What are the common reasons why bipolar relationships fail? The answers are rarely straightforward since there are many variables to consider.
Navigating a relationship can be challenging, and bipolar disorder can add additional hurdles to overcome. Consequently, bipolar disorder breakups are not rare, although that doesn’t mean there aren’t many strong, fulfilling, and long-lasting bipolar relationships.
Before we describe the effects of bipolar disorder on relationships and why bipolar relationships sometimes fail, let’s define bipolar disorder first.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by extreme mood, energy, activity levels, and concentration shifts. The mood fluctuations go from extreme happiness, irritation, or energized behavior (also named manic episodes) to periods of extreme sadness, indifference, and helplessness (known as depressive episodes).
Bipolar I disorder involves periods of mania that alternate with depressive episodes.
Bipolar II disorder consists of alternating depressive and hypomanic episodes (periods of elevated mood and energy milder in nature than manic episodes)
In the video below, Kati Morton, a licensed therapist, discusses in detail what Bipolar II disorder is.
Cyclothymic disorder is expressed by brief periods of hypomania taking turns with short depressive symptoms (less intense and shorter than the first two types).
The shifts a person with bipolar disorder experiences are more dramatic than one would usually encounter. Although there can be symptom-free periods (known as euthymia), mood fluctuations can significantly impact a person’s day-to-day functioning. This could be one of the reasons why bipolar relationships fail.
10 common reasons why bipolar relationships fail
Bipolar relationships can be complicated and may end up failing because of a variety of reasons. However, the disease is not the reason for this. The inability to healthily deal with the disease often causes the breakup.
Here are some possible reasons why bipolar relationships fail:
1. Dramatic changes in mood and behavior
Although the symptoms of bipolar disorder exist on a spectrum, hypo/manic and depressive episodes are present with this diagnosis. One of the reasons why bipolar relationships fail is related to dramatic changes in the mood and behavior that come with the episodes.
For example, during manic episodes, a person seeks more pleasure through heavy drinking or partying. On the other hand, during a depressive phase, they might withdraw from their partner due to the heavy onset of hopelessness and despair.
Living with someone with bipolar can be challenging as it requires the spouse to find ways to cope with the experience of these tense and sometimes extreme fluctuations.
2. Sole focus on the person with bipolar disorder
Dealing with any illness induces stress. In a bipolar disorder relationship, the focus is often on helping the person struggling with the illness, although the other partner is experiencing stress and needs care.
Helping a loved one cope with the consequences of a mental disorder can take a toll. Although you choose to do it, you don’t always have the answers as to what is the most appropriate form of help. Often you might feel lost and in need of support.
One of the reasons why bipolar relationships fail is forgetting to concentrate on the person without the diagnosis as well. Attention needs to be given to both partners since the relationship will flourish only when they are both doing well.
3. Emotional ups and downs
It is natural to be worried about your partner when experiencing hypomania or mania since they can be quite impulsive and unlike themselves during those times.
When their mood changes towards the depressive spectrum, it can be upsetting differently, especially if the partner mentions suicidal thoughts. This can take you through an emotional rollercoaster, leaving you confused, worried, and helpless.
4. Irritability and anger
One of the misconceptions about bipolar disorder is that a person is happy when they are experiencing mania. Manic periods are better described as periods of elevated mood, including irritability and anger.
Living with someone with bipolar disorder can be challenging when they are irritable (or anyone irritable, for that matter) because it can lead to communication problems and conflicts. The negativity and criticism expressed can take a toll on the bipolar disorder relationship patterns when not dealt with.
5. Strict routine
People with bipolar disorder may rely heavily on routine to preserve periods of euthymia. They may have to stick to a strict sleep schedule, diet, and exercise to keep symptoms in check since, for example, lack of sleep can trigger a manic episode.
This can affect the relationship as partners sometimes need extremely opposite things. It may lead the partner with the diagnosis to choose an early bed routine, preventing them from late-night gatherings or places where alcohol is served (as it can also trigger an episode or interfere with medicine).
This may seem like an obstacle that can be dealt with, and often it is. However, the more severe the symptoms are, the more restrictive the routine can become, affecting the relationship.
6. The stress of managing the signs
Treatment can help when continuous and focused effort exists. However, successful treatment can be challenging because many people miss their “up” periods and the euphoria of manic episodes, so they might seek to induce those periods of elevated mood.
It might also be that they see those periods as times when they are being their best selves and decide to stop the treatment to have it again.
Choosing to stop taking medication affects their partner too. Together they have worked towards establishing a symptoms-free period, and this act can be perceived as a betrayal after everything they did to help their loved one feel better. You can imagine how that can impact the relationship.
7. Destructive behaviors
Although depressive episodes are hard to cope with, mania brings other challenges that can be just as destructive.
In a heightened mood, people with bipolar disorder are prone to risky behaviors such as overspending, excessive alcohol abuse, gambling, etc. These behaviors can have consequences that can take a serious toll on the relationship, with or without the bipolar in question.
Infidelity can break apart any couple. Many people struggle to regain trust once it has been broken; the same goes for bipolar disorder relationships.
Bipolar and trust issues are often closely linked. Why?
One of the consequences of bipolar disorder is that it can induce the person to engage in infidelity to reduce their feelings of depression and boredom. Infidelity can be more common when people have not yet been diagnosed or stopped using their medication.
9. Issues while planning a family
If there is a partner with bipolar in a relationship, planning a family can become problematic due to multiple reasons.
