Understanding Bipolar Disorder and Divorce


  • There are four types of bipolar disorder.
  • Bipolar disorder can put a strain on a marriage, that if left untreated, can lend itself to divorce.
  • Seeking treatment and support for bipolar disorder will help control the illness.

The highs of a relationship can be great. Anyone who has ever been in a functioning and happy relationship knows the satisfaction of experiencing a mutually beneficial bond between two individuals in love.

On the same token, the lows of a relationship can be devastating. It’s hard to function when you are in a relationship where you feel like every action you take is wrong and you are wrong for thinking that it is right.

It can be equally as devastating when these two experiences swing like a pendulum in your daily life, as you watch a spouse or a soon-to-be ex-spouse go from one end of the emotional spectrum to another in the matter of moments. Sometimes, it can be the result of a medical condition, known as bipolar disorder.

Types of disorders

Bipolar disorder, otherwise known as the manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, activity levels, energy, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It affects 2.6 percent of the United States population, and those who suffer from the condition typically endure long periods of clinical depression, followed by short spells of mania, which can be experienced as irritability or euphoria.

There are four distinct types of bipolar disorder that people suffer from with various symptoms. Bipolar I Disorder is defined by manic episodes that last a week, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the individual in question requires immediate hospital care. Depressive episodes can occur and will typically last two weeks. Bipolar II Disorder is defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes. However, they are not the full-blown manic episodes of a Bipolar I.

Cyclothymic Disorder is one of the types of bipolar disorder and is defined by the numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms, as well as numerous periods of depressive symptoms lasting for two years. These symptoms do not actually meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode. The fourth type is unspecified and does not match the three previously mentioned.

The case

This disorder has been known to cause erratic behavior, and many couples struggle to stay together, as a result of the way that it creates discord within the marriage. CNN highlighted a couple who had experienced the struggle with severe bipolar disorder, and the erratic behavior and inconsistency to which the spouse with the condition took their medication, made them a danger to themselves and to their child. It ended in a divorce, due to the deteriorating nature of the husband’s mental state.

In the couple’s struggles with dealing with the illness and how it evolved over time, the wife was able to learn more about the signs to look out for, in case their child were to ever exhibit any of the symptoms that their father once experienced.

Children involved

Children of divorce often have to handle a lot of issues, processing the stress of the separation. As described in CNN’s piece, children can find themselves gravitating toward the parent that is not exhibiting the symptoms of bipolar disorder. It can negatively affect their relationship with that parent and that parent’s ability to function as a role model in their child’s life.

Function is important because so much of the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be debilitating, making you not want to do anything or interact with anyone. The spiral that can occur with people suffering from bipolar disorder or many other mental health issues can spell marital problems, leaving the spouse without the mental health issue with a decision to make whether or not to pursue a separation or a divorce.

Sorting through guilt

The spouse without bipolar disorder can often exhibit guilt for deciding to divorce the spouse with the condition. That guilt is a motivating factor in staying in the relationship that they no longer want. The unhealthiness of one of the spouses makes for an untenable and unsustainable situation for the healthy spouse, but the feelings for that person and the vows of marriage can make the decision to divorce nearly impossible for some.

However, just like the CNN piece emphasized, there comes a point when one’s life has deteriorated due to the illness, that it interrupts the functionality of one’s relationship. If they are not on medication, in therapy, or seeking some sort of help in an effort to maintain their healthiest lifestyle possible, than they are not considering the needs of the healthy spouse or any possible children the couple may have.

Seek help

Seeking treatment and support for bipolar disorder is the best option, whether you are divorced, married, or single. There are many resources that you can take advantage of, in order to get the best treatment possible for your specific condition. Medication and therapy have often been shown to be effective ways of treating bipolar disorder. There also are support groups dedicated to helping those with bipolar disorder by those suffering from the condition.

Those with bipolar disorder can live with the condition through seeking support, but the treatment of the condition may not be enough to fix a relationship. Your ex-spouse could wish you well. They could hope that you get the treatment that you need. They could never see you again. It all depends on the individuals involved, but the fact remains that bipolar disorder is a serious medical condition, which needs to be addressed. If not, the spouses may not be able to move forward, as a married couple.

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