When Do I Tell a New Love about My Bipolar?

Last Updated: 30 Aug 2019

Are you trying to make the decision to disclose? First assess—and address—your own opinion about bipolar disorder. Your feelings about bipolar affect how and when you tell a potential partner.

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Note from the Author: This blog is about sharing a bipolar diagnosis with a new love. Although I talk about my experiences telling people about bipolar on a first date, that is not the topic of this post. There is a difference between telling a new person and telling a new love. “New love” is referring to when you have feelings for someone whom you have known long enough to contemplate having a relationship. What I suggest below is for people who are contemplating having a romantic relationship with someone they know. It’s not advice for the first time you sit down with someone—unless, like me, you feel comfortable sharing the information. It’s a personal choice. 

Before I answer the question, “When do I tell a new love about my bipolar?” I want to share my view of bipolar disorder itself. 

Bipolar disorder is an ancient, well-documented genetic illness. It’s not personal, and it’s not a sign of emotional instability. The illness is episodic. When a person gets treatment and has a management plan, that person can be very regular and get on with life. I have bipolar disorder as well as a psychotic disorder. I lived with a partner for ten years who has bipolar I. 

What Do You Think about Bipolar?

How YOU see bipolar will determine when and how you talk to a potential love about bipolar disorder. Here is my advice:

Get clear on how YOU see the illness.

This determines your level of comfort in talking about the illness with a potential partner. If, like me, you see it simply as a genetic illness, telling anyone in your life about it will be easier. But, if you see this illness as a personal weakness or something embarrassing, it will be harder to talk about the symptoms. 

I find this comforting. It means that when YOU decide to see bipolar as an illness, that decision changes your fears about talking to a lover about bipolar. I treat it like telling someone I have diabetes. Then it is up to the person listening to decide what they want to do.

Coming to Terms with Your Bipolar

I have no judgement of how you feel. It’s your life. But I can tell you this. If you’re embarrassed about having bipolar, telling others about it will feel shameful. If you spend time coming to terms with your own views on bipolar, it will change how you approach talking with someone else about the illness. 

Here is an example of how I talk to potential partners about my bipolar: 

I was born with a genetic illness called bipolar disorder. I also have a psychotic disorder. My psychosis started at 16 and my mania at 17. I had my first depression at 19. Before I was diagnosed, the illness controlled a lot of my life. Now, I manage the illness with the ideas in my books. It’s a lot of work, but I am very careful about it. I believe it makes me a better listener and a better partner. I have to be self-aware in order to stay stable! It determines my lifestyle but doesn’t damage my relationships. I can answer any questions you have about the illness. I’m very open with others about what I go through. 

I’ve said this to every date I’ve been on in my life. Everyone looks me up before meeting me, so I have no choice! This is why I know so much about the topic. I’m rarely in a situation where there is a space without bipolar in the picture. 

In over 20 years, it has never been a problem. Not once.  If a person doesn’t want to be with me due to bipolar, then that person could never be with me long-term anyway. Bipolar is an enormous part of my life. 

I finally decided that bipolar is not going to keep me down, and it’s not going to affect my dating or romantic life. Telling the truth from day one is key to my well-being. 

When Do You Tell a New Love about Bipolar? 

The answer is immediately. You have to know whether or not a person is going to partner with you as you move forward with life with bipolar. If you are already in a love situation and you have not told the other person, it will hang over every meeting.

We are responsible for our illness. It’s in our brains and bodies. 

There is nothing shameful about having bipolar disorder. It’s OK to feel shame. We can and sometimes do feel embarrassed about it! That is OK, but it doesn’t mean we need to continue to feel this way. We can make the choice to see bipolar as an illness. I made that change, and it made an enormous difference in my life and in all of my relationships. 


About the author
Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get It Done When You’re Depressed, and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. She is a columnist and blogger for bp Magazine, and she won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was also the recipient of the Eli Lilly Reintegration Achievement Award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. Julie is a bipolar disorder expert for ShareCare, a site created by Dr. Oz and Oprah. Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals, including psychiatric residents, social workers, therapists, and general practitioners, on bipolar disorder management skills. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. Julie is currently writing a book for children called "Hortensia and the Magical Brain: Poems for Kids with Bipolar, Anxiety, Psychosis, and Depression." You can find more about her work at JulieFast.com and BipolarHappens.com.
  1. I so agree with sharing this with a potential serious mate. I told my husband that I had been hospitalized twice, suffered from anxiety & depression and that he needed to know that. He said he was tough and would be able to deal with it. Eventually I have had a real difficult time for the last several years. A couple of ETC treatments and I think it has progressed to BP. Sometimes it scares me because I have felt I am not sharing and communicating with him. However, he has been with me all the way even in those times. I love him. He is a great man and I totally agree with being upfront with this illness from the get go. It helps on both ends.

  2. I feel like I tell too much too fast; which scares people. Or I withhold until I can trust the person, Or I can determine their attitude towards mental health.

  3. As a love interest (Friend first) gets to know one over time, it can be natural to share some of what we do to manage our bipolar. It can be helpful for our date to see we are working to manage our health. For me it included a hospitalization and he stood by me. That is how my husband and I got started many years ago. Then I learned he has a family member with bipolar which helped him accept me. There are many different ways of sharing about bipolar.

  4. I decided to stop internet dating! Not dating that occurs naturally. I absolutely am open to dating if it happens with ease. I still get terrible OCD, but can manage it. Internet dating is absolutely impossible for me. I am sick within 24 hours. It is a trigger. You might also have read about my celibacy. I do not sleep with strangers. That is manic behavior and it almost killed me! Thanks for your question. Julie

  5. In earlier posts you talk how you had to stop dating because of Bipolar . But now it won;t ?? hope things have improved for you since then .

    1. I have struggled with BP, BP Depression, PTSD and Chronic Anxiety for 22 yrs now. I have been celibate for 7 yrs because I also do not sleep with strangers. I have not gone on any dates during this time. However, if I had I prefer to tell the person up front that I struggle with BP and try to explain this condition if they’re uninformed. 10 years ago I would have been too ashamed to do that due to the fact that I was my own worst enemy when it came to the Stigma attached to mental health issues. In past relationships, I found that telling my boyfriend to try not to take things personally when I would go into a state of severe BP Depression. During these states I would not only neglect him but would neglect myself, my children, my mother, siblings and friends. ALL. of my relationships would eventually end because I could no longer watch the person I love walk around depressed and hurt nearly every day knowing I (or my illness) was the cause of their unhappiness. The only solution I could come up with, if they weren’t able to wait until “this too (the depression) shall pass” was to let them go. This was extremely hurtful on both parties because the love was still there yet I never knew how long the depression would last and didn’t think it was fair to them to remain “miserable” in the meantime. Maybe this is why I’ve remained single, celibate and undateable for the last 7 yrs. Any suggestions?

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