When we were in Slovenia a couple weeks ago, Cecie and I did an interview for a televised report on bipolar disorder. The interviewer asked me what it was like to be married to someone with bipolar disorder. I stammered and stuttered, not really sure how to answer and then offered up some feeble response about how terrible it is during the manias, but how normal it is most of the time.
Over the past few days, I’ve given more thought to this question. The fact is that I really don’t know what it’s like to be married to someone with bipolar, because I’ve only ever been married to Cecie. The question should have been, “What is it like to be married to Cecie?” And, of course, to be fair, the interviewer should have asked Cecie, “What is it like being married to Joe?” (I must admit I’m not always the ideal mate… if such a creature even exists.)
Every marriage is as different as the two people whom the marriage has joined. So too is every marriage that includes someone with bipolar disorder. Infinite variations can arise based on whether the bipolar is characterized more by depression or mania or a combination of the two, how effectively symptoms are managed, whether children are involved, whether the couple has a strong support network in place, the partners’ attitudes toward mental illness, differences in personalities, family dynamics, the prevalence of stressors including financial or work-related issues, and a host of other variables. Marriage and bipolar do not exist in a vacuum.
I feel honored to be married to Cecie. I’m not sure whether it’s despite the bipolar or maybe, partially at least, because of it. Cecie loves life. She is very charismatic, engaging, intelligent, and talented. We have been married for 25 years, and when she’s not around, I feel awkward and clumsy. Yes, during the episodes of mania, life can be hell… for both of us as well as others in our circle. Bipolar is abusive and can coerce everyone involved into becoming monsters, me included. That’s during the bad times. Fortunately, for us, those times have been few and far between. I would venture to guess that most of the time our marriage is pretty much like most marriages… maybe better than most.
If bipolar disorder plays a role in your marriage or other intimate relationship, please share your insights. Perhaps we can create a collective collage that sort of represents what it’s like to deal with bipolar disorder in a marriage or other intimate relationship – positive and not so positive.