Can you be in a successful & committed relationship with a mental illness?

Loaded question isn’t it?

And certainly one that is filled with possibilities.

So, let me start at the beginning..

The divorce rate with one person diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, according to Psychology Today is at 90%.

Okay so that’s pretty confronting.

As you know, both my husband and I have Bipolar Disorder and dearest has a few others to add to his shopping list. Affectionately we are known as Mr. and Mrs. Bipolar.

As with all my posts, I can only ever speak from our personal experience. I can share with you what makes our relationship work and what has worked for the past thirteen years of marriage.

In a nutshell, the answer to the above question is:  Yes, you can.

Mind you, successful marriage with mental illness doesn’t mean tip toeing through the roses and tulips. It’s hard, gritty, gusty love with personal confrontation at our own behaviours, angst, shouting matches, brutal honesty, and hurt feelings.

Its also liberating, lovely, warm, authentic, real, unconditional, deep, honest, colourful, funny, accepting, flexible and splendiferous.

Being in a healthy and loving relationship with mental illness is possible.

So to give you a bit of context into our relationship. my husband was undiagnosed Bipolar for five years into our marriage and boy, it was rough in those undiagnosed years as newlyweds with a young family.

The deception, inconsistency, mood swings, irrational behaviour was very difficult. Coupled with the fact that in those five years we had two children under four added more stress to the situation. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t ready to chuck it all in on a few occasions. I just didn’t know what on earth was going on and that made me feel vulnerable and shut off. I didn’t really have anyone to turn to because like me, no one really knew.

The turning point came when we indeed had a crisis and my husband went into meltdown. I was teaching at the time and a fellow colleague advised that he go straight to the hospital and the following visits afterwards lead to the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder Type 2.

Fast forward a few more years, and after a medical procedure flipped a switch in my brain and a stint in an in-patient care facility whilst trying to work out what’s going on,  I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type 1.

We started our relationship without illnesses and we are now married with them. Sometimes we joke and say:

Hey I want a discount! You aren’t what I signed up for!

All jokes aside, we wanted to be in a committed relationship and keep our pretty special and awesome marriage. We love each other to pieces in a gutsy, authentic love that is deep and gorgeous. We also didn’t  want to give our beautiful kids  a childhood they had to recover from because Mum and Dad had mental illnesses.

So the following key points are what keeps our family ticking along.

Medication

We both choose to be medicated and it’s one of our marriage deal breakers if we are not. Uncontrolled mood swings ain’t fair on anybody, including the person swinging.

Whilst the highs of mania that is unmedicated can be quite awesome, the collateral damage that comes from that overrides the high, for us, hands down. Personally, I’m not prepared to chuck in our family or my relationship for unmedicated mania.

Compassion

This applies to the person you are with and to yourself. Please know that you are doing the best you can at all times even though it might feel like you are not. Be kind to yourself and to the person going through an episode or unwell periods.

Do take the time to self care. You can find ideas by following the link.

Accountability

“I yelled at you because you made me mad” or “I did this because you did that” shit doesn’t fly in our household from adults right down to our kids. There is always a level of accountability in our family. No one can make you feel or do anything. You need to own your responses.

You know, I used to feel taken for granted from time to time, until I realised that if I wanted to stop being a doormat, I had to get up off the floor. In many ways, we teach people how we wanted to be treated, that includes loved ones.

Sometimes if you internalise, folks don’t know where your limits lie. Voice them to avoid any misunderstandings and hurt feelings on both sides. Self respect and respecting relationships are important to keep things going inside your family unit and within your community.

Boundaries & Energy Investment

We all have our limits and it’s really important that they are vocalised. We have an open discussion as to when we are up to doing something, visiting a place, attending a function or when we are not.

Those boundaries exist within our family unit as well as how we interact as a family outside our front gate.

We say yes when we mean yes and no when we mean no and we don’t apologise for who we are as folks with a mental illness. It’s just how we roll.

What you think about also influences your family dynamic. Is a particular person, situation, occasion or event worth the arguement? Worth the energy investment? Can you afford to get exhausted and grumpy and perhaps trip into an episode that not only affects you and but your loved ones over this issue? Do you have enough spoons?

Humour & Flexibility 

My dad used to say if you don’t laugh, you cry – we joke in our household that when you are Bipolar you do both! Sometimes things are what they are and you can make the choice if you are going to get angry at it, let it go or have a good laugh. When you think  about it, sometimes, it’s worth the giggle!

Flexibility in not only our time, but our understanding and humour helps because it keeps us chilled and under control as well as taking away any added stress.

Honesty & Making shit right again

There are going to be mistakes, regrets and issues, that’s with any relationship. Our mouth kicks in before our brain and before you know it…”I shouldn’t have said that” makes an appearance.

Be honest.

There is no shame in saying, I stuffed up. Vulnerability, in my opinion is courageous. Owing it, is powerful. It also comes back to accountability. When you own it, you empower yourself. The more you try and cover it up….the worse it gets and the issues multiply. So not only are there problems about what was originally said, but also over the fact it was trying to be covered up.

Being honest with our kids who are currently aged 10 and 12 is so important to us. Transparency is fundamental and an absolute priority. Things like:

“Mummy has her grumpy pants on today, so if I am a bit yelly it’s not your fault”

“Dads going through an episode so the reason you hear yelling is because he cannot communicate properly at the moment. It’s not your fault”

“I really want to come to your school assembly, but Mum is having a hard time people-ing right now. I’m so proud of you”

We don’t want our kids to have a childhood they need to recover from and we also want to let them know that you can have disabilities and still live a pretty awesome life…sometimes crappy…but mostly awesome.

finally – saving the best for last..

Love….lots and lots and lots of it 

There’s a reason why you fell in love with the person you are with. Mental illness is a part of who they are, but not the total picture. Love yourself,  love the person you are with. How? Be yourself, be authentic. I couldn’t be less real if I tried. It’s too exhausting trying to be something I’m not. So I found that I’m loved by the right people and dismissed by the others that are not. That’s okay, we are not for everyone. Give the cuddles and kisses when you can. Remind yourselves why you are together.

These are just some of the things that keep us together as a family and as a married and committed couple with lived experiences of mental health issues and disabilities.

Much love,

Maree ❤

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