Bipolar Spouse Support: Survival Strategies
“Is living with a bipolar spouse causing you extreme stress or wrecking havoc in your home? Bipolar spouse support is extremely important and it’s not unusual for spouses and family members to seek counseling to develop strategies for dealing and coping with the bipolar spouse. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and Mental Health America all offer bipolar spouse support groups in local communities. You can locate these groups on their websites.”
Strategies for Dealing with Bipolar Spouse: If you are living with a bipolar spouse, here are some things to consider when dealing with a bipolar spouse.
- The mental illness your spouse suffers with is something that is happening to your entire family. All are affected and it is nobody’s fault. It is not your fault, your spouse’s or your children’s fault. It is an unfortunate illness.
- You cannot fix your spouse. There is nothing you can do to make him or her well, so don’t feel compelled to try. What you can do is be supportive, loving and handling the everyday details and practical issues of life that he or she cannot cope with.
- All members of the family have a responsibility to cope with the mental illness. Escape is not a helpful way of dealing with crisis. You all need each other.
- The ill spouse must recognize and accept the illness, be willing to receive treatment, and if possible, learn to manage the illness. If the mentally ill spouse is not willing to do these things, it may become impossible for the family to continue to support him or her. The family is not required to throw away their own lives for someone who refuses to cooperate. There are limits and they must be enforced without feelings of guilt.
- Educate yourself concerning every aspect of the illness. Education brings compassion. Ignorance just encourages anger and fear.
- Grieve your loss. It is a great loss. You need to allow yourself the time and energy to experience the entire process of grieving.
- Get help for yourself to cope with this incredible challenge, either from your own counselor or a NAMI support group. You can’t do it alone. Don’t refuse to recognize your own need for help, just because the ill spouse is getting most of the attention.
- Help your children understand the mental illness as much as their age allows. NO FAMILY SECRETS. Don’t deny them the opportunity to learn about the illness, the unfair stigma attached to it, and developing their own skills in coping. It can be an incredible learning opportunity for them. If they need proof and help to understand it and their own feelings, get it for them.
- Try to create a safe environment for the spouse to express himself/herself without feeling threatened, constrained or condemned. He or she desperately needs a nurturing, safe place to express the incredible frustration he or she is feeling about coping with mental illness.
- You and your children need to share your feelings, honestly and openly. It’s okay to feel angry and cheated. At times you may feel embarrassed by the ill spouse’s behavior, avoid trying to protect your spouse by not discussing the problem with family or friends. Don’t require your children to conspire with you in a code of “family secrecy.” Family secrets will only isolate you from others. Remember that small children, by their very nature, assume that they are responsible for anything in their environment that goes wrong.
- Never put yourself or your children in physical danger. If you sense your spouse is becoming dangerous, you should leave and call for professional help. You should never tolerate abuse of you or your children. Trust your instincts and intuitions on this one. Say, “no way” and mean it.
- Become your spouse’s advocate with the medical professionals, assertively involved in his treatment and medications. If the medical professional or psychiatrist won’t cooperate with you, demand a different one! Treatment should involve the entire family, so find a professional who will work with the whole family. You know more about your spouse’s illness than anyone else. Trust your instincts.
- Coldly assess what your spouse can and cannot handle, then compensate assertively. Some people with mental illness cannot handle money, some household chores, time commitments and too much stress. You must not do things for your spouse that he or she can do for themselves. Don’t rob him or her of their dignity.
- Maintain your own identity; resist becoming consumed with your spouse’s mental illness. Life goes on. You have an obligation to yourself and your children to take care of yourself and meet your own needs. You all must continue to develop your own interests and talents. You are a valuable human being, so don’t play the martyr role and sacrifice yourself. That’s just self pity. “Get a life.”
- Always hope for healing. The psychiatric medications do work and new ones are being developed. You may get your spouse back whole some day. If nothing else, the experience will broaden and deepen you in ways you never imagined. Or, you can choose to let it destroy you, your family and your marriage. It is your choice.
- Keep in mind that bad things happen to good people and you’re no exception. You have not been singled out for a special persecution. Trying to make good choices in life won’t protect you from misfortune. You haven’t been “dumb” to “get yourself in this situation.” It is not your fault. Life is not easy, we have to take what we get and make the best of it.