Thank you so much in advance for the insight and advice you can provide me. I have been in a committed relationship for 9 years with a man who has undiagnosed/untreated bipolar disorder. I am 41 and my partner is nearly 40. Based on my partner's background and patterns of behavior, my own therapist has concluded that my partner is bipolar. Some history: my partner was the eldest of three children who grew up with divorced parents - a committed-bachelor father and a mother who was very unstable and abusive (emotionally, physically, psychologically) and who kicked my partner out of the house when he was 15. (My therapist notes that this childhood trauma created PTSD in my partner.) My partner married at 20 in what he now calls an attempt to make his life "normal." He had two children, a breakdown, and a divorce by the age of 26. By the time we came together 4 years later, he said he had "done work on himself" and had dealt with the traumas of his past. But I knew from early on that the traumas weren't "over" for him -- reaching out to others (me) when life gets stressful or there is some kind of upset is not an instinct in my partner. Instead he gets angry, irritated, resists help, shuts down and goes into himself (he is never violent). This has happened for weeks at a time, and sometimes a few months, and he always comes back to me. Until now, there has always been communication during these depressed times, even if it isn't exactly productive. The majority of the time, we are highly compatible, loving, active, and committed to each other. We share important values/senses of humor/goals and in 9 years together have built a very fulfilling life together - most of the time.
Two years ago we were living together & engaged when my partner had a severe depressive episode, brought on by the death of his hiking partner, who died in his arms on a hike. It was a horrific event, and the 6 months that followed were terrifying for me. My partner would not see a therapist. Even though we lived in the same house, my partner became a stranger - no communication, great frustration if I asked questions or reached out, no interest in me whatsoever. After 6 months we moved into our own homes and I thought for sure our relationship was over. Then, within weeks, my partner "came around" and we began to rebuild. He said he wondered if he had depression (I gently confirmed that he likely did), apologized for everything he had put me through (I told him I loved him, did not blame him because he had been through such an awful trauma with his hiking partner's death), and said he was open to seeing a therapist (I agreed it would be a good idea but didn't push this, because I honestly thought my partner had turned a corner -- he seemed so clear about everything now). My partner also said that he would never shut down and shut me out again; he said he realized he learned to do that as a child to survive his mother's rampages, but that he couldn't do it now as an adult. I said I was scared of it happening again, but he was adamant that it wouldn't. And so life carried on and we seemed to be back on track for most of last year. My partner was loving, present, communicative, and re-proposed to me in August. We were humming along. Then came December. About a month before then my partner had decided to drop out of a Ph.D. program he had begun a year before. He made this decision for very practical reasons and I was very supportive of it. He seemed fine about it. But my partner teaches in a school where 1/2 of the faculty has Ph.D.s and the other 1/2 has Masters degrees from very prestigious universities. My partner has a Bachelor's degree and I know he has felt inadequate about this (even though he is a phenomenal teacher). So December came and my partner became irritable and distant, even when we were together. My questions to him didn't resolve anything. When pushed, my partner blamed his mood on an argument we had one Friday night -- an argument that was quite run-of-the-mill. By January when I was pleading with him to tell me what is wrong, he referred vaguely to "what happened in December, I need to work it through in my head..." but when pushed for details he said "I don't want to talk about it right now" and I went cold inside. I realized that this is the language he uses before he shuts down...needing "to work something through in his head" and never wanting "to talk about it." It has now been a month and I have not heard one word from him. I have sent a few emails which have gone unresponded to. I have called several times (always going to voice mail). My number would obviously appear on his missed call list. As of this year, we don't teach in the same school anymore, and we don't live together, so it is very easy for him to avoid me completely. I suppose this period of no contact is not that different from those 6 months when we were living together and he figuratively "disappeared" when he was depressed. My gut tells me to just let him be, to realize that I've been through this with him before, it isn't about me, and there is nothing I can do until he's ready to interact. My heart, of course, is just broken. In less rational moments I think "He hates me" because what else can I think if my loving partner of 9 years just stops all contact? The historic pattern is that my partner comes out of the depression and returns to me, but I'm of course scared this won't happen. In non-depressed moments he frequently says "You love me more than anyone in my life ever has. No one has stuck by me like you."
If you have read this far, thank you. I suppose my question for those with bipolar is whether this total-shut-down behavior is typical? Do you recognize it? (Again, this is the first time where I haven't been able to "force" contact because of working and/or living together.) I have been sending weekly "I love you, I'm here" emails -- should I stop this? What do people with bipolar need from loved ones when they are depressed like this? When depressed in this way, does my partner actually forget about me and our relationship and our plans together? I suspect I'm trying to see something highly rational in his behavior, when there may not be. It pains me to read so many posts from people advising others to get out of relationships with bipolar people (my own therapist has advised me to "move on"). I know I have to continue living my life no matter what, and I also deeply love my partner, so I guess I'm holding on to the hope that he will re-emerge and be willing to begin therapy/medicine. Thank you so much for any insight and advice. Peace and blessings.