*Throughout this report, 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.
As if being married to someone who is suffering from bipolar disorder isn't challenging enough at times, you can sometimes be faced with the ultimate slap in the face as a spouse when your bipolar partner screams at you, 'I want a divorce!'
If this is during an episode of particularly bad behavior, you may be tempted to snap back, 'Fine, suit yourself. I'm tired of this crap, too.'
Many of us have been there, so don't feel guilty if this is your first reaction. However, do take the time to take a deep breath and step back from the volatile emotions of the moment before you react.
Ask yourself if the subject of divorce has come up because your spouse no longer loves you, or because he or she (we'll use 'she' throughout this report, but it could be either) is in the grip of depression or mania.
There are several things to consider if your spouse threatens divorce, particularly during an episode of either depression or mania. First and foremost, I hope you've read the report, Marrying Someone Who Is Bipolar, or the bipolar marriage article Financial Problems When Your Partner Suffers from Bipolar Disorder, which give you several tips on protecting your finances.
If not, as soon as your spouse threatens you with divorce you should make sure you visit your bank and any other financial institutions to ascertain the status of all your accounts. In the grip of mania, someone with bipolar can easily wipe out joint checking and savings accounts without a second thought, leaving you with no money for groceries, let alone a mortgage payment.
To be safe rather than sorry, open up accounts in your own name for all expenses and put half of all the money in this, then use it to pay bills. Allow your spouse to use the other as she wishes until you are sure the crisis is past.
Do you have a power of attorney or any kind of agreement that gives you limited control if she is in the grip of mania or depression? If so, talk to both an attorney and her doctor (there's more about this in the report, Marrying Someone Who Is Bipolar) about how to proceed. Be cautious, however. You don't want to play this card unless she truly is having an episode.
Encourage her to talk to her doctor and her therapist or psychiatrist if she insists on going through with a divorce. This is most definitely something that they should be aware of. If she refuses and you have had contact with them in the past, call and let them know the situation when you have an opportunity. Keeping them informed is always helpful.
If she brings divorce papers to you herself, you can often put things off long enough yourself to weather the initial storm. Ask her why she wants the divorce. Why now? Why in such a hurry? Then ask if you can have the papers so that you can review them with an attorney over the weekend (or over the next several days, whatever time frame seems believable at the time).
Avoiding confrontation at this point is crucial, since it will just make matters worse and could cause an escalating fight that will make both of you feel worse and elevate her mood. In some cases her mood will have stabilized or she will have changed her mind in the time it takes to review the paper work, which is what you're hoping for.
Perhaps Your Spouse Needs Something, But It Isn't A Divorce
1. SPACE - Ask your spouse if she will consider a temporary separation instead of a divorce. Perhaps she simply needs some time and space to cope with some overwhelming emotions, and in the throes of mania she has screamed out 'Divorce!' as a cry for something else she couldn't express clearly. Offering an alternative may be the lifeline that can save your marriage.
Suggest a separation as an alternative to divorce, offering time for her to see if she wants to live alone, but asking that she check in periodically and that she keep in contact with her doctor and therapist.
2. RE-EVALUATION - Try to get your spouse to see her doctor or therapist and agree to a re-evaluation of her medications. In many (but not all) cases, a severe mood swing that results in disruptions to the marriage is triggered by a need to change medications or adjust the amount of medications currently being taken.
3. COUNSELING - Even if you've been coping with bipolar for years together, there are times when you hit a wall and things just seem to stall.
Perhaps your spouse has begun to feel like you've stopped listening or begun to forget just how difficult each day can be for her. Counseling can remind each of you just how much there is to cherish in each other and why you love each other and want to keep working at your marriage.
David Oliver is the nation's leading experts on helping and supporting a loved one with bipolar disorder. You can get learn about many of David's little known, yet effective strategies to cope and deal with your loved one's bipolar by clicking here right now. View all articles by David Oliver