For more than 20 years patients have come into my practice with marriages on the rocks because one of them is spending wildly, staying out all night, or doing other things which are detrimental to the relationship. When they aren’t doing those things they are in bed, crying, or just not doing anything at all. Sex and communication have become things of the past. The offending mate may even have an alcohol or drug problem. Now, they want me to fix the marriage.
Though I have simplified it, what I have just described is Bi-Polar Disorder, a serious but treatable mental health illness. In the past it has been called Manic Depression. A person has extended periods of lows and then moves to out of control highs. Usually they like the highs and as a result resist taking medication. They believe their ideas to be grander and their ability to accomplish almost magical. They may spend the family’s fortune or commit illegal acts requiring expensive attorneys to bail them out. But when depressed they are paralyzed with sadness and accomplish nothing.
To the mate, mania appears to be willful
They believe the person should just be able to stop. They don’t realize that people in a manic phase are still depressed and are reacting to a chemical imbalance in their brain which they cannot control. Between these periods of high and low are times when the person seems normal. Without an education about Bi-Polar Disorder all of this is very hard to understand and see as a mental illness.
People with an understanding and supportive mate will have the best prognosis for recovery. To a Bi-Polar life is chaotic and they usually feel out of control. Making and keeping doctor appointments just won’t happen. They may not stay on their medications. They may drink to self medicate. As with any type of illness, recovery is easier when there is someone to help.
If you are living with someone who is behaving this way here are 6 things you could be doing to help your relationship survive
1-Make their appointment to see a mental health professional and go with them. Insist that you be permitted to be a part of the treatment even if it means your mate signs a release for you to do so. Some professionals may feel HIPPA laws of confidentiality will require this. It is important that you go to the first few sessions so that you can be educated about Bi-Polar Disorder and know exactly what the treatment plan is for your loved one.
2-Get the prescriptions filled and make sure the pills are taken. Meds are often cheeked – especially during the manic phase. The medications will not cure this disease but it will help to curtail and may even stop the moods swings. Medication will be needed forever, just like meds for diabetes or other medical conditions.
3-Take way all the credit cards. You are entitled to protect your bank account and your mate needs to understand this.
4-Don’t take sexual rejection as meaning you aren’t loved. Hopefully as your mate recovers the sex drive will improve.
5-Don’t demand that the doctor prescribe Antibuse. This med does not stop people from drinking, it just makes them sick when they do. You want your mate to not want to self medicate with alcohol because their prescribed medications are working.
6-Do research and learn about Bi-Polar Disorder. If your mate had cancer or any other medical illness you would be there for them. Many of the mates of my patients refuse to believe that there is an illness causing the behaviors. Educating yourself about the disease will give you greater understanding and lead to greater empathy rather than anger. I recommend going to www.nimh.nih.gov for your information. This is the site for the National Institute of Mental Health.
Once the illness is under control this level of oversight won’t be necessary
Many people with Bi-Polar Disorder live normal, happy lives and are in successful marriages. But they have supportive mates who know the signs and symptoms of the illness and help their loved one to get the medical attention they need before the behavior becomes out of control. As with any lifetime illness, the best approach is collaboration. Together you can manage and control this disease.