How To Support A Partner With Bipolar Disorder

Just being there can make all the difference.

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When your partner is one of more than six million Americans who suffer from bipolar disorder — that's about one in 40 people, and it's likely many more cases have simply gone undetected — it can be difficult to know how to be a supportive spouse.

The first step is recognizing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, but it's important to be there for them, despite whether or not you know anything about the disease. If your partner is or could be suffering from bipolar disorder, then here's how you can help lend some support.


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1. Know what the disease looks like.

Bipolar disorder can often go undiagnosed. If your partner acts depressed for more than two weeks consistently, then it's time to visit a doctor for an evaluation.

"In the case of bipolar disorder, professional treatment is needed," Dr. Terri Orbuch says. "Your partner will need assistance more than you alone can provide. Remember to seek professional help from your physician. Drugs called mood stabilizers are considered to be the first-line treatment."

2. Get educated and have a plan.



It's essential to work on understanding bipolar disorder. Episodes can often be triggered by unavoidable stress, so make sure to have a plan of action in place for getting through an episode.

"Even a mild stressor can really throw you for a loop," says psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini. "Try to plan ahead. Prepare yourself. Go to the psychologist together, at least some of the time, so you can ask questions."

Lori Edelson agrees that aiming for prevention is best: "Understand the triggers and offer support, reminders, and even alter the environment to reduce the possibility of triggering an episode." 

3. Encourage your partner to stick with treatment.

It can be difficult in the beginning to fall into step with a new routine of medications, so encourage your partner from the start of treatment.


"Initially, you can help to make sure the bipolar partner is taking their medication as prescribed," Edelson says. "Later, it will obviously be the responsibility of the bipolar person, but taking medication can be scary, and support and companionship to get going may be helpful."

Rapini adds that often the medications for bipolar disorder can bring happiness levels down to keep emotions on a more even keel, which may make your partner want to stop taking his prescription. "It's the partner's job to be invested. Bipolar disorder is a disease. You cannot talk yourself out of it. Tell your partner, 'If you had diabetes or cancer, I wouldn't let you stop taking your meds.'"

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4. Improve your communication.



Use the disorder as a way to connect and open up lines of communication. Let your partner know you're more than willing to talk through problems with him or her. 

"It's an opportunity to become closer to your partner," Rapini says. "I'm often so impressed by these couples. They talk more, understand each other's cues better. The more they're communicating, if they are a team, they'll be able to confide in each other."

Dr. Orbuch also says to remember that compliments never hurt. Your partner will appreciate it if you acknowledge a progression in their ability to cope with tough situations. "Be a good listener. Encourage your partner to talk to you and focus on the positives. Notice and compliment what they're doing well and the changes they're making, rather than what they're doing wrong."

5. Take care of yourself, too.

Sometimes when you're dealing with the stress of another person's problems, you can forget to take time out for yourself to just refuel. But the experts stressed R&R is an absolute must, along with maintaining friendships and talking to a therapist, if needed.


"Bipolar disorder does not go away," Rapini says. "It's a lifelong illness. The partners [without the disorder] should make sure they take care of themselves. The disease will encompass both people, so keep friends and family close for support."

Edelson also suggested talking to a therapist if you're having difficulty dealing with your partner's condition, which she says is perfectly okay and nothing to be ashamed of. "Living with a bipolar person can be very, very difficult," Edelson says. "It is perfectly reasonable if [partners without the disorder] need a therapist of their own to help them cope."

RELATED: 6 Complicated Ways People With Bipolar Disorder And PTSD Hide Their Illness From The World


Jenna Birch is a freelance writer, a romantic and a realist. She's a columnist for, and has also written for publications like Girls' Life magazine, MSN Glo, The Grindstone, AND Magazine, Front Row View,, and