Bipolar Disorder Can Leave Permanent Emotional Scars on Husbands and Wives

“If recent research has taught us anything,” says Carol Jacobson, psychiatric social worker, “it’s that families also pay a price from bipolar disorder in the form of emotional pain, social isolation and stressed interpersonal relationships.”

Children may withdraw from the family unit, couples pull away or drift apart, individuals become isolated within their own families, she said. These situations leave scars on the family unit and affect the way family members deal with the needs, demands and often manipulations of the patient.

Husbands and wives can become overly involved or too distant, too permissive or too restrictive in an effort to gain relief from the bipolar husband’s or bipolar wife’s pathology or their own discomfort.

Jacobson offers 6 steps to prevent permanent emotional scarring:

  1.  Establish limits. Know what you are capable of giving. Don’t allow yourself to be pushed, forced, cajoled or intimidated into doing what you do not want to do. Giving more than you are willing to breeds resentment. Resentments are often then expressed inappropriately toward ourselves, the bipolar husband or wife or toward other family members.
  2. Deal with your guilt and/or grief over your bipolar husband’s or wife’s illness. In other words, she advises, put the past to rest. Previous mistakes, angers, deficiencies cannot be changed. When you bring them up and berate yourself over them, you are left feeling helpless and angry. You cannot be reminded not to do this often enough, Jacobson says.
  3. Forgive yourself your sins. If you don’t forgive yourself, you will continue to allow and excuse inappropriate behavior from your bipolar husband or wife. This leaves you open to “emotional blackmail,” which is extremely dysfunctional.
  4. Do not tolerate inappropriate behavior. Illness is not an excuse for bad behavior, rudeness or manipulation. If your bipolar husband or wife is uncontrollable, seek immediate treatment or hospitalization. If you’re not sure if he or she needs treatment, ask yourself if you would accept this behavior from a non-sick family member. Far too often we excuse behavior from a bipolar husband or wife that we would never tolerate from anyone else.
  5. Respect a bipolar husband’s or wife’s range of emotion, as you would anyone else’s. Living together in peace requires respect. A sick spouse can get well and may have normal periods of irritability, sadness and happiness. Keep your own anxieties and concerns under control and not label hbehavior “sick” because it disturbs you or brings back memories of previously ill times. Respond to today’s behavior honestly by dealing with what you see today.
  6. Do not become an “in home therapist.” You may often find yourself spending time and energy talking about, thinking about, planning for or around the bipolar husband or wife and his/her problems.  Don’t do this, Jacobson says. It is not healthy for you, your sick spouse or your family. The sick person has a qualified therapist or doctor. He/she needs the family to act as it would ordinarily. This teaches him/her through action and modeling what behaviors are appropriate for the greater world outside the home.

Jacobson says these 6 suggestions are easier to accomplish when you remember that you did not cause your bipolar husband’s or wife’s illness and your cannot cure their illness. But it is your choice to encourage health and responsible behavior.