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Laura Yeager: “Tips for the Bipolar Marriage”

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(This article originally appeared in BP Magazine.)

I’m no psychiatrist, but maybe I should be. A little more than 10 years ago, I got married, a big step for anyone. But marriage was a bigger leap of faith for me than most of my friends because I have bipolar disorder.

My husband Steve turned out to be a great partner, and I’m fairly certain he’d say the same about me. Everyone knows marriage teaches you a lot. But being married and bipolar means learning about yourself and your spouse in ways others can’t always understand.

Sharing the challenges of living with bipolar can bring you closer together. It can be an avenue toward real intimacy that comes when a married couple shares their deepest feelings.

Consider this heartfelt advice from a veteran wife who has worked through many of those special challenges. For now, forget the professionals. Listen to words of wisdom that have worked for us.

Life as a comedy

Know any jokes? OK, even if you don’t, remember humor can often defuse difficult situations. It’s better than bitterness, defensiveness, paranoia, anger or sadness. Be aware of the comedy in your problematic scenarios. Too depressed to take a shower? Try joking with your spouse about how terrible you look; you might feel better and get in there.

And remember, living with someone gives you a front row seat to what he or she thinks is funny. One time, I thought my husband was stealing my money.

“No, I wouldn’t do that,” he said when I asked him about it. “I’m stealing your credit cards.”

Taking it easy

When I begin to feel ill, I take a day or two off from life. I go to work if I must (I teach at a local college), but I try to stay inside and slow down. This usually helps me reclaim my equilibrium. For me, being mentally ill is like being physically ill. In both cases, I limit my activities until I’m better. Your spouse might appreciate the intermission as well.

The ‘new’ and ‘old’ you

Spend time with friends you knew before you got sick. It’s nice being with people familiar with “the old” as well as “the new” you. This way, your spouse sees you had a life before you became ill.

And don’t tell everyone about your disorder. Sorry, for many people, the mental illness stigma still exists. Scope people out. Can they handle the information? Will they use it against you? Does your spouse want you to be more discrete or open than you would be? Respect the difference.

Perfection? Yeah, right

Accept each others flaws. Obvious as it sounds, no one is perfect. Not you, or your spouse. Be tolerant of each others foibles and eccentricities. Last year, my husband told me something really beautiful.

“Perfection isn’t what it’s cracked up to be,” he said.

Keep an “attitude” journal. Record what gets to you, analyze problems and how you work through difficulties. Now that I’m in remission, I’ve gone back and read my “crazy” thoughts from years gone by. I feel for my younger self, how troubled I was. My journal reminds me how far I’ve come.

And don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself. A diagnosis is not a death sentence. Treasure your marriage. You have so much to give. Your spouse is lucky to have you.

Talk, talk, talk

Use your spouse as a reality sounding board. Does he think Regis is really talking directly to you on the television? Trust your spouse’s ability to observe your moods and suggest how you can keep your balance.

Hold a weekly family meeting to discuss your issues. Ours were called the “Eat My Shorts” sessions, in homage to Homer Simpson. We took minutes and covered everything from shampooing rugs to gifts for in-laws. These meetings actually got us talking. After holding them diligently for years, we’ve stopped; now we talk all the time. Success!

An expert at humanity

Here’s something I say from my heart: I am a good wife. I keep my family together. I wash their clothes, feed them, drive them where they have to go. I earn money to support them. I play with them, hold them when they’re crying. Most importantly, I nurture and love them.

Remember, you too, can be a great partner. As a person with bipolar illness, you bring so much to the table. Think of what you know about being alive, about pain, about joy. You are irreplaceable. You are an expert at humanity.

And don’t you forget it.

Add a Comment11 Comments

Great post - thanks for sharing! I married the love of my life 4 years ago and we had some ups and downs but had a "normal" marriage or so I thought. A psychotic break later followed by numerous tests revealed that he was walking around with several undiagnosed mental illnesses (including bipolar disorder). We have found some ways to make our marriage work, even though the statistics are stacked against us.

We feel that we have gotten to a point that we can share our journey with other people to be used as a resource. So, we have started a blog at www.thebipolarmarriage.com. If you are struggling with bipolar disorder along with your spouse check it out, you might find some resources you have been looking for.

April 25, 2011 - 8:21pm
EmpowHER Guest

i know what you are going through. My husband and i have been married 3 years and sometimes it is so hard for him to understand that I am not acting the way i am because its how i feel...it is nothing more than a severe chemical impulse making me believe things about myself that are not reality. just like an person with epilepsy does not chose to have seizures, i do not choose my strange, inappropriate impulses during a manic. but regardless, they are just that...impulses...misfires in the wiring of your brain. you may never be able to control them completely, but you can learn how to respond to them and teach others how they can respond to help you and themselves deal in a more pleasing manner to this challenge. There are many work books available for helping you and your loved ones understand what is going on in your head when the bipolar takes control, and what you can do. My favorite is the bipolar workbook. by monica basco. go through it with your husband, step by step. I would also consider doing some sessions with a therapist together as well. It did wonders for my husband and i, though we still have alot of work to do...

