If you live with someone who has bipolar disorder or you’re thinking about moving in with them, learning about their condition may help you understand and cope with its effects.
Bipolar disorder causes dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. These symptoms can be challenging to manage for someone living with bipolar disorder — but they can also affect those around them.
Bipolar disorder may affect a loved one’s behavior, relationships, and your living situation with them.
Bipolar disorder doesn’t define a person, but it can affect their mood and behavior.
You might find some of your loved one’s behaviors upsetting or challenging to manage at home. This could negatively affect your relationship with them, as well as your mental health and quality of life.
It may also affect your relationships with other family members or housemates.
If you help to care for someone with bipolar disorder, your caregiving responsibilities might limit your social activities or ability to work. This might lead to social isolation, financial difficulties, or other challenges related to your living situation.
Developing effective strategies to cope with challenges that arise at home is important. It may help improve your relationship, living situation, and quality of life.
It’s also important for people with bipolar disorder to get treatment and learn how to manage their condition. This can help limit their symptoms and reduce relationship conflicts.
Learning to manage bipolar disorder is an ongoing process. It may take time for you and your loved one to develop coping strategies that work well for you.
Bipolar disorder can affect different people in different ways. Some people have less severe symptoms than others. Some might go weeks, months, or years without symptoms.
Emotional and behavioral symptoms during active mood episodes may affect your living situation if they disrupt routines, boundaries, and shared responsibilities.
To get a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, a person needs to have at least one episode of mania or hypomania. During a manic or hypomanic episode, your loved one may feel energized, elated, or irritable. They may feel unusually talented, powerful, or important.
Folks with bipolar disorder may also experience episodes of depression. During depressive episodes, your loved one may feel sad, worried, hopeless, or indifferent.
Some people experience a mix of manic and depressive symptoms at the same time.
Others can also develop:
- thoughts of hurting or killing themselves
Bipolar disorder can affect your loved one’s behavior and state of mind.
During a manic or hypomanic episode, you might notice that they take a lot of risks or show poor judgment. For example, they might drink excessively, spend a lot of money, or pick fights.
During a depressive episode, they might find it difficult to concentrate, make decisions, or do their usual activities. They might be less motivated to manage their home, school, or work responsibilities.
In the middle of a mood episode, your loved one may not recognize the harmful effects of their symptoms or behaviors. Talking with them about your experiences and concerns may help them see how their condition is affecting the people around them.
Treatment for bipolar disorder can help limit or manage symptoms. Doctors typically recommend a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes to treat the condition.
Making judgmental statements about your loved one’s condition or behaviors may worsen conflicts with them.
Instead, consider using “I” statements that express how you feel. For example, instead of saying, “You’re not listening,” try saying, “I don’t feel like you’re hearing me.” Instead of, “You never help out around the house,” consider saying, “I’m struggling to manage the housework and need more help from you.”
If your loved one gets upset during a conversation or begins escalating a conflict, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommends:
- Stay calm and rational.
- Try to listen to them and help them feel understood.
- Work toward a positive solution.
In some cases, you might be able to talk through a conflict as it arises. In other cases, you might need to wait until you and your loved one have calmed down before problem-solving together.
Clearly communicating what you feel, want, and need is important. Giving your loved one the opportunity to share their feelings, perspective, and problem-solving suggestions is also critical to effective communication.
Developing effective coping strategies is important for managing conflicts in relationships, including with people who have bipolar disorder.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder, you might find it helpful to try the following.
Learn more about the condition
Bipolar disorder is surrounded by misunderstanding and stigma. Familiarize yourself with what bipolar disorder is, including its symptoms and how it’s treated. This may help you recognize, understand, and cope with the effects of bipolar disorder on your partner and yourself.
Pay attention to patterns
Your loved one’s symptoms may follow certain patterns. For example, certain triggers may bring on a bipolar episode, including:
- disrupted routines
- lack of sleep
- prolonged stress
- traumatic life events
Learning to recognize patterns could help you help your loved one identify triggers and early signs of a manic or depressive episode.
