I read an article on Psych Central awhile back that’s been stuck in the back of my mind for some time. It contained a shocking statistic about marriages in which at least one partner has bipolar disorder: 90% of these unions end in divorce. Ninety percent! That means only one marriage out of ten survives the ravages of BP. And I can’t even imagine what the numbers are for those in which both partners have the illness.
I could have gone the rest of my life without knowing that. After all, I managed to blunder through 30+ years of marriage before I even knew I was BP. But it got me to thinking …how did Will and I make it? What gave us the edge over all the couples who split up over bipolar disorder?
Naturally, I have to give Will a huge amount of credit for sticking with me—literally—through thick and thin, good and bad, mania and depression. He’s held me close during the most challenging times of my life, which include the losses of a child and both my parents within a five-year time span. He’s endured my rages and rescued me from countless embarrassing situations when I was still a practicing drunk. He’s gone without new shoes so I could buy a pair for myself. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have a few quirks that drive ME up the wall, but overall he gives much more than he takes.
Still, we’ve always complemented one another; whatever I can’t handle, he can, and what he can’t handle, I can. I’m the one who deals with the taxes and other paperwork; he answers when the bill collectors call and will sit on the phone with the cable company for as long as it takes to resolve an issue. He did most of the cooking and cleaning when we had our own house; I was the main breadwinner. I filled out the kids’ endless school forms and advocated for them with their teachers and principals; he played with them and took them to the grocery store when I was too worn out from work to shop, let alone chaperone a rowdy bunch like the four of them.
So what happens when bipolar takes its toll on a marriage? I have several online friends who are divorced or are in the process of it, and the illness factors into every one of them. One woman’s husband moved out on her while she was in a psych unit; another left hers in the midst of a wild manic episode that started out with her flying across the country, to a city where she’d never been, and hooking up with a guy she met on the plane! (Thank God she had enough money to get back home when she came down.) Still another split with her spouse when he got arrested—again—following one of his manic rages; seems he mowed down his neighbor’s flowers and chased their cat, who apparently had crapped in his garden one too many times, with his riding lawnmower. Additionally, he has a long history of threatening people and getting into fistfights. He also refuses to take medication and denies he has a problem. I don’t blame her for leaving him. What else can you do?
It’s when I hear stories like these and read about the pitfalls of a relationship with someone who lives with bipolar disorder that I count myself very fortunate indeed that my marriage never became a statistic. We’re going on 36 years, and I don’t foresee anything happening that would land us in divorce court unless I go completely off the rails.
Now I’m curious to see if any of my readers are in the 10% of couples who stay together in spite (or maybe even because) of bipolar. If you are, would you mind sharing your success story?