July 2, 2010 - 11:24pm
(reply to Anonymous)

I have also purchased the Bipolar Workbook by Monica Ramirez Basco; I haven't started reading it yet as I'm finishing the Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide first. I look forward to getting into it. It's nice to get such a great recommendation.

Thanks for the words of wisdom Anonymous,


July 3, 2010 - 10:37am

I love your article. I can see myself using most of your recommendations of my household. Thank you!

May 31, 2010 - 6:30am
EmpowHER Guest

I recommend that you see a professional counselor.

L. Yeager

November 18, 2009 - 7:40am
EmpowHER Guest

I am also bipolar, I have been with the same man since I was 17 yrs old. I am now 28. we have 2 children together, and things have just suddenly gotten worse for us. well, me really. I cant say how he is really feeling because of the things he says. I didnt know I was bipolar when we met, I didnt find out til along time after that I was suffering from this disease. I have done alot of bad things, from leaving in the middle of the night to fly to hawaii, to leaving for 6 weeks to stay at another guys house, ( even tho he was a friend, still a man) I have also, in our early years, before marriage, married another man, I dont know why I did this, I did not love this other person, at all. Maybe it was to hurt my husband, I cant be sure. But I do know, that being bipolar in a marriage, or any relationship for that matter, has alot of issues that need to be dealt with, along with your partner. my husband wasnt always around to show me he cared, I honestly didnt believe he cared, we have went through hell with eachothers families, and his family doesnt even know mine.. formally.. never met once. we have been together 12 yrs in july. married for 8 in feb.. and now... he is ready to give up and I cant really blame him, I have put him through so much shit, its unbelievable he is stayed this long at all... I have been trying to make an effort to show him how I really feel, and all i get is rejection. He brings up the past, ( again, i cant get mad about things Ive done) Ive apologized so much and Ive tried to explain the way I was thinking during the times I did leave. I never ever cheated on him, but I have kissed another guy, well he kissed me, but I didnt allow it to go farther, but there is no telling that to him, as he is already pained by the things Ive done. I just want to fix things, and make things better, Im scared if I lose him, I may, want to lose myself, and I cant do that to my children, they are my heart, but my husband is the one who holds it. and he is just letting it fall farther and farther. and Im completely broken, and nothing I can do to change the things that are happening. I am very sorry about the things I have done, no doubt, but when it happens, Im not really thinking about anything but getting away.. it seems when I leave, he shows how much he cares. so, I was thinking maybe, in some way, I do it for that attention, which is still stupid, and people who arent bipolar arent going to understand how I feel. there is no turning back time to change things. I just wish I knew how to fix this. im so scared to lose him, Ive been with him since I was a kid, and he has always stuck by me, until now, and he thinks its only because I need him to take care of me and our kids, but really, I dont. I can get help from my family, and the state, but he doesnt see it that way. if anyone has any advice, Id love to hear it.. my email is:
(personal email address removed by EmpowHER moderator)
Thanks for reading...

November 17, 2009 - 11:03pm
(reply to Anonymous)

Dear DarkAngell81

Your story touched my heart; your pain and anguish definately came through.

I'm seeing a really good psychiatrist and she recommended a book called The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide. I ordered it from Amazon.com and got it in only a few days. I'm only on the second chapter (I have trouble staying focused long enough to get too far) but my God it has helped so much already. It is helping me understand how others see me during my manic or depressive episodes, how I see myself, and how my doctors see me. Just understanding that has helped me immensely.

Because my husband doesn't understand my disorder at all, and thinks that if I just try harder I wouldn't have the 'problems' I have, I invited him to come to one of my sessions with my psychiatrist. She was able to answer some of his questions (he didn't hold back; he asked questions about things he was mad about) and she was able to explain from a medical point of view why it happened or is happening and how to help me and himself. This one-hour session greatly helped our relationship because it went from me and my crazyiness trying to explain the unexplainable to my husband to a professional cutting through the garbage and giving a simple medical explanation and providing tools I can use, and my family, during a manic/depressive episode.

Its not perfect, and it never will be, but my husband has a better understand of my disorder and is less inclined to try to 'fix' me or have me 'fix' myself.

I hope this helps, and I truly hope it works out between you and your husband.

Cathy (dencat36)
(Personal email address removed by EmpowHER moderator. )

June 9, 2010 - 11:46am

See a psychiatrist. There might be some drugs you can go on that won't hurt the fetus.

October 11, 2009 - 12:13pm
EmpowHER Guest

I am a 28 yr female and was diagonised bipolar 2 yrs back, i recently entered an arranged marriage and my spouse is not aware of my BP.i had stopped taking my medication but now aftr 6 monthhs i kno i am relapsing and cant start my medication cause i am pregnant and can't tell my husband???is there any hope for me????

October 11, 2009 - 11:26am
EmpowHER Guest

I emailed this page to my husband, who is bipolar. I am hoping it will be a ray of light for him.
Thank You

July 29, 2009 - 6:58pm
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