How to Help Your Partner Through Bipolar Depression

Last Updated: 10 Feb 2020

During a depressive episode, your marriage or committed relationship can feel as if it’s under a cloud, with negative energy, loss of intimacy, and an absence of regular social outings. Even so, there are ways for you to sustain your bond while also supporting your partner. Each of the ideas listed here were offered by loved ones who have experienced bipolar depression and know what they need from their partners.

A man looks off to the left of the frame. He is in focus. His wife or partner stands behind him, out of focus, with her hand on his shoulder and a look of concern on her face. They are in early middle age and have dark hair and a medium skin tone. The man has some white in his well-maintained beard.

#1 Empower Them

When your loved one is experiencing depression, you might feel compelled to assume the position of gatekeeper or act as an extension of their health practitioner. Allow your partner the space to manage their own wellness plan. This doesn’t mean leaving them to feel abandoned; it’s about showing them that you trust them to take responsibility for their own care and diagnosis. Be there to help when help is needed.

#2 Practice Patience

Develop a habit of compassion by listening actively and patiently—both more frequently and more deeply, and without reacting or judging. Listen to learn instead of to respond. Having patience also means that when you’re feeling discouraged, keep in mind that depression does not last forever, and that finding the right treatment protocol may take time. Keep your hope alive; after all, stability is possible.

#3 Mind Your Defenses

Trying to not take things personally can be one of the more difficult habits to master, but it may also be one of the most important. Aim to detach from hurtful actions or criticisms by recognizing that these are symptoms of the diagnosis. Achieve this, and you will be better able to provide compassion. Of course, it is still important to hold certain boundaries in place; those can be agreed upon during an open conversation when the time, and mood, is right.

#4 Open Lines of Communication

Being able to talk freely and honestly about your partner’s depression enables both of you to feel closer and on the same path in managing the diagnosis. When your loved one is in a depressive state, it’s natural for them to not want to communicate; therefore, if you can gently and lovingly initiate and encourage conversation (without expectation), you can prevent a tendency to withdraw.

#5 Gently Encourage Socializing

It’s natural for someone with depression to want to withdraw from social activities. This can be frustrating for the spouse without bipolar and may lead to boredom. It’s important to be mindful and not allow resentment to build; rather, keep the bond you share together alive. Don’t give up encouraging your partner to try little outings together: going for a walk, taking a car ride, or venturing out for a Sunday-afternoon ice cream.

#6 Prioritize Your Own Well-Being

Life is stressful on its own, let alone while watching the person you love go through a dark time. It can also feel lonely. It’s important to let go of guilty feelings when doing things that bring you joy. Beyond the obvious benefits to yourself, these experiences will bolster you to be at your best while you help your partner. Commit to your own well-being by scheduling time for workouts, hobbies, friends, and more. Enter them into a calendar to ensure that you’re not putting them off.

  1. My child, now almost an adult was FINALLY diagnosed correctly with BP. Don’t give up and get on the right mood stabilizers and therapy. Avoid anti-depressants, or at least if prescribed, make sure they are accompanied with a mood-stabilizer. Taking anti-depressants alone tend to increase mania and suididal thoughts in individuals with BP.

  2. My husband of nearly 6 years is bi-polar. I can handle his manic episodes, but his depressive episodes are truly terrifying. The verbal/emotional abuse during those times has really worn me down. He has alternately threatened me with divorce, and threatened suicide. I don’t know if I even want to be married anymore.

  3. I suffer for bp and have a roomate with bp. Wveryday is a struggle. These articles help me understand myself plus guide me to say the right things. I am the one with the rage issues and sometimes I can’t control them. It’s embatassing to lose control and afterwards I go inyo depression. Is there a group to help us. I need someone to talk to and no one really understands.

  4. The below podcast helped me feel like I wasn’t alone. I wish I had found it when my husband was diagnosed.

  5. My husband has bp and has been in the worst manic episode in the last 12 years we have been together. This time I am the enemy – I am [accused of cheating, cussed at, and the] worst mother in the world. He has expressed that he wants me to be hurt and shown me aggression and extreme rage. I am so tired I just don’t know what to do now I can’t eat or fall asleep. I’m so alone – I have no one – feels like I lost my husband and best friend, and there is no end to this misery.

    1. Meu marido tem. É idoso e está em tratamento de quimioterapia. Nenhum dos filhos dele querem saber. Muita mágoa familiar. Sou o terceiro casamento oficial. Continua sendo um “caçador de mulheres desavisadas”. Se sair daqui ainda posso responder criminalmente por abandono de incapaz. É um círculo vicioso e estressante
      Principalmente pq ele não aceita ninguém além de mim. Não tenho e não posso me aproximar de ninguém além dele. Família, filha, neta. Todos são uma ameaça prá ele. E tem um filho sociopata. Muita saúde mental em jogo. Orações e fé me me mantêm firme.

    2. I want to cry! I have known my boyfriend for 25 years. We finally decided to start dating two years ago and I have never seen him this out of control. I feel like I have been bamboozled. I know it’s not his fault and he can’t control it. But I am so tired of being called a slut, liar, ho and everything else you can think of. I am starting to build up resentment and I don’t want to. I cry a lot because I just don’t know how to help him and I am afraid that if I were to leave him that he would do something to himself and I would have to live with that guilt. But I feel like I am alone. My family doesn’t know about his illness. I am afraid to bring him anywhere. He gets paranoid and thinks that people are out to get him. Every guy that I talk to he thinks that I am sleeping with. I feel like I am losing myself and I have a 6 yr old little boy that I am raising and I feel like I am failing my son, by trying to with my boyfriend. I feel lost and seeing that I am not alone has really helped me. My fear is that this episode could last months and I just don’t know how long I can hang in there.

    3. I am also dealing with my boyfriend of 8 years and this is the first time ive seen him this out of control and I really don’t know what to do hez not sleeping, completely over the top with masterbation, he accusing me of sleeping around with anyone and everyone, hearing people in the back yard so I cant have a window open or stand near a window cuz I might be waving at all my boyfiendsnds, he calls me every horrible name he can think of and 5 minutes later he wants to have sex or hes balling his eyes out. Should I call a doctor or an ambulance I think hes getting lose to bursting and hes a really big guy

      1. Hey Kathleen ,
        You can call me invisible I am a woman that lives with bipolar and I like to read the stories and comments about people that is in a relationship or know someone living with bipolar. I observed that no one ever seems to mention educating themselves about the illness but so quick to play victim to there lack of knowledge about bipolar. If you decided to love and be in a relationship with someone with bipolar that means you educated and know what comes with it and because you love them unconditionally you are learning ways to support them and also finding non toxic ways that you can cope and still be that love and support they need without stressing yourself. You love them yes but you can’t love and support someone if it is destroying you .

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