*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.

Where to begin discussing family and friends? They can be your absolute best allies! Ask your soon-to-be spouse if his family knows about his bipolar disorder and (more importantly!) if they understand it and accept it. This will have a huge impact on your marriage.

If his family is accepting and supportive you will have a network of family to help you through the tough patches and guide you when you are unsure of how to proceed. They can also offer you valuable insight into past behaviors that can help you in the present and future. The same goes for friends who are aware of his condition.

What about friends or family who don't know that he is bipolar? Here you must respect his boundaries. Although secrecy isn't generally a good thing, you cannot betray his trust in you and reveal his condition unless the situation is actually life-threatening.

You may want to talk to him about why he hasn't told his family or close friends. If it is because he fears they won't understand, perhaps you can talk to them together, or put together some resources for them to read. In the end, this is his illness and his decision. Respect it and move on.

Family can also put demands on us - we've all been there and done that, haven't we?! Loving families always want to spend time with us and show their love and concern, but unfortunately, for someone who is bipolar this can sometimes backfire.

Family get-togethers and holidays can be the most trying events in the world for a person with bipolar disorder, and some people will find this both hard to understand and hurtful. As your partner's spouse, your first loyalty is to them. Explain that you must do what is best for you as a couple, and this includes what makes him most comfortable within the limits of his bipolar condition.

Making ground rules about family will be very important. Discuss issues such as:

  • How much to reveal to family members about details of his condition and when to reveal them
  • How to handle turning down family invitations and how to smooth things over when it's necessary
  • Holidays (usually a source of great stress for people who have bipolar because of the heightened expectations and emotions) - where will you spend them? How long will you stay?
  • An 'escape plan' for when things get too tense and your spouse feels like he needs to decompress and get away from everyone for a while
  • Will his family members have any input into decisions concerning his care if he must be hospitalized?

Don't let these rules give you the impression, however, that you shouldn't spend time with family. On the contrary, the support, love and encouragement of family are essential to everybody's mental health, and it certainly makes coping with bipolar easier!

The point is to understand the need for limitations and structure in some situations. It doesn't mean you can't spend plenty of time with your families that will be wonderful and enriching, particularly during the long stretches when your spouse is stable.