Bipolar & Relationships: Coping with Change as a Couple


Even in a great marriage, handling major life changes while also managing bipolar disorder is challenging. Step back, take a breath, persevere!


The return to our beloved Colorado last spring after 17 years happened quickly, though we had been planning it in our hearts for some time. It was a matter of my husband finding a solid job in our desired town, and then of course undertaking the mountain of stuff required to make the thousand-mile move. Together we made it happen, and we were excited to start anew. My husband had only about a week’s time off before jumping in to work that demands new focus, more hours, and a longer commute.

I had this fantasy: My husband needed me. I’d step up. I imagined I’d be the one in the supportive-spouse role, making a great home for him to come to at the end of a long day, a place of warm serenity. Our new town is beautiful, so we’d go out in the mornings for walks together, and have coffee on our deck as the sun rose. I’d manage the household without issue, and listen to him talk about his exciting job. I’d smile a lot. And because we had come back to a place we love so much, my bipolar symptoms would be better controlled. Just. Like. That.

Of course not. Within a week of arriving, amid powerful spring storms, morning fog, and dismal trips to get driver’s licenses and laundry soap, my mood tanked, anxiety swelled, and anger spewed. We were both exhausted. We battled daily for weeks, and I cried in-between rants on how “insensitive” he was to my needs. He said he “could barely take it anymore.” The blackness that befell me left me unable to care about what was going on with him, his job, and the fact that he is now the primary provider and the reason we are able to be here in the first place.

My expectation that I could somehow put away bipolar like I can put away laundry soap in order to sensibly support my husband was simply not reasonable.

We backed off from one another, taking a few days to just be calm. And then we realized something: Over the past two years, my husband and I have undergone five significant major life changes—I had a bad car accident and surgery; I was awarded disability; he had a serious motorcycle accident and surgery, which led to terrifying cardiothoracic surgery; then this move. All this plus my not-so-predictable-and-yet-oh-so-predictable rapid-cycling bipolar II events.

Perhaps we are gluttons for punishment. Or maybe life has just really been tough the past few years. Regardless, the fact is that in-between every event there hasn’t been much time for emotional healing, including the times in-between my mood swings. And my expectation that I could somehow put away bipolar like I can put away laundry soap in order to sensibly support my husband was simply not reasonable.

In hindsight, he and I both see that we have been touchstones, rocks for one another over the years, and absolutely have been each other’s hero in emergencies, in life-and-death scenarios, and in long-range battles, like the fight for my wellness. We switch back and forth in our support for one another when it truly matters.

What we’ve also realized from this latest big life event is that the last few months leading up to the move really did us in, and exhaustion and stress took their toll: I got sick, he got mad, it was Game On. Once we took a step back, looked at the scene, and found perspective, we saw that we would need to work together to get through it. As always.

We are learning, as a couple coping with bipolar disorder, that being able to recognize not only symptoms of the illness, but also other things going on in life that affect us both, helps each of us to see better ways of working through issues. It’s not easy. For us, agreeing to walk away and take a breather, trusting that we’ll come back together later to talk it through, is our thing. And we’re far from perfect at it. I am keenly aware of what I need to do to manage bipolar symptoms. I also have been reminded (again) that regardless of what my fantasy may be, there are limits to what I can and cannot do to support my husband, and vice versa.

These days, we’re calmer, more settled, healing … and enjoying the view from our deck, watching the sun dapple on the mountains and the life changes of beautiful trees in autumn.


Printed as “On Second Thought: Coping with change as a couple,” Fall 2016


About the author
Beth Brownsberger Mader was diagnosed with bipolar type II disorder and C-PTSD in 2004 at age 38 after decades of confusion and pain. In the past decade, she has studied the two disorders, worked in peer support, and sought a path to her own wellness. Today Beth works as a freelance writer and artist. She became a contributing editor/featured columnist for bp Magazine in 2007 and blogger for bphope in 2011. Beth holds a B.A. from Colorado College and M.F.A. from the University of Denver. Beth’s primary area of interest is the relationship between bipolar and PTSD. She is currently working on a memoir and building a body of artwork focusing on her recovery. Check out Beth's blog at:
  1. Its a hard road .My wife is dealing with it know.Mood swings anger Everthing is my fault.Blaims me of cheating.Ive put cameras in the house everthing.Cuss me out .Its Morning noon an night. Im to a point that its to much for me to handel it has all affected are relationship . Im almost scared to be around her.Please help me.What do im at my breaking point

  2. Concerned over Change and Moving House!! Thanks for the article which sparked alot of thoughts for me….at the moment we are sale agreed on a house but i am feeling no excitement at all. I did love the house the first 2 times i saw it but im not sure if i was in a slightly manic period and i couldnt see any fault in the house….for the last 2 weeks i have been struggling with the decision, is the house in right area etc and also struggling in work, having just returned about 4 weeks ago after being out for a year, so alot of stress going on adjusting to work, which i am finding really difficult, Any advice on whether this is all too much for someone who has been out of work for a year, hospitalised for 3months of that during which i was diagnosed with BP and now looking at a house move! Im not sure i can cope!

  3. My husband and I just went through a similar situation. The move was only 10 miles, but into the country more, more land and less house. Lots to do over the years outside. But when we began yelling and arguing we had to sit down and figure things out. With the help of my son, we hashed things out and realized how much we had all gone through…loss of both his parents a few years apart, loss of my career, albeit with a 2 year notice, geodon withdrawal and a stroke for me, our son marrying a woman my husband only kinda likes, then the move and sale if the old house.
    My son and I realized that because of our own mental struggles, we had not paid enough attention to my husbands worsening depression over the loss if his parents and the resulting enmity with his only sister. I still fight the guilt for being so wrapped up in my problems that I didn’t see his.
    We talked a lot about things and got better, but I was still having trouble getting on an even keel. My husband really was verbally negative all the time toward our dip, and since they live with us it was a constant negative to deal with. Obviously it kept bringing me down as I tried to climb out of the hole I would end up in. My dream of being the good housewife after 35 years if working were fading away. So one night before I crawled into my hole under the blankets, I was brutally honest in my journal. I had given them permission to read my journals since a suicide attempt years before whenI it surfaced that I had journaled my thoughts months before the attempt. I have maintained honesty in my journals since, but sometimes hold back a little if it might hurt feelings. This night I said no more. They didn’t even read it every night so who Midwesterner they would that night.
    I said that my son and his wife obviously had to move out, so we needed to review the business to see how we could pay him more. She would have to get a job, even if it was physically challenging just yet. I would then be able to exist in a more stable environment, free from the overflowing negativity.
    Well, they did read it and took to heart what I was saying, even though I had made these statements before. My husband even cleared the air with our dip privately that night.
    So taking the time to clear the air and take stock of what is going on around you really helps. We just have to stop and smell the rises sometimes.

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