When mania and episodes of depression are putting your vows to the test, the right tools can help you cope with whatever comes your way.

You and your spouse may have knock-down, drag-out verbal matches. They might go from feeling sad to elated, from wanting loads of sex to having none, or from having fun times filled with energetic activities to being unable to take out the trash.

They may want to talk your ear off at one point, yet don’t speak to you for days at other times. Or they go from saving money to wild spending sprees.

This is what a marriage to someone living with bipolar disorder can look like.

But with transparency, strong mutual intimacy, and having routines and a solid treatment plan, you’ll both know the signs, act accordingly, and keep things moving forward.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes sudden or intense shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels.

A person living with bipolar disorder may experience highs — mania or hypomania — that involve lots of energy, an increased sex drive, impulsivity, agitation, and anger or irritability. Some people also have lows, known as depressive episodes.

There are three types of bipolar disorder:

Each has similar symptoms, patterns, and cycling phases. A diagnosis may also include additional specifiers that better describe your spouse’s condition.

What might bipolar disorder look like?

During an episode of mania, your partner may drive too fast or recklessly, overspend, act out sexually, or even become emotionally or physically abusive.

In a depressive episode, they may be too depressed to get out of bed, work, or perform everyday tasks.

A 2021 review noted a significant increase in marital distress among partners of people with bipolar disorder, including issues such as:

  • loss of trust
  • fewer social interactions with friends and family
  • decreased frequency of sex
  • lower rates of fertility

However, if your partner receives a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and moves forward with treatment, you can work together to make your marriage healthy and successful.

Because people with bipolar disorder may have different types, severity, and particular features, each person’s condition will be unique.

For example, research from 2020 states that a person’s symptoms and condition can change in type and the length of episodes as they age.

By learning about bipolar disorder, you’ll know what to expect from your relationship and your partner’s mood episodes.

Being in contact with your spouse’s healthcare team is also a great idea, says Nicole Nina, a therapist in Centennial, Colorado.

If your partner includes you as a contact on their medical release forms and shares information access, you’ll:

  • have two-way communication ability with their treatment team in case of emergency
  • have access to their diagnosis, so you’ll know what to expect
  • know their treatment plan, therapy, and medication routine so you can be an advocate on their journey

Sasha Jackson, a therapist in Brooklyn, New York, says psychoeducation, which provides couples with knowledge about illness and its treatment, is crucial to helping your marriage.

Other ways you can help your spouse, yourself, and your marriage

Make a plan together

As a spouse, you may be the most in tune with how symptoms occur in your loved one. “Over time, you will likely be able to pinpoint when your spouse is getting ready to enter either a cycle of mania or a cycle of depression,” says Nina.

You may not be able to stop the cycle, but you can develop plans to ride them out together.

For instance, you could have a plan to prevent your partner from making large purchases or engaging in harmful behaviors when they’re having a manic episode.

You can also weather depressive episodes by helping them get their tasks completed or giving them a pass on the garbage or yard work when you know they’re not up for it.

Even just having plans in place for when an episode comes on can give you a sense of control and help you prepare.

Talk about impulsive and reckless behaviors

Because impulsivity and reckless behaviors can be symptoms of bipolar disorder that affect marital life, addressing them when your partner is in a stable state — called euthymia (you-thigh-me-uh) — could make a difference.

“Create a plan with your partner to help reduce damage from behaviors,” says Jackson. An example would be agreeing to limit access to credit cards if they have a history of impulsive spending or gambling when experiencing mania or hypomania.

Likewise, agree that they opt for the passenger seat or a rideshare or reschedule a long road trip if they have trouble with speeding or reckless driving during mania.

Don’t take mood changes personally

“It’s difficult to not take your partner’s mood dysregulation (depression, irritability, anger, or [ill-timed] happiness) as a personal attack,” says Jackson. “However, mood swings are a symptom of bipolar disorder and have to do with a chemical imbalance.”

Even though it’s hard, instead of taking it personally, talk with your partner about ways you can help them cope and ways you’d like them to try and communicate their needs so they can avoid escalations such as raised voices, silent treatment, or personal attacks.

Ensure they have the resources they need

“Bipolar disorder is primarily managed through medication to stabilize the [mood],” says Nina.

If they ask you to hold them accountable, you can remind your partner to take their meds. You can also encourage them to keep their supply current, attend therapy and medication appointments, and focus on their health. This can include eating nutritious meals, engaging in regular physical activity, and getting enough sleep. Lifestyle habits help reduce the severity of episodes.

Psychotherapy can also be vital for managing the emotions that come with the condition.

Nina says helping your partner find the right therapist for them can ensure they have a trusted relationship with an objective party to help maintain and build on their progress.

Remember to enjoy time with each other

It’s easy to forget the pleasurable memories you’ve had with your spouse when managing health conditions takes so much of your time and energy. But it’s essential to stay present, create space to enjoy each other’s company, have fun together, and continue to build your life.

“Every couple experiences highs and lows — spouses of those with bipolar disorder just get more heights and canyons to see,” says Nina.

Take care of yourself

Whether it’s a mental health or physical condition, taking care of a spouse, parent, or child can be taxing.

When supporting someone, you’ll want to have a self-care plan in place to put yourself first and ensure you get enough sleep, plenty of physical activity, and the downtime you need. Otherwise, you’ll burn out — or worse, feel resentful.

Choose activities that boost your energy and calm your emotions:

  • Do an exercise you love, such as hiking, swimming, or meditation.
  • Find a hobby, such as reading or doing puzzles.
  • Get away for me-time.
  • Spend time in nature or with friends.

Ask for help when you need it

“Being in a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder may be overwhelming at times,” says Nina. It’s OK — scratch that — vital to get assistance from online support groups, a therapist, or your spouse’s family if they’re privy to the diagnosis, whenever needed.

You may even consider marriage counseling to help you two meet the challenges and rise above them.

Marriage is less of a static institution and more of a living, breathing organism. To keep it healthy, you must nourish and nurture it.

There may come a time when you need similar support, grace, and a proactive investment from your partner who’s also managing a chronic condition. Stay encouraged. A healthy bond is adaptable — physically, emotionally, and mentally.