Staying together: "Four things I've learned about relationships & mental health"
Bipolar Disorder - Your stories
Claire and her husband have been together for nine years. In that time they've learnt a thing or two about relationships, bipolar disorder, and each other. Here Claire shares the four key things that work for them...
Everyone knows maintaining a relationship is hard: there is a whole industry built on helping people stay together, from self-help books to therapy! But when you add a mental illness to the mix things can get a little more interesting. In addition to the “normal” relationship concerns, your partner becomes a carer, you have to start considering a second person even when you are really sick, and life can become really complicated.
My relationship is not perfect, few are, but in the nine years we have been together we have developed ways to communicate with each other. Along the way we’ve made mistakes, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve fought, and I’m sure this will continue throughout our lives together.
Everyone will tell you to be open, to talk to each other, not to hold back, to find time for your relationship. But there are some really important things I’ve learned in the past nine years, some of them aren’t things that people think to tell you, some of them aren’t things you realise are actually important, but it turns out they are vital.
1) Ask your partner how they are every day
It’s so easy when you are sick, and you have a partner who cares for you, to completely forget that they are a person as well. That they have feelings, that they may have had a bad day at work, that someone may have been rude to them at the shops, that they may be feeling depressed. I know I am guilty of being so consumed by my own feelings that I’ve completely forgotten my husband may need a hug or to vent. I have a reminder on my phone now so even when I’m feeling my worst I always give him the opportunity to offload.
2) 100% Honesty
This seems simple, but if you are anything like I am the barriers can come up to protect yourself so easily, but in a relationship this can cause friction and mis-communication. I can’t tell you how many arguments I would have avoided if I had just been honest from the outset. Just telling my husband he had upset me, or that I was feeling low or angry (even if for no reason) is always makes things less volatile than when I start bottling things up.
3) Look after yourself
As an example, I was having awful trouble with insomnia and with the help of my Care Co-ordinator I found a pattern using sleep hygiene techniques which has improved things massively. This has meant working out a new routine with my husband which has separated my schedule from his slightly. Now that we are both used to this we have found that actually we are both happier with it and get a bit more time for ourselves. Sometimes making something better for yourself can be good for the both of you.
4) Be “Normal” together
When you have a long period of instability with your illness it can become easy for your relationship to disappear and for both of your lives to become all about mental health. We have had patches where we will realise we haven’t been out for a meal, to the cinema, even watched a film at home together for months. Life will have become all about managing meds, my moods, appointments, anxiety, and so on. It is so important to keep a check on this and ensure you do things together you both enjoy. Even if this is just sitting and playing a game of Scrabble together once a week make sure you do it. There doesn’t need to be grand gestures, just time for you and your partner to be a couple, not carer and patient.
When you have something like mental illness in the mix it is so easy for life to get bogged down. Mood swings can cause upset and arguments, you may have care workers, doctors, nurses coming and going from your house, your illness may mean you have financial difficulties because you are unable to work. All of these things cause friction in a relationship and this is why we have to work hard to remind ourselves why we love that person, and what makes them special.
Check out our factsheets for more information about bipolar disorder and looking after yourself if you're a carer.