Loving unconditionally is so easy when everything is going well. Not so much when things are falling apart. For spouses and caregivers to people with bipolar disorder, it is a tough job. Especially when you are being ignored, disrespected or even ill-treated. It is really hard to love someone who thinks grandiosely of himself, while demeaning and putting everyone else down. And most importantly, it is never simple to care and understand someone who is so absorbed in their own disorganized thoughts and feelings that they can not express or appreciate love from those caring for them.
What I am saying here is that I know it is super hard. I am not frivolously suggesting that you won’t have your “I hate you.” moments and want to leave but if your spouse is doing everything they can to control their disease and their symptoms, then it is up to you to support them by loving them unconditionally, even when you don’t want to.
Loving unconditionally is the greatest gift you can give your spouse and yourself, regardless of any pre-existing illnesses. And if it doesn’t come naturally to you, then you need to learn how.
7 Actionable Ways To Love Your Spouse With Bipolar Disorder Unconditionally
1. Separate the illness from the person.
An In-depth understanding of the illness should be your primary goal. If you do not understand what is happening to your loved one, then you will have difficulty relating to them and deciphering between symptoms and your spouse. You need to be able to recognize behaviors resulting from the disease. If your spouse is acting uncharacteristically, then it most definitely is due to bipolar disorder.
It is not the fault of your loved one that they have this brain disease. They do not have control over their actions or their feelings when they are having mood swings. And that can be very over-whelming for them too. Remember that. No one likes to be over taken by their emotions.
See this article on WebMD for a complete list of bipolar symptoms.
You need to learn and recognize the many symptoms of bipolar disorder as well as your spouses’ particular triggers. You must be vigilant and observant. Always. My husband went many years in between episodes and I became slack and unaware of the subtle changes that he was going through. It wasn’t until he was well into hypomania that I became aware of what was going on.
Now I keep track of his sleeping patterns as well as observe his moods, his actions and the way he relates to people. Charting and documenting shifts in mood as well as lifestyle changes allows us both to monitor and prevent escalation of extreme episodes like mania or severe depression.
I created a mood tracker and you can download it and print it for FREE by subscribing to my email list here:
2. Do not not perpetuate the stigma of mental illness.
You would not be embarrassed if your loved one had heart disease or cancer. Bipolar disorder is an illness and can be treated just like any other disease. If you feel ashamed of your loved one because they are inflicted with a mental illness, then you are not helping them deal with the disease nor are you helping restore good mental health. Instead you are encouraging denial of the diagnosis and non-compliance to a treatment plan.
3. Build trust.
Trust is essential to individuals with bipolar disorder. They need you to trust them, and they need to trust you. Your loved one wants to know that you are always acting in their best interest, even during episodes when their brains are telling them not to trust anyone.
And believe me, there will be times that you will feel that you cannot handle your spouse or their symptoms anymore. You may have to call the doctor or take them to the hospital or call the police. They may not understand or trust your actions in the moment but when they are stable, they will see you acted in an appropriate manner if you have established a trusting relationship.
4. Create healthy boundaries.
Just because you understand that your loved one has a disease does not give them permission to treat you poorly or abuse you in any way. You need to keep yourself safe mentally and physically or you will not be well equipped to take care of your spouse when they need you the most. For a more detailed look at creating healthy boundaries, see this post here.
5. Keep the communication lines open.
Encourage your spouse to talk about what they think and how they feel. Let them suggest ways on how you can support them. They are not children and you should respect them and hear them out.
Conversely, do not suppress how you feel but be smart about when and how you choose to express yourself. Obviously, during a bipolar episode is not the time. Instead choose more stable times to discuss what you thought and how you felt when your spouse was in a bipolar mood swing. There are positive ways to let your loved know what you experienced.
Learn how to communicate well. Avoid nagging, preaching or lecturing your spouse with bipolar disorder. Such negative actions will drive them to detach. If you are concerned about them, let them know in a gentle and encouraging manner. Know when to retreat so that communication is not blocked in the future.
6. Let them be responsible.
I know your first instinct is to want to do everything for your loved one that is afflicted with bipolar disorder but they are capable of handling regular responsibilities as well as being in charge of their own treatment plan. If you begin to do everything for them, they will get used to it and will then become more and more dependent on you. Obviously when they are ill, you will have to pick up the slack but when they are stable, it is good for their mental health to be involved and responsible for themselves.
Let your spouse experience what they can do for themselves. Encourage them to solve problems and find solutions. This will make them feel like they are in charge of their own destiny. That is very empowering.
7. Know when to step in.
Although you want to encourage independence and responsibility, you have to recognize when things are beginning to over-whelm your spouse. There will be times when you need to step in and take over for awhile. Don’t make them feel inadequate or guilty when this happens. Taking care of their mental health needs to be their number one priority.
Apart from your occasional assistance, your bipolar spouse needs understanding and support to thrive and be healthy but most of all, they need your unconditional love.
Grab your FREE Mood Tracker here!
Stay on top of mood swings with this easy to use tracker. Designed for caregivers or sufferers.