Being in a romantic relationship has its ups and downs. But what about dating someone who has a mental health condition like bipolar disorder?
As it so happens, dating someone with bipolar disorder I or II may not be so different from dating anyone else, actually. And although it’s true that people with bipolar disorder I or II may have specific needs, boundaries, and triggers, this isn’t always because of their mental health condition.
Instead, it’s more likely to depend on who your partner is as an individual. That’s why it’s essential to see them as the unique person they are, and not as a bipolar disorder diagnosis.
Is It Ok to Date Someone with Bipolar Disorder?
Unless their condition is causing noticeable dysfunction that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, it’s perfectly okay to date someone with bipolar disorder I or II. Every person you date is likely to have different strengths and needs. That same logic goes for people with mental health conditions.
If their condition is well-managed, you may not even know that they carry a diagnosis unless they choose to share that information with you. If all seems well, it’s important to check in with yourself:
- Are you okay with dating someone with bipolar disorder?
- Does their personality, their habits, and their communication style meet your needs?
- Do you feel safe and supported in the relationship?
These are important questions to ask internally. Too often, it’s more tempting to hyper-focus on how someone’s diagnosis affects them, and not on how it makes you feel.
What Is it Like Dating Someone with Bipolar Disorder I or II?
To reiterate again, it depends on how well-managed their bipolar disorder symptoms are. If they have well-managed bipolar disorder or their condition is in remission, you may not even know it.
When dating someone with bipolar disorder, their symptoms may be negligible if they are:
- Taking psychiatric medication to help regulate their mood and thoughts
- They are able to express their emotions, even unpleasant feelings like anger and anxiety
- They consistently attend therapy
- They practice self-care on a routine basis
But if they’re having a harder time, then the experience of dating someone with bipolar disorder may be a little bit different. For people who live with mental illness, the decision to talk about their condition is a big (and very personal) step and can be challenging.
However, it should be of some comfort to know that if they are talking with you about their bipolar diagnosis, it’s a good sign that they trust you, and are doing it for the benefit of the relationship.
Having that conversation is a sign of their commitment, in many cases. If they bring it up, check in with them. Ask how you can help them cope with their diagnosis—you may not have to do anything differently than you would otherwise.
What Does Someone with Bipolar Disorder Need in a Relationship?
Different people have different needs, and express themselves in different ways, and at different times. When dating someone with bipolar disorder, they may have different needs than someone who doesn’t. They may have to:
- Regularly touch base with a mental health provider
- Take medication
- Limit their substance use, including alcohol and caffeine
- Adjust their sleep schedule
In terms of what they might need from you as their partner depends also on their attachment styles in intimate relationships. Are they anxiously attached, avoidant, or disorganized? While dating someone with bipolar disorder, they may need:
- More open communication
- To take things slower, in terms of commitment
- Time alone to process how they feel
- More reassurance that you aren’t judging them for their diagnosis (be truthful)
Their unique needs will vary based on past relationships, family origins, and what they’re looking for in a partner.
Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Intimacy?
Dating someone with bipolar disorder I or II may mean that both physical and emotional intimacy are affected within the relationship. Manic, hypomanic, and depressive episodes may cause a reduction in sexual desire.
If someone is feeling depressed, their mood is probably poor, their self-esteem is lowered, and they’re fatigued—this isn’t a great recipe for sexual activity or desire. But in hypomanic or manic states, someone’s libido may actually increase—it may really go up. For some partners, this might be fun, but for others it can feel or be distressful, threatening, or unsafe.
On the other hand, emotional intimacy can be challenging while dating someone with bipolar disorder, because their subjective experience of the relationship and the world around them can often shift without treatment. This can be surprising because you may not be able to follow the shift in their emotional states.
Why Are Relationships Hard for People with Bipolar Disorder?
Dating with bipolar disorder can be hard because the individual carrying the diagnosis already knows their condition is stigmatized. They might be worried about telling a partner (or potential partner) that they have it, and could be worried about how it will affect their connection.
Natural stressors experienced in many relationships can also trigger bipolar disorder, including:
- Financial stress
- Low sexual satisfaction
It can be truly difficult to form a meaningful relationship when someone has bipolar disorder I or II. Dating someone with bipolar disorder could mean they constantly second-guess their decisions about being in the relationship.
Bipolar disorder has been popularized in modern culture to be used as an insult against those who are often justifiably angry. A bipolar diagnosis is not your girlfriend or boyfriend having mood swings.
Bipolar disorder is a neurochemical condition that causes episodic mood swings. Bipolar has been synonymous with someone reacting angrily to something, and that’s not necessarily accurate.
Just because your partner is angry or depressed doesn’t mean they have bipolar. They could be affected by their poor communication skills (or yours), past trauma, or something else unknown. Don’t gaslight them by dismissing their feelings—and don’t accuse them of having a mental illness if you don’t know. It’s highly inflammatory.
How to Deal with Dating Someone with Bipolar Disorder If They Are Unstable
Remember: A relationship shouldn’t constantly feel like you’re “dealing” with someone. However, dating someone with bipolar disorder that isn’t well-managed can be tough. You may be off-put by:
- Unpredictable irritability
- Mood swings that you are unable to assist with
- Hurtful words or actions that leave you feeling disrespected
- Their self-destructive behavior during manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes
If you’ve noticed these issues, have talked with your partner about them and nothing changes, or they won’t get help for themselves, it doesn’t mean you should change your boundaries. It means you need to take care of yourself first.
If watching them mistreat you as well as themselves is not something you can tolerate or want to experience in a relationship, it’s ok. It’s totally alright to not want to date someone with bipolar disorder.
But regardless of whether you choose to leave or stay, if they’re having mental health struggles that impact yourself and the relationship that you’re in, it’s important to get help for yourself so that you don’t start to experience mental health issues, as well.