Bipolar Disorder and Affective Relationships

Bipolar disorder is a complex definition of mood disorder.

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Bipolar disorder is a complex definition of mood disorder. Its most salient feature is that people who suffer from it suffer rapid and drastic oscillations in their mood in a sustained manner. Fluctuations that prevent them from feeling really good -although they go through euphoric states- and that considerably affect their ability to adapt.

These changes in mood bring, among other complications, problems in emotional relationships. We refer to emotional instability that resents affective relationships, especially when we talk about relationships; because it is complicated to have a relationship with someone who experiences such drastic changes in their mood.

Maintaining an affective relationship requires the knowledge of the other, understanding, flexibility, but also a certain stability (being, in some way, predictable). Relating to someone who experiences episodes of mania and / or depressive episodes that have nothing to do with the experiences of his life is a rock in the path of relationships. Therefore, we will explain what bipolar disorder is and how it conditions the social circle and the satisfaction of the person who suffers it.

What is bipolar disorder?

In the wrong way, people refer to changes in their opinions, thoughts or feelings as traits of bipolarity. That is, it is believed that one day happy and the other sad is “being bipolar”; this is not the case: to have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a series of diagnostic criteria must be met. Statistics tell us that only 0.5 – 1.6% of the general population complies (Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality, 2012).

At a general level, to have a bipolar disorder you need a very high mood phase, impulsive behaviors that involve large expenses, radical plans or changes, and little need to sleep for at least 2 weeks. With which, being very happy or sad one day and then not, it is not having bipolar disorder; we can have changes in mood or personality characteristics that are different without that being a mental pathology.

What do we know about bipolar disorder and affective relationships?

Relationships with a person who has bipolar disorder are complicated, although when the disorder is controlled and who has it is stable, it is possible to have a 100% normalized life. In this sense, people with bipolar disorder fall in love like any other person without problems, unless they are in a phase of mania in which the mood is so euphoric and positive that it confuses the feelings.

Therefore, at a general level, falling in love and the beginning of an affective relationship are the same as in the rest of people, with the caution of not initiating romantic relationships in phases of euphoric mood.

Likewise, when we think of bipolar disorder and affective relationships, instability in feelings comes to mind. That is, if we think about having a partner with bipolar disorder, it is very likely that we will think of a kind of chaotic and changing relationship.

Nothing is further from reality: today, with psychiatric medication to stabilize the mood, therapy and psychological monitoring, the person is able to maintain a stable relationship. The relationship will have ups and downs, and perhaps deeper and more severe than those of another couple. The important thing will be the management that the couple and the environment make of them.

“People with bipolar disorder fall in love like any other person without problems unless they are in a phase of mania in which the mood is so euphoric and positive confuses feelings.”

Bipolar disorder and changes of opinion: myth or reality

The term bipolar is part of our everyday language. In jest or seriously, many people wear this label when they are far from having a disorder.

In addition, bipolar disorder is not necessarily related to changes of opinion. Therefore, when we think of bipolar disorder and affective relationships, we do not have to imagine a relationship in which we constantly change our ideas, attitudes, motivations and goals.

However, it is very important to consider that the energy that a person with bipolar disorder has can change significantly from one week to the next. The level of energy or activation can be modified easily and this can affect the plans of a couple, the desire to do activities or trips, for example. Being in an affective relationship with a person with bipolar disorder involves adjusting to their changes in mental and physical activation, but if this is handled properly it does not represent an insurmountable obstacle.

What can you do if you have a relationship with a person with bipolar disorder?

Although one is controlled does not bring great problems, you have to know how to properly handle bipolar disorder and affective relationships. There are certain tips / aspects to consider. First, having a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder involves knowing this mental illness very well. It is necessary that both parties to the relationship know what is happening, how it manifests itself and what to do during a crisis. For example, the partner of someone with bipolar disorder has to know the signs that can anticipate an episode of mania or depression.

In addition, the levels of daily stress have to be taken care of with special care, since they are a trigger of episodes in which the mood becomes extreme. When considering an affective relationship, couples have to find a balance in the distribution of tasks and responsibilities, so that there is no overload in the person suffering from the disorder. Because the demands and the sustained feeling of not arriving on time increase the chances of a regression or a relapse.

“When considering an affective relationship, couples have to know that the daily load of tasks and work must be a healthy burden that is not very demanding”.

Therefore, people with bipolar disorder have to keep a very controlled routine, with sleep schedules and stable meals, avoiding sudden changes (Becoña and Lorenzo, 2001). They can go out and party all night awake, early in the morning, eat at different times on weekends; but, if they start to feel “weird”, they need understanding and empathy because they are not guilty of the suffering they feel or cause.

Thus, having a partner with bipolar disorder involves a large effort of adaptation; On the other hand, the situation is also improved by the fact that the couple is involved in the psychiatric and psychological follow-up. The more involved the couple is in the drift of the disorder, the less the relationship will suffer. Remember that every day progress is made in the control of mental illness and that, in principle, a bipolar disorder does not have to be an insurmountable obstacle to a relationship.