If you’re living with someone with bipolar disorder, it can be challenging when your loved one goes through changes in mood and energy. While you’re there to support them, they might not respond to your help, they might push you away, or they might ignore you. That can be frustrating and scary, and can negatively affect your relationship with your loved one.
Although it may feel overwhelming at times, there are things you can do if someone with bipolar disorder pushes you away. Keep in mind that when they push you away is likely when they actually need your support the most. First, it helps to understand bipolar disorder and how it can affect your relationships.
Understanding bipolar disorder and relationships
Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition that causes unusual mood, energy, and concentration shifts. Known as “manic,” “hypomanic,” and “depressive” episodes — or “mood” episodes — these periods vary from extreme highs to extreme lows and can severely impact a person’s productivity and overall well-being. You can learn more about bipolar disorder here.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who is struggling with bipolar disorder, getting treatment to manage symptoms is one of the most important things your partner can do. Treatment can include a combination of medications and psychotherapy (talk therapy) to manage symptoms, and can also include education and support groups. SonderMind can connect your partner to licensed therapists or psychiatrists (available in some states) who can assess and provide the care needed.
If you’re struggling in the relationship, SonderMind therapy can also help you navigate the challenges of caring for someone with bipolar disorder. SonderMind therapists also specialize in relationship counseling to help you and your partner build the skills to resolve conflict and find understanding. When you’re in a relationship with someone with bipolar disorder, there can be a lot of strain on your relationship. Some of the strains can include:
- Intimacy issues. People with bipolar disorder may want to have frequent sex during a manic or hypomanic phase. However, during periods of depression, they may want less sexual contact. It may feel like a roller coaster ride when your partner goes through these different phases — a ride where your feelings may be hurt or where you don’t know what to do.
- Financial strain. In a relationship where your partner has bipolar disorder, financial issues can be a big concern. A person with bipolar disorder can have extreme mood swings, making it difficult for them to perform at their work or maintain their job. This can cause financial stress, especially if the pressure lands on you to provide financial support.
- Parenting concerns. Being a parent can be hard enough, but being a parent in a relationship where your partner is struggling with bipolar disorder can be even tougher. Where children are involved, the ups and downs that come with bipolar disorder can be scary and unstable for children.
Why do people with bipolar disorder push others away?
Living with bipolar disorder affects how a person feels about themself and how they relate to others. At times they may be clingy and needy in a relationship. At other times they may have feelings of insecurity and distrust, making them push others away and deny that they need support and help. The reality is that when they do this, that’s when they need help the most.
A person with bipolar disorder may have:
- A fear of abandonment
- Unstable intense relationships
- Changes in self-identity and self-image
- Paranoia related to stress, and loss of contact with reality
- Behavior that is impulsive and risky
- Suicidal thoughts or self-harm behaviors
- Extreme mood swings that can last for a few hours or several days
- Feelings of emptiness
- Intense, unprovoked rage
Read on for what you can do when someone with bipolar disorder ignores you or cuts you off.
What can you do when someone with bipolar disorder pushes you away?
1. Validate what they’re feeling
The worst thing you can do is not acknowledge what your loved one is going through. These are some things you don’t want to say or think: “You don’t have bipolar” or “You seem normal, what’s wrong?” or “You don’t seem crazy.”
First, they’re not crazy. Your loved one has a mental health condition. And it is real. Acknowledging that what they’re going through is real helps open up the conversation that can lead to the support and professional help that your loved one needs. There is a lot of stigma attached to having bipolar disorder or any mental health condition. This can cause your loved one to feel embarrassed and ashamed. Learn about bipolar disorder so you can understand what your loved one is going through, and then practice tolerance and acceptance to help strengthen your relationship — and reduce the stigma around mental health conditions.
2. Respect boundaries
Boundaries are important in every relationship. It’s a way of respecting your needs and wants, as well as those of your partner’s. This is even more important when your loved one has bipolar disorder. When your loved one wants to keep some distance from you, it may be what they need. You, too, should have your boundaries. Make sure that you are taking care of your mental health to avoid burnout and fatigue. Talk to a mental health professional so you can get the support that you need, too.
3. Keep communicating
When your loved one is feeling depressed or isolated, they may want to push you away. They may even avoid all contact or communication with you. You may have heard of this as “bipolar ghosting.” When this happens, it does not mean that they are cutting you off. Keep in regular contact with them in case they need help or ask for your help later. Sometimes, it may be easier for your loved one to talk to someone else. If this is the case, ask them if there is someone else they want help from — that person could be another family member, a therapist, a doctor — someone who they trust and can confide in.
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or find other emergency resources here.
4. Find a family support group
Living with a loved one with bipolar disorder can be emotional and stressful. It’s important to consider support for yourself. Family support groups can be a valuable resource for you to meet other people who are going through the same challenges. You can find these through your local hospitals, community health centers, or your local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). You can also ask your doctor or therapist for recommendations for family support groups for those living with bipolar disorder.
Encourage treatment, SonderMind can help
Being in a relationship where your loved one is struggling with bipolar disorder can be difficult, but it’s important to remember that your care and support are crucial to your loved one. Getting professional help for your loved one can help them manage the ups and downs of their mental health condition.
If your loved one is already under the care of a licensed health professional, you may want to consider getting support for yourself, too. Therapy can help you learn coping skills and know what to do when your partner pushes you away. Your mental wellness is just as important, and can help you support your loved one in times when they need you most.
SonderMind can connect you and your loved one to a licensed mental health professional who can support your mental well-being and improve your relationship. Tell us a bit about you and what you’re looking for, and start the journey toward a healthy, lasting relationship for you and your loved one.