*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.

'For better or for worse.' Can you still be true to this if your bipolar suffering spouse hits a patch where his mood swings mean he loses his job? Or a series of jobs? What if he becomes so debilitated that he temporarily has to go on disability until he is stabilized with the proper combination of treatments and medication? Will you be strong enough to cope with the stress and carry the financial burden? Will you be able to face down the inevitable resentment that will surface on occasion during this phase?

Remember - this may never happen - but part of marriage is being mature enough to prepare for every eventuality. If you are going to marry a bipolar sufferer, you must at least consider the possibility that there will be long stretches where he will not be able to work or when he will lose a job because of his actions during an episode.

After a job loss, there are several things to keep in mind:

  • A job loss frequently can send someone who has bipolar into a depressive phase. Watch for the signs and make sure they are taking their medication properly. Don't hound them, but make sure they know you are aware of whether they are taking care of themselves.
  • Suggest they talk to their therapist about their job loss and its ramifications.
  • Don't press for them to look for another job until they are through the acute episode they are currently suffering through. Added pressure will only add fuel to the emotional fire. This can be difficult when you are stuck with the practical concerns - paying bills, buying groceries, etc. In the long run, however, a few weeks of focusing on recovery is much better than a long string of jobs gained and lost while your spouse is still emotionally unstable and unable to cope.
  • If an office routine or daily job is regularly lost or seems to trigger episodes on a cyclical basis (i.e. he loses his job every two years or every time an important project comes his way), it may be that the stress simply blindsides his illness and a regular job isn't for him. Discuss alternatives. Working at home? Less stressful jobs that he can schedule on a more give and take time frame? Part time work?

When these job complications come up, repeat the mantra that will become a part of coping with many aspects of your marriage, 'My spouse cannot change his illness. He did not choose this. It is not his fault.' Then move forward to find a solution that you both can live with.

It helps to remember that losing a job or working only part time doesn't make your spouse any less the loving, kind person you married. He still has a great sense of humor, still makes you smile, still has a wonderful hug, is still a kind, generous person and is still one of the smartest people you know. Start each day during this difficult time with a checklist of his positive traits and you'll soon realize that a job set-back is merely a stumbling block to be overcome.