*Throughout the article, reference is made to 'he' or 'she' when talking about a person who is bipolar. It can be either, and using one term or the other is merely for the sake of convenience. These suggestions are meant for anyone, male or female, who is suffering from bipolar and his (or her) family and friends.

Money is the one thing argued about more than any other in any marriage. Toss in a complicating factor like bipolar disorder and you have a mixture that can be highly volatile.

When a bipolar individual enters a manic phase they are likely to recklessly spend money on any number of unnecessary items, gamble, travel and extravagantly celebrate or give gifts to others because they are on that familiar 'high' that triggers a euphoric rush. With no sense of self-control, they want only to share their good fortune, joy and - unfortunately - money.

The best possible way to avert disaster is to develop some hard and fast financial plans for the marriage before there is a crisis. Sit down during a period when your spouse is not having an episode and has been doing well on his medications and have serious conversation about the potential dangers of reckless spending during a future manic phase.

In a loving marriage, your spouse should agree that it is in both your interests to prepare in advance for that day and agree that for both your sakes, you should have some way to keep control of a portion of your money that he will not have access to. This doesn't mean monitoring him every day or giving him an allowance - far from it. It simply means having some emergency reserves just in case.

Each couple is different, so you will have to find what works for you, but some good starting points might be:

  • The non-bipolar spouse should have one savings account in her (or his) name only. This can't be accessed by the other spouse and neither should use it. It will be an emergency fund in case the bipolar spouse goes on a spending spree or somehow loses their joint accounts, whether through gambling or bankruptcy.
  • Some bipolar spouses understand that they can be dangerous with a credit card in their hands when they are manic. If they feel an episode coming on, or their spouse notices that an episode seems imminent, they could agree that until the doctor feels the episode is past, he or she will turn over all credit cards to the spouse for safe-keeping.
  • If your spouse is relatively stable and has been for some period of time, a simple monthly review of the bills together and discussion of credit card charges so that both of you know what's going on may be all that's needed. You will also see that this can be a great way to see early signs of a change in mood in your spouse. Oftentimes, the beginnings of a manic phase will reveal itself in spending patterns even before you can see them in his actions. An increase in impulse buying, for instance, or odd purchases over a period of a few weeks, should be discussed.
  • ¢ Power of Attorney is a drastic solution and is not always called for, but if your spouse is prone to severe bouts of mania or depression, you may want to consider discussing this with an attorney. In effect, it turns over all control of finances to you automatically whenever he is incapacitated. This is a rather delicate topic to broach and must be discussed fully with the doctor and a qualified attorney familiar with bipolar disorder and what is required to determine 'temporary incapacity' for it to work effectively.

The best way to determine the appropriate financial strategy for you and your spouse is to review his or her past spending history when in a manic phase. Don't just take their word for this, however. Talk to other family members (with their permission) and friends and (again with their permission) therapists and doctors so that you know what the likely behavior will be. Then devise a plan together that is workable and draw it up with a legal advisor so that it is legally binding in the event you do need it in the future.

Finally, agree to respect and help each other moving forward. With these safeguards in place, it is likely that you will never have a financial disaster on your hands because you have prepared in advance!