Managing Close Relationships When Moods Pull Them Apart

“I always say that our worst behaviors are often reserved for the people who love us the most,” says Julie, of Vancouver. “Behind closed doors was the only place I felt I could be me, that I didn’t have to hide behind a mask. So I would unleash and unload all my pent-up frustrations on my husband, and I assumed he would be my punching bag.”

When she walked into his home office one day and saw his computer opened to an online support group for spouses of people with bipolar, she felt betrayed. He gave her an ultimatum—either she see a professional or he was taking himself and their three children to one.

In 2010, at age 36, Julie got a diagnosis, along with help.

“Too many times partners and kids have to tiptoe on eggshells around people with bipolar,” she says. “I actually wish in hindsight that I’d been given an ultimatum sooner.”

Extreme mood fluctuations, poor judgment, frenetic behavior, and other symptoms can make intimate partners, friends, and relatives feel overwhelmed, distrustful, and ultimately disconnected. For those without bipolar, it can be difficult to have patience and resilience and to not take things personally—to understand that the behavior is a result of the illness and not genuine feelings.

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