Certain medications prescribed for bipolar disorder can affect one’s chances of having children. This is one of the examples of bipolar disorder sabotaging relationships. One has to either stop their medication and live with the symptoms or consider other means of having children.
Self-isolation is usually because of the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder. The sufferer receives negative criticism from people, internalizes them and drifts into a state of self-stigma.
Just because of the derogatory remarks of the society, the person goes mental illness further and that causes them to communicate less and be involved in the relationship to the minimum.
5 ways to cope when a bipolar relationship fails
Bipolar disorder affects relationships complexly; hence there isn’t a blanket approach or solution. However, some guidelines can be helpful nonetheless.
1. Don’t blame the disease
In the search for why bipolar relationships fail, we need to remember that what breaks apart most couples (bipolar or not) is making assumptions. When couples start attributing everything to the diagnosis instead of searching for ways to overcome problems, they enter a hopeless mindset.
The disease is never the only reason for a relationship to fall apart. Many couples dealing with mental illnesses can make it work if they have the right information, approach, and support from experts.
The key is to remember NOT to generalize!
One person with bipolar will have trouble controlling their anger; another won’t. Someone else may experience extreme irritability during hypomania or mania; another won’t. A mental condition, although called the same, will have many faces.
If you saw the relationship through the lens of their diagnosis, you might ignore the true problem. This approach might have made your partner feel judged and categorized.
2. Educate yourself further
A person who is bipolar falling in and out of love can leave you feeling confused and frustrated, even after you break up. The best way to combat this after breaking up with a bipolar person is to educate yourself.
Take the time to read up on the different aspects of being bipolar and loving a bipolar person. You can also join certain support groups to talk to people who may have had similar experiences.
3. Consider counseling
A bipolar relationship cycle can make a partner question themself and their relationship ability. It can create doubts, insecurities and frustration if one does not understand the disorder.
Bipolar relationship breakups are hard and a relationship therapist can help you understand different aspects of it. It can make you see what went wrong, what you could’ve done differently, and what aspects weren’t your fault.
4. Accept that they didn’t need fixing
We all see potential in the person we love, but falling in love or staying with someone because of their potential is the common reason bipolar relationships fail (or any other).
The key to making the relationship work is NOT trying to fix them. Otherwise, you may have sent them a message they are not good enough the way they are, and that may have caused the breakup.
You don’t have to feel guilty or frustrated that they did not change, as it was not your responsibility to do that.
If you were focused on who they can be, you are not dating the person they are. That means you may have been pushing them to become someone they might not be and missing out on being present and dealing with the problems at hand.
5. Practice self-care
“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
To be there for your partner, you must take care of yourself too. One of the reasons for bipolar relationship breakups, or any other that involves any illness, is forgetting to take care of the caregiver (not that you are always in that role).
Surround yourself with the support of people who understand what you’re going through and regularly practice self-care. For each person, self-care will mean something different, of course.
The key is to remember to check in with your needs regularly, not only when you are exhausted.
Watch this video to learn more about how to retrain your brain through self-care:
Some commonly asked questions
Here are the answers to some questions related to bipolar disorder that can help you understand the different aspects of being in a bipolar relationship.
What percentage of bipolar relationships fail?
About 90 percent of married couples end up divorced if one partner is bipolar. It showcases not just how difficult it is to be in a bipolar relationship but also how people often lack the tools to make these relationships work.
With the right and informed approach, bipolar relationships have a higher chance of success.
There are many misconceptions about bipolar disorder or any mental illness, for that matter. One of them is that bipolar and relationships are not a good match, and eventually, the disorder ruins the bond.
However, it is important to recognize that it is NOT a fact that bipolar destroys relationships. Dating or living with someone with bipolar may produce additional challenges from battling the mental disorder. However, this does not mean that ALL bipolar relationships fail.
However, relationships end for various reasons, and thinking that diagnosis is the key or main reason is fortifying the stigma regarding mental illnesses. The truth is that the diagnosis is only part of the equation for bipolar breakup.
Why are bipolar relationships so hard?
Bipolar relationships are hard because people usually lack the knowledge and understanding of this particular mental illness and how to cope. Without the tools, bipolar relationships can become burdensome and problematic.
How do you survive having a bipolar partner?
To successfully manage bipolar symptoms, you must ensure that your partner is committed to continued treatment and ongoing communication with a mental health specialist. As their partner, you can provide the support and encouragement required for regular checkups.
Additionally, as someone who knows them well, you can notice any troubling symptoms when they first appear so they can schedule an appointment immediately. When addressed promptly, an episode onset can be prevented, and a symptom-free period can continue.
Sometimes it is a matter of changing the medicine or the dosage.
When we ask why bipolar relationships fail, we must also ask why some succeed.
What breaks apart one couple can make another stronger. It all depends on how they approach the situation and resolve the problem.
Bipolar disorder can put additional hurdles to the relationship; that is true. But a diagnosis of mental illness in a partner is not a death sentence for the relationship.
Many couples make it work and live a happy, fulfilling life together. Please focus on the person in front of you, not their diagnosis; make a point of NOT approaching a problem due to the illness; instead, look for other causes and focus on continuous treatment and self-care.
Navigating a romantic relationship can be challenging, but we do it daily!
Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays. Rachael enjoys studying the evolution of loving partnerships Read more and is passionate about writing on them. She believes that everyone should make room for love in their lives and encourages couples to work on overcoming their challenges together.
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