Support your loved one in building a routine
Following a routine generally helps people with bipolar disorder stick with treatment. For example, your loved one might benefit from:
- avoiding alcohol
- exercising regularly
- sticking with a regular sleep schedule
You can work as an accountability buddy when building these routines. What’s more, practicing these healthy habits together can help you feel closer and strengthen your relationship.
Use positive communication
Clearly communicating your feelings, needs, and boundaries is important in any relationship. Try to share your perspective in a calm demeanor without being overly critical.
Another key to communication: Learning to become a good listener. When conflict arises, step back and try to understand where your loved one may be coming from.
From there, you can focus together on solutions and shared goals rather than blame may help you work through conflicts together. Compromise is key.
Take time for self-care and leisure
When you’re living with a loved one who has bipolar disorder, looking out for their mental health often becomes a natural part of your relationship. However, it’s just as important to prioritize your own well-being and practice self-care.
Your self-care routine should include:
- exercising regularly
- getting enough sleep
- practice stress-management techniques, like meditation
- finding time for activities you enjoy
Maintaining a self-care routine help you protect your own physical and mental well-being and build resilience for bumps in the road that may happen down the line.
Reach out for support
Don’t hesitate to reach out to other loved ones for a helping hand when you need it. If you don’t take breaks from time to time, you’re more likely to experience caregiver burnout.
Supporters may be able to provide practical help, such as running errands or taking your loved one to medical appointments. They may also provide emotional support to both you and your loved one.
It may also help to connect with others who share similar experiences by joining a support group.
Make safety a priority
Some people living with bipolar disorder may become verbally or physically abusive. Aggressive behavior is most common when folks are not sticking with treatment and during active mood episodes when substance use also plays a role. Try to help your loved one stay on track with their treatment plan and follow a healthy lifestyle.
If at any point you’re worried about your safety, try to remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible. If needed, you can call in reinforcements, like friends or family, to step in and help diffuse a situation.
If you believe you’re having symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, you can let your doctor know. They could refer you to a mental health professional for support.
You might also find it helpful to participate in family-focused therapy with your loved one. According to a 2019 research review, family-focused therapy may help:
- improve family members’ knowledge of bipolar disorder and effective coping skills
- reduce worries, social isolation, and activity restrictions
- limit symptoms of depression
Consider asking your doctor to refer you to a mental health specialist who has experience supporting people with bipolar disorder and their loved ones.
If your loved one is reluctant to seek treatment or follow their prescribed treatment plan, consider talking with them about your concerns.
Try to avoid judgmental language. Let them know that you care about their well-being and encourage them to speak with a medical professional. You may also share how their behavior negatively affects you or other household members.
It’s important to listen to what your loved one has to say about their treatment preferences. Understanding their perspective can also help you work toward a positive outcome together.
You might disagree about the best way to manage their condition. But if they’re an adult, they have every right to make decisions about their own health.
You’re not responsible for your loved one’s mental health or choices.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who refuses to get treatment for bipolar disorder, consider whether it might be time to take a break. Taking a step away from the relationship may help protect your safety and well-being.
If you think your loved one might harm themselves or someone else, you can reach out to a suicide hotline, call 911, or take them to the nearest emergency room. They may need emergency psychiatric care, especially if they’re currently experiencing a severe mood episode.
If your loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available.
You can help them access free support right away with these resources:
- 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Call the Lifeline at 988 for English or Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- The Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- The Trevor Project: LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24/7.
- Veterans Crisis Line: Call 988 and press 1, text 838255, or chat online 24/7.
- Deaf Crisis Line: Call 321-800-3323, text “HAND” to 839863, or visit their website.
- Befrienders Worldwide: This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.
Living with someone who has bipolar disorder can present challenges, especially if they aren’t currently being treated.
You can support your loved one by listening to them, encouraging them to get treatment, and helping them follow a healthy routine.
Clear communication is also important for fostering a positive relationship and living situation.
If you’re worried about your safety, setting firm boundaries and putting space between you and your loved one may help protect your well-being.