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Healthy relationships when one's partner is not MI

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Hi all--

I'm hoping to get some feedback on maintaining a healthy, mutually fulfilling relationship with someone who is not dx with an illness.

I've been dx as Bipolar I and I've had two hospitalizations in 10 years--the most recent in March of 2013. It is only since March that I've been considered BP.

I have a very hard time being honest about my feelings with my husband. He was very supportive in the beginning of my last episode, which occurred a few months after our wedding. But now, 6 months later, I'm still struggling with MAJOR apathy and "just don't give a fuck" syndrome.

I want things to be balanced and healthy, but I often find myself deferring to him because I feel like I don't have the energy to stand up for what I want. Then I end up resenting him.

Has anyone experienced this? Before my dx (and while still in this relationship) I was much more assertive. I don't know how to get that back, esp because I worry that every time I have a normal negative emotion, I'm being judged as "ill," even as he says this is not the case.

I'd love some feedback and insight from others. Thanks!

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It sounds like your husband is quite understanding, which is great. I think the key is that the spouse understands which behaviours are caused by the illness, and treats them as such, rather than blaming the person with MI and expecting them to "snap out of it". If he understands that your apathy is entirely caused by your illness, rather than you truly not caring, he won't take it personally or blame you for having a bad attitude.

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There are some good exercises in the Bipolar Survival Guide about establishing your own sense of self and confidence in your feelings. It is really natural to doubt yourself after a huge episode, many people feel a lot of shame and guilt and that in turn makes them feel as if they are being judged. Going IP and being treated is a traumatic event that takes time to recover from. And the terms of your relationship may not have changed, but you have, your life has, even hub will have been changed by this experience. Often people say that an experience like this strengthens what they have, but only if they can identify how it feels and talk about that.


I had a similar experience with a partner, a sudden IP and a breakdown. We didn't discuss how it made us feel. He wanted to stay with me despite me pressing him to leave. But he hid in his work and avoided talking about it. I felt guilt, shame and fear that his hiding meant he had fallen out of love. I ended with him a few months later to protect him from having to deal with my bullshit. A few years later, he confided that while he was struggling to cope, it was devastating that I just left. I don't know how viable we were long term, but we ended on the most part because we couldn't be honest. If he or I had admitted that my IP changed our world and we had some emotional fallout, yeah, that would have been painful. But maybe we could have worked through that.


Maybe think about what your personality is like when you are well? After diagnosis, you have to adjust your expectations of yourself. It may be that you never be the same person you were. But if you are usually outspoken when well, maybe you know that in time you can build that confidence back, even though it will decrease in episodes. It might also be worth talking to a professional to look back at the crisis and ask yourself what the stages were. If you had known what the symptoms were, could you have spotted that things were breaking down? This is not to guilt you. But if you know what it looks like when you begin to get unwell, you can have confidence that you can take action to deal with that. You can also figure out what is your own personality and what is a symptom.


It may also help to think about situations where your husband can give you practice at choosing and playing a part. So agreeing that you will choose a meal option or how to spend a Sunday, low pressure situations where you can practice taking part without feeling like it will be a disaster if it doesn't work out. You could also ask your husband to let you know at the moments that you seem apathetic so you are clear on what bothers him and you can decide if it something you want to or can change. If you are worried that everything you do is wrong, you will be become fearful and retreat. Maybe you are more assertive than you think you are.

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