The Impact of Bipolar on Relationships

Author: Matthew Palmieri


It’s no secret that if left untreated, bipolar illness can have a devastating impact on relationships.

So when symptoms take over, it’s crucial to start looking at the triggers that lead to a change in thinking and behavior.

A few important questions come to mind if you begin to notice things aren’t going well in a relationship, whether it is platonic, romantic, familial or a work relationship:

-Am I getting enough sleep? 

-Am I more irritable than usual? 

-Am I feeling a higher level of stress?

-Do I feel more important than usual? 

-Do I feel a stronger impulse to interrupt others like I can’t keep up with all my thoughts? 

While it may feel better at the time to react to these emotions, there’s strong evidence to suggest that a severe manic or depressive episode may be on the horizon and reacting aggressively can cause damage to important relationships.

The Lead-Up

When I look back on severe episodes I’ve had, there was normally a ramping-up effect taking place. It wasn’t necessarily one difficult event that spurred mania or depression but a series that culminated into something traumatic. In my mind though, it felt like I could identify exactly who was to blame, why, and when they caused me pain.

Unfortunately, this is how my brand of bipolar works.

I am extremely grateful I have a strong support system in life-long friends and from my family, but I can’t tell you how many romantic relationships have been fundamentally altered and irrevocably damaged because I didn’t seek and maintain treatment.

It took me 9 years to finally start being honest with my symptoms after I got an accurate diagnosis.

Although the road back has been difficult, I am grateful for the progress I’ve made.


In the words of Dr. Andrea Vasseliv, self-stigmatizing often happens (and I’m paraphrasing) when ‘Instead of saying I have bipolar, we say, I am bipolar.’

In other words, if I think less in terms of how I identify as being bipolar and more with having an illness, I am less likely to beat myself up and therefore can continue to love better and live a happier life.

This is an effective way where I began to reevaluate my past relationships and my outlook on the future with more compassion and a clearer, more objective way of dealing with the illness.

It then becomes less my fault and more my responsibility.

The Importance of Honesty

It’s extremely difficult to maintain healthy relationships in the midst of a manic episode or an extreme bout of depression. Although mania can sometimes trick us into thinking we are excited, happier or just more fun to be around, we can run the risk of doing things completely out of character.

Manic spending, grandiose delusions, or impulsive sexual activity can take us down paths we never would consider if stable. Sometimes it could just be a couple weeks of intense symptoms that have a long lasting impact on our recovery.

When you’ve accepted that the illness isn’t going away and focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle including regular sleep, routine, medication, therapy, and exercise — to name a few methods of coping — you have a much better chance at maintaining stability and avoiding these negative long term impacts.

An added benefit being — you are also more likely to set yourself up to be the best version of yourself to face life’s challenges head on.

Getting There

A few years ago, one of my partners mentioned that there was ‘always someone’ that I looked at as the source of my discontentment. Even though it felt like I was being treated unjustly, it really didn’t matter who was causing me this frustration because there was always someone, like a revolving door of causers.

I could always provide a reason why I was upset but could never fully understand that it was my bipolar taking the reins and not my more calm and collected demeanor.

A couple years later, while I was picking up the pieces after a vicious cycle of mania, it dawned on me that she was 100% correct. My bipolar brain always needed a reason to be upset, when in fact it was my extreme irritability and depression that should have been more my focus so I could practice mindfully letting go.

Life is Still Life

I’ve since come to better terms with this behavioral pattern and although life happens and stress comes and goes, I can distance myself from my feelings more and stop identifying so much with my triggers.

There are still lots of reasons why we struggle to accept the illness as an ongoing battle. Whether it’s because the person suffering from bipolar is in denial or our support system simply can’t accept the impact the illness has. Maybe the people suffering don’t have the resources and suffer in silence.

However, clouded by rage, paranoia, and delusional thinking, it’s hard to make sense of your behavior after things fall apart even with life’s natural ebb and flow.

Communication is Vital to Any Relationship

If you support someone with bipolar and notice your partner is unusually energetic, enthusiastic or having a hair trigger temper, chances are they are danger of having a bad episode. This could lead to psychotic and paranoid delusions and a slew of other symptoms that can take years to recover from.

The good news is bipolar is both treatable and manageable. The key is to not let the illness take over and if it does, be kind to yourself as the illness is cyclical by nature.

Treasure those relationships that withstand the natural cycles of bipolar. It can make all the difference.


The content of the International Bipolar Foundation blogs is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician and never disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read in any IBPF content.
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