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“It brings up a lot of fears and those fears ignite the temptation not to talk about it,” acknowledges Lisa Little, MSc, a chartered psychologist in Calgary, Alberta.
“Pretending [the illness] doesn’t exist is more likely to cause problems in the relationship.” When telling a prospective partner that you have bipolar, Little suggests sharing details about how the illness affects your behavior, including symptoms of mania, hypomania and depression, as well as emphasizing how you manage the disorder.
“If a partner sticks by you through a trying situation, it can bring you closer together.” Over time, Victoria came to see that someone who couldn’t be open-minded and supportive would not be a good match.
Victoria started dating her current partner in 2008 after they’d exchanged emails for months.
Similarly, sharing details about his illness provides a context for his shifting moods and opens the door to conversations about how that might play out in the relationship.
Although research is limited on how bipolar disorder affects new relationships, a report published in a 2008 issue of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology and other studies have found that marital disruption is higher when one partner in a relationship has a mental illness like bipolar disorder.
“Providing specific information will help dissolve some of the fear,” Little says.
As an adult, she has struggled to find a partner who understands her mood shifts.
One girlfriend tried to be compassionate, she recalls, but attributed all of their arguments to the disorder, making Victoria feel discounted as a person.
“One issue with dating when you have bipolar disorder is dealing with intense mood states, from extreme highs to extreme lows,” notes Sylvia.
“Both ends of the spectrum cause problems in relationships.” In a manic state, Chris can become volatile and unreliable, arguing with girlfriends over trivial matters and canceling plans with little regard to their feelings.
Hope says that learning how committed she is to managing her illness through medication, regular counseling and healthy habits went a long way to alleviating any worries her boyfriend had about dating someone with bipolar.