaging in open communication with empathy can help both partners feel understood and weather bipolar-related storms together.

Getting support as the partner of a bipolar person

Being the partner of someone with bipolar disorder can be isolating and stressful at times. It’s important to get support for yourself too. Helpful outlets may include:

  • Individual counseling – Provides a safe space to process your own feelings and needs. Can help you develop coping strategies.
  • Support groups – Connecting with other partners of bipolar individuals can help you feel less alone.
  • Psychoeducation – Learning all you can about your partner’s disorder empowers you to be a more effective supporter.
  • Self care – Make your physical and mental wellbeing a priority with regular exercise, healthy eating, socializing, relaxing activities.
  • Setting boundaries – Decide what behavior you will and won’t accept from your partner to protect yourself.
  • Online forums – Reading about others’ experiences and sharing your own can be comforting and reducing isolating feelings.
  • Talking to trusted friends/family – Share openly about your challenges and feelings with your personal support system.
  • Relaxation practices – Try yoga, meditation, deep breathing when you feel particularly stressed or overwhelmed.
  • Sufficient sleep – Make getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night a priority, even if your partner’s sleep cycle is disrupted during episodes.
  • Joining a bipolar disorder organization – Groups like the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance provide resources and community.

Caring for a partner with bipolar disorder presents unique challenges. Seeking out understanding, guidance, and community support enables you to be the best partner possible through the ups and downs.


Bipolar disorder undoubtedly brings complications, uncertainty and hardship to intimate relationships. However, many couples have built happy, lifelong partnerships despite one person having bipolar disorder. With effort, empathy and professional support, a strong relationship is absolutely achievable.

The keys are commitment to effective bipolar treatment, education about the disorder, clear communication, defined boundaries, flexibility and self-care. It is understandably difficult for both partners at times. However, a diagnosis of bipolar does not preclude someone from being a loving, committed partner. With concerted work, compassion and resilience, a healthy, fulfilling relationship is possible despite the challenges of this mental illness.