The Spouse is Not Forgotten
It is estimated that 2 million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, while so much focus goes upon the research and care of these individuals many of their spouses go unnoticed while they suffer alongside there significant other. Spouses of bipolar patients deal with the daily struggles and symptoms that accompany bipolar disorder silently behind their spouse. Psychiatric care is given to bipolar patients but not to many support groups are offered for the caregiver while they suffer in the shadows of bipolar disorder. A light is in need of being shed on the existing problems spouses have with dealing with their bipolar significant other and bring to bay new coping methods that can be achieved by helping themselves and their bipolar spouse alongside with them. There are many coping methods that can benefit the healthy spouse solely but also help the bipolar patient at the very same time.
Bipolar Disorder is a broad name for different types of Bipolar Disorder including Bipolar 1, Bipolar 2, Rapid Cycling, Mixed Bipolar and Cyclothymic Disorder. Each of these disorders are different although they include and share some or more of the same symptoms. The primary symptoms of bipolar disorder are dramatic and unpredictable mood swings. These symptoms are mania symptoms and may include excessive happiness, excitement, irritability, restlessness, increased energy, less need for sleep, racing thoughts, high sex drive, and a tendency to make grand and unattainable plans. On the other end of the spectrum are depression symptoms that may include sadness, anxiety, irritability, loss of energy, uncontrollable crying, change in appetite causing weight loss or gain, increased need for sleep, difficulty making decisions, and thoughts of death or suicide (Web MD). It is not hard to see how these symptoms are likely to affect not only the bipolar patient but also the spouse.
Moreover despite the obvious toll the chronic illness bipolar can have on a spouse little research has been done for those experiencing pain from trying to help their loved ones. One research was conducted by the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing that dug into the feelings of the spouses and brought up a great point that spouses of bipolar patients are holding onto a great deal of burden. While you live with the bipolar patient it is not always true that you are being able to share several important aspects of daily life, there is an intense loneliness when living with a bipolar patients. The thought of being alone with one's own feelings are described as the largest burden in being in the relationship. The spouse can not truly understand the feelings that there partner is feeling and takes blame for their actions. In the International Journal of Mental Health there participants explained this lowliness as feeling alone with their emotions about the illness and had feelings of guilt and anger. Anger and guilt is a large part of the loneliness that is accompanied with the burden spouses may feel.
However loneliness is not the only type of burden that can be felt in a bipolar relationship another type of burden is feeling solely responsible. Participants in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing explained this feeling as being responsible for the household and raising the children, as well as for dealing with the disease. If your bipolar spouse is in a stage of depression and refuses to leave there own bed it is impossible for them to do duties around the house or partake in any type of help that could be beneficial to the couple. The type of burden that involves feeling responsible for someone else completely can be an absolute emotional drain.
While the last feeling of burden can be the consequences of the life of the healthy spouse, this burden is the tasks you have to give up to can for the bipolar spouse such as being forced to quit a job, perform new roles in the relationship, and being exhausted. I interview Michael Bielenberg from Twin Falls, Idaho who is my husband and has to deal with my bipolar disorder each and every day. I asked him what are some consequences on the life of him? Michael responded with, "My job is to travel with my wind energy company not always can I be with my wife. I have been on the verge of quitting my job numerous times because I'm afraid of the things my wife might do while I'm away. Many times she has become very depressed and threatened to end her own life and I'm 800 miles away from saving her. Bipolar disorder is exactly a burden".
However with each burden comes varies methods that the spouses typically cope with. The main coping mechanism was appraisal then searching for a balance between self-effacement, putting the needs of others first, and self-fulfillment putting one's own needs first. Most spouses of a bipolar patient do not know how to cope with their bipolar spouse they are constantly angry and lonely. In some bipolar marriages it becomes too much of a burden on the spouse and the spouse declares a divorce because proper coping methods were not used in the marriage. Having dangerous and improper coping methods can be hurtful to the healthy spouse's health. Depression can sink in to the healthy spouse and create unnecessary pain and self-loathing.
Having strong and valid coping methods is very important to know having new and beneficial ways to cope is important. The most important reason is to strengthen your marriage between you and the bipolar patient. Strengthening your marriage will benefit it by not ending in a divorce which is a common outcome in a bipolar marriage because the spouse cannot cope with his/her on going bipolar symptoms.
A bipolar marriage does not have to mean that it will be a bad marriage. There are many coping mechanisms that can be used during a marriage to make it fulfilling and wonderful. The best thing that can be used as a tool in the marriage is knowledge. It is surprising how many participants in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing had a total lack of insight into the disorder. When you are in a relationship with a bipolar patient it is best to learn as much about the disorder as possible so you can alleviate some of the anger and frustration involved with not understanding why your spouse may act a certain way. There are many books available like Bipolar 101 A Practical Guide to Identifying Triggers, Managing Medications, Coping with symptoms, and More by White, C. Ruth, PH.D. Preston, D. John, PSY.D. this book explains each and every bit of information you could ever need to have when having bipolar disorder and being involved with someone that has the disorder. Education is always the starting point, you can do research online by just simply typing in the words "bipolar disorder". Another good way to educate each other is to spend time talking about the bipolar patient's specific disorder with each other and explain in great detail the symptoms that are commonly expressed this can also be done with a counselor.
