When a partner denies their bipolar disorder diagnosis, it’s easy to get frustrated. But, take a moment and view the situation from their shoes––and adjust your approach accordingly.
How can I get my partner to accept their diagnosis? You can’t. It simply doesn’t work this way. Trying to get another person to do anything is not our job. Our job is to know what we need and let the other person know there is a choice if that person wants to be with us. I wrote Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder in 2002. It is based off my experiences as a person who was in a ten year relationship with a person who has bipolar I. I then became a coach for partners. I would say that in the past 20 years, I have worked with tens of thousands of partners all over the world. Not one of them has been able to get a partner to accept the bipolar disorder diagnosis.
As you might know, I also have bipolar disorder and a psychotic
disorder so my experience is from both sides.
People do what they want. It’s that simple. As partners, we want
our partner to accept the bipolar diagnosis. It means that he will then get
help! And she will take her meds! And our relationship will be better! Agreed.
That is what it would mean for you. But what does this idea of acceptance mean
for those of us with the illness?
I accept that I am disabled and will never get better.
I accept that I am flawed and no one will love me.
I accept that I can’t be a good parent.
I accept that I can’t earn a living.
I accept that this illness might take my life.
That is how we think when someone says, “Julie, just accept the
bipolar and get on with it!” We have a brain disorder. It makes sense
that the disorder itself would affect our ability to ‘accept’ our
I want to change the way we talk about the illness with partners.
What we are doing now isn’t working very well. Getting a partner to accept a
diagnosis is too high a place to start. How about getting a partner to work
with you on the following:
– Let’s discuss our health care options together.
– Let’s be open about the genetic illnesses in our family tree so
that we can be there for our kids.
-Let’s acknowledge that each one of us has a different experience
in the relationship and learn to meet in the middle.
This is a start of what we now call acceptance. When you
love someone with bipolar disorder, there is a very good chance you met that
person when manic and now have to live with a depressed person. There is a
really good chance that you went into the relationship with a fun loving party
animal who now can’t get off the couch. Or, the illness developed over time and
you had no idea what was going on.
This is shocking for you.
As a stable person with a well working brain, it’s totally natural that the bipolar disorder diagnosis would answer your questions. You have to go through an acceptance process as well. Hmm. The person I love has a genetic mental health disorder that is passed down through the family tree. Well, I love him, so we will deal with this together! Or, I love her and now is the time or action to get this under control.
Your acceptance (just like my acceptance when I first heard the
words, “Your partner is in what we call a psychotic manic episode and has an
illness called bipolar disorder. Is there any manic depression in the family?”)
is on a different path than the acceptance people with bipolar disorder go
through. We are the ones saddled with this diagnosis. It’s painful! It takes
our dreams! It’s embarrassing and makes us feel less than!
All of this is ok. I am being very honest as this is the internet
and we want things quickly. What isn’t quick is the process you are now going
through. My concept of acceptance has changed over the years. What if we talk
about meeting in the middle to manage an illness and let acceptance be a by
product? If your loved one has a diagnosis, but is struggling with the
diagnosis, this is totally normal. Focus on communication, symptom management
and treating bipolar disorder pragmatically through lifestyle changes. Talk
with your partner about what YOU need and invite your partner to join you as
you each go through this journey on separate, but parallel roads.
If you have a partner who is denying the diagnosis, that is a
different path. That is about illness and lack of insight, substance use or
personality. If you are in this situation, the life long path towards
accepting help comes through getting the person into treatment to calm down the
symptoms. No, this is not easy, but it’s possible and there are resources
here you can use to get your needs met while trying to get someone a correct
diagnosis. I had to go through this before my partner and I could even begin to
discuss how bipolar impacted our lives.
We don’t change other people. We don’t determine when and how they accept what is happening in the body and brain. But we can join someone. We can guide the person through our own behavior. We can tell them what we need in order for the relationship to continue. We can be clear on ourselves and what we are going through. This is the first step towards life with a partner who is open to getting stable.
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.
Mood symptoms such as overspending, hypersexuality, anger attacks, and self-isolation hurt those around us. A simple apology is just the starting point of making things right. When Our Actions during Bipolar Mood Episodes Harm Others Olivia S. of Colorado got up one morning to unexpectedly find two of her four grown children in her living...
Bipolar disorder can limit our ability to work on a day-to-day basis or even at all. We need to remember what we can control, and we need to be honest about our abilities and our desires when addressing whether and how to work. Time & Work with Bipolar Disorder It took me 12 hours to...
Whether you live with bipolar or love someone who does, you can find comfort, wisdom, and strategies (maybe even a good laugh!) in these inspirational books. We can lose ourselves in the power of the written word, compelled by the raw emotions, deep insights, and humorous takes offered by others like us—people who share our...
With bipolar disorder, we’re more likely to become overdependent on our digital devices. Here’s how personal tech can affect our moods—plus tips for self-protection. Are we too attached to our digital devices? That question has been debated for almost as long as the iPhone has been around, giving rise to the first National Day of...