Spotting Abuse in Bipolar Relationships

by John McManamy Patient Expert

The potential for abuse flows two ways in relationships involving one partner with bipolar and the other with “normal.” Typically, the abuser leverages the illness as a way of achieving dominance and control over his or her partner. In an abusive relationship, the behavior may start out innocently enough, but it never remains that way. Here are some of the warning signs.

Woman thinking

The “normal” partner: using the club

What may start out as an expression of interest and understanding in one’s illness may soon turn into a weapon of destruction. In no time, the “normal” partner refuses to recognize the other’s legitimate emotions and concerns and dismisses them as part of the illness.

Bottom line: You do not exist as a person.

couple arguing.

The bipolar partner: using the excuse

What may begin with the bipolar partner being candid about his or her illness may soon turn into a justification for refusing to take personal responsibility. Often, the offending behavior has nothing to do with the illness or any other related condition.

Bottom line: No one likes to be exploited.

woman pinching bridge of nose

The “normal” partner: being the sadist

Staying healthy involves taking sometimes elaborate precautions. This may involve getting to meetings well in advance or taking chill breaks or rigid sleep routines. The “normal” partner may work to defeat these efforts, typically through shame and ridicule, expressions of losing patience, and by not keeping to agreements.

Bottom line: Your distress has become your partner’s pleasure.

person holding a TV remote control

The bipolar partner: being the prima donna

It is one thing for the “normal” partner to show consideration for the bipolar partner’s needs. It is another to put up with that individual’s selfish whims. From the setting of the thermostat to hogging the remote, the prima donna always has a bipolar justification.

Bottom line: You are the hired help in your own castle.

man deep in thought

The "normal" partner: playing superior

People with bipolar are constantly second-guessing themselves about how well (or not) they are fitting in. Over time, the “normal” one may assist by finding ways to undermine his or her partner’s confidence. Typically, the bipolar partner is reduced to being the “crazy” one, the deficient one, the social misfit. It’s a wonder the “normal” one even puts up with him or her.

Bottom line: It’s amazing how fast this can happen.

dirty paint brushes

The bipolar partner: playing superior

People with bipolar paint Sistine Chapels. “Normal” people work in offices. Everyone knows that, right? The bipolar partner may remind his or her “normal” partner of this at every available opportunity. In this context, the “normal” partner is reduced to being the stuck-in-the-mud, the deficient one, the social misfit. It’s a wonder the bipolar one even puts up with him or her.

Bottom line: Even “normal” people can be made to feel abnormal.

John McManamy
Meet Our Writer
John McManamy

John is an author and advocate for Mental Health. He wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Depression and Bipolar Disorder.