With that in mind, knowledge is not the only step that can be taken to learn to cope with a bipolar marriage. Exercising can also be a very helpful way to cope with stress from the marriage for both you and the bipolar patient. Exercise is very important for patients with bipolar disorder; with regular exercise a patient can change brain chemicals and increase the serotonin in there brain the neurotransmitter that affects moods .The more exercise the patient gets the better chance they have to less mood swings. Also, a healthy body is better able to deal with medications side-effects. If you and your partner take nightly walks together it can improve both of your moods. Exercise is a great way to put yourself in a good mood so you are more easily ready to deal with and sudden mood changes your bipolar spouse may have. Exercise is very beneficial in coping because not only is it important for your bipolar spouse to get exercise it is also a great mood lifter you and it can be done together so you also get more time quality bonding time. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Regular exercise has been proven to: Reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteem, and improve sleep (Web MD). There are plenty of different types of exercise that can be done to improve your mood walking together does not have to be the only option up for grabs. Doing exercises like yoga and swimming are also beneficial and can be just as mood lifting maybe even more.
While exercise and spending time together is important the spouse of a bipolar patient must realize that they need to focus on their health issues before they focus on their spouses. Having two sick will not benefit the relationship if it can be helped. Being the healthy spouse in the relationship will not continue if the spouse continually digests the burden. An important step to feeling better about your marriage is taking time to talk to other people who are in your situation. Joining a support group is a great option for speaking to other people who feel the same way you do. If that is not an option than there are numerous support groups on the internet where you can focus mainly on how you feel instead of talking about how your bipolar spouse feels. Another way is to find a close friend that could be possibly going through the same situation you are in and discussing how it feels with each other. It is important for the healthy spouse to know that there are plenty of people in the same situation that can offer advice, comforting thoughts and support.
Another wonderful coping method is the power of learning meditation which is a state of thoughtless awareness. Meditation can be very useful when things in your relationship get stressful because with meditation you can quiet your thoughts and mind. Some people use meditation to clear their thoughts while others use it to concentrate on something that brings them peace. Meditation can be a very difficult task for some people but don't give up after just a few attempts it takes patients to master meditation. Meditation can be a very important skill in your life and reduce the burden that the healthy spouse in the relationship may feel. When meditation is used as a coping skill the healthy spouse can step back from what may be a very stressful moment and then bring themselves into a deep peace which will make dealing with any difficult situation much more easily handled. Meditation is something that both the healthy spouse and not healthy spouse can comply in. If the healthy spouse learns important coping skills like meditation and then teaches them to the bipolar spouse it will help the bipolar spouse's moods also. Meditation is the control of the body and the mind. Meditation can calm the bipolar patient down and manage their moods. Relation techniques can be useful in a treatment plan for the bipolar patient and when the bipolar patient is calm so is the bipolar marriage.
Nonetheless while meditation is important so is learning to communicate with your spouse properly. Once you have done your research on the basics of bipolar disorder and start to understand exactly what it is learning how to communicate will become easier and easier. An article called 8 Ways to Help Your Bipolar Loved One Cope quoted a couple who have learned to communicate with each other, "Eric doesn't say much when I'm clutching tissue paper, crying my eyes out. And he's hesitant to speak when I'm manic (not that I would let him get in a word)". Communicate is important in any marriage but excruciatingly important in a bipolar marriage when a bipolar patient can feel open to explain his/her symptoms while having their symptoms means their bipolar spouse they will be able to communicate on a higher level. Being able to notice the signs of your spouse's bipolar symptoms is crucial when learning how to communicate with each other because you can find the things your spouse needs in those uncertain moments for the bipolar patient. Not all bipolar patients need the same type of communication when having symptoms so being able to speak to each other about them is better. If you and your spouse are able to communicate during symptoms it will be easier for you to cope because you do not feel left alone and in the dark. Some ways to communicate better together is to make plans, making a plan of action for each other when the sick spouse is experiencing a change of mood can be very beneficial. With any disease it has a potential to become life threatening. If your spouse becomes suicidal which is very common for a bipolar patient having doctor's names and a list of safe people to call can be very important. If you can your spouse can communicate efficiently you will not have to improvise in dangerous situations.
Being in a bipolar marriage can be a struggle and even when the patient is on medication symptoms can always happen regardless of being on the medication. It is important that patience takes place in the marriage and love. While a spouse can learn more about the disorder, exercise, meditate, seek a support group and learn how to communicate with their spouse each and every person is different and more coping methods can be found. Finding coping methods is beneficial for both individuals in the marriage the healthy spouse can help them self's and there bipolar spouse at the same time. Having healthy coping methods will mean a healthier marriage. Living with a bipolar patient does not always have to feel like such a burden to your life it can be just as functional as any other marriage if you are able to cope with it properly. A bipolar marriage does not have to mean that it will be a bad marriage. Working together on your marriage is always for the best to create and or keep a strong wonderful marriage.
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White, C. Ruth, PH.D. Preston, D. John, PSY.D. Bipolar 101 A Practical Guide to Identifying Triggers, Managing Medications, Coping with symptoms, and More. Oakland California. Newharbingerpublications, inc. 2009. Book. 31 January 2013.
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Bielenberg, Michael. Personal Interview. 12 February 2013