Bipolar disorder can be nearly as traumatic for the partners of those with the disorder as it is for the patients themselves. The episodes of depression and mania that bipolar people experiencewhich can lead to emotional withdrawal, out-of-the-blue accusations and outbursts, spending sprees, and everything in betweenhave been shown to induce stress, sexual dissatisfaction, and money worries in their partners, as well as depression. Depressive phases, during which the bipolar partner feels hopeless and sad, can drag a healthy partner down, too.
Relatively few studies have been conducted on the effects of bipolar disorder on relationships, but the research is nearly unanimous that the disorder tends to cause both practical and emotional difficulties for couples.
For starters, the ups and downs of bipolar disorder can disrupt the rhythms and routines of a household. In a 2005 survey of people with bipolar partners published in Bipolar Disorders, more than half of the participants reported that their partner’s illness had reduced their socializing, required them to assume more household responsibilities, forced them to take time off of work, and caused financial strain. The participants also reported that their sex lives sagged when their partner was in a manic or a depressive phase; three-quarters of the women who were interviewed and 53% of the men complained of infrequent sex when their spouses were depressed.
Another study of bipolar caregivers found that 86% of the participants characterized the stress they experienced as a result of their partner’s illness as "major." And 9 out of 10 said they found it difficult to keep the relationship going.