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Dating and relationships with bipolar disorder

Dating and relationships with bipolar disorder
People with bipolar disorder can have successful and enriching romantic relationships if they inform, share and self-care 
Bipolar disorder (BD) is a chronic, recurrent and complex mental illness that causes wide fluctuations in mood.  
According to reports, “In the UK, over 1 million people have bipolar. That’s roughly 30 per cent more than the number of people who have dementia and twice the number of people who have schizophrenia”. 

What is bipolar disorder? 

Bipolar Disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings
For Marwaha Steven, Sal Nina and Bebbington Paul (2016), “Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a common, lifelong, mental health condition”. BD is characterized by “episodes of mania and depression”, during which extreme changes occur in emotions, energy level, cognitions, behaviours, and ability to perform daily tasks. 
In a manic state, the individual may feel full of energy, will and enthusiasm. Intense mania may include exalted or irritable mood, feeling of omnipotence, hyperactivity, extreme euphoria and verbosity, among other symptoms. 
"Individuals with BD may go from intense feelings of happiness and grandiosity to periods of despondency, irritability and fatigue"
In a depressed state, on the other hand, people experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, lethargy, despair and worthlessness. They have changes in appetite and sleep disturbances. The subject may not want to leave the house or do anything. 
Individuals with BD may go from intense feelings of happiness and grandiosity to periods of despondency, irritability and fatigue. As might be expected, the existence of major mood swings tends to cause problems in initiating and maintaining social and, especially, romantic relationships. 
Coping with mental illness is never easy. However, medical advances and new treatments have allowed many romantic relationships in which one partner has BD to thrive and endure. Despite the ups and downs, research and experts believe that this pathology does not have to limit the pursuit of love. 

How do you make a romance work when you have bipolar disorder?

As with all relationships it's important to have good lines of communication
All romantic relationships have their complications and challenges. They all require effort, and commitment, and this one is no different. Here are some tips for people with BD that can help build a healthy, loving relationship. 
  • Avoidance of self-stigma or internalised stigma 
According to Erin Michalak (2011) “Internalized stigma refers to a subjective process, embedded within a socio-cultural context, which may be characterised by negative feelings (about self), maladaptive behaviour, identity transformation, or stereotype endorsement resulting from an individual’s experiences, perceptions, [or] anticipation of negative social reactions on the basis of their mental illness”.
"People with BD internalise a stigmatised and negative view of the disease and, as a consequence, begin to perceive themselves as inferior, unworthy or defective"
In other words, self-stigma could be defined as a maladaptive process in which subjects with some mental illness accept sociocultural prejudices, and integrate them as part of their self-concept. 
In this case, people with BD internalise a stigmatised and negative view of the disease and, as a consequence, begin to perceive themselves as inferior, unworthy or defective. 
In order to begin a romantic relationship, it is imperative that the bipolar person confront the negative thought patterns that prevent them from interacting with others. 
  • Inform about bipolar disorder 
Many subjects with BD are reluctant to share their medical diagnosis. However, relationship specialists suggest approaching the situation honestly.  
It is not necessary for the person to disclose the diagnosis on the first date, but it is definitely an important step in building a bond in which trust prevails.  
In general, the romantic partner deserves to know the truth, and the subject with BD deserves to have a fully accepting lover. 
  • Stick to treatment to the letter 
It should be noted that, lack of psychiatric treatment can create all kinds of uncertainty and insecurity in romantic relationships.   
However, when BD is clinically diagnosed and controlled, it does not have to cause serious complications in a couple's functioning. Appropriate medication will effectively control the symptoms, as well as help prevent possible manic or depressive episodes. 
Having an active and continuous commitment to pharmacological and therapeutic treatment is probably the best way to preserve both the patient's health and the well-being of romance. 
  • Maintain self-care routines 
When entering into a relationship, many patients tend to discard daily routines in favour of spontaneity, impromptu dates, parties, and late-night phone calls. 
However, self-care habits (prioritising medication regimen, exercising regularly, maintaining a restful sleep schedule), are crucial factors in the day-to-day life of the individual with BD; a healthy lifestyle will contribute to improve the patient's quality of life, which in turn will be beneficial for the love bond. 
  • Do not hide the challenges of BD
Mental illness can be difficult to mask or hide. 
For example, when people with this mental health condition suffer a depressive episode, they may find it difficult to keep up with the usual pace of work or may lose the desire to socialise with those close to them.  
If the individual drastically changes behaviour, the romantic partner is likely to realise that something is wrong and ask questions about it. 
Good communication will always help in understanding the course of the disease; the more involved and aware the new person is, the less the romantic connection will suffer. 
  • Develop a functional sexual dynamic 
First, the BD subject should work with the medical team and find a drug treatment that is less likely to cause sexual side effects. In addition, sex therapy should be considered (individual or couples), as it is exceptionally helpful in guiding bipolar relationships. 
"It's a good idea to start talking about sex early in the relationship. By knowing what to expect, the partner can be prepared to meet the intimate challenges that may arise"
It's a good idea to start talking about sex early in the relationship. By knowing what to expect, the partner can be prepared to meet the intimate challenges that may arise.  
In general, during manic phases, increased libido often leads to promiscuous and risky behaviour. On the contrary, during depressive episodes it is quite common to lose interest in sexuality. 
It is necessary to explain to the new partner that, despite the episodes, it is entirely possible to create a pleasant and reasonable sexual dynamic that meets the desires and needs of both parties. 

Final thoughts on romantic relationships for people with BD 

There are plenty of clinical resources available to help people with BD and the people in their lives
Many people with bipolar disorder have satisfying and happy relationships.  
The best way to ensure the well-being of the relationship is for both the patient and the partner to be communicative and clear, to support each other, and to make use of clinical resources, especially during difficult episodes.  
People with BD, for their part, must be reliably committed to medications, therapy and healthy routines. 
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