How to Date a Person with Bipolar Disorder

My most popular posts are ones relating to dating and bipolar disorder. I’m glad there are so many people interested in this topic. I’m also a bit puzzled by it.

Are there rules for dating a person with bipolar disorder? Yes, and they are the same ones for dating a person without any diagnosis of mental illness.

Here’s my list of rules for dating a person with bipolar disorder:

  1. Be genuine.
  2. Think of the needs of the person you’re dating before your own in so much as you can without harming yourself.
  3. Laugh when the other person is happy, and comfort them when they are sad.
  4. Communicate clearly your needs and listen carefully to what the other person needs, too.
  5. Get to know a little about bipolar disorder by researching it on the Internet, through books, or by asking healthcare professionals.

Again, I don’t think this list is exclusive to dating a person who has bipolar disorder. In my opinion, it pertains to any relationship. A person with bipolar disorder wants what any other person does from a romantic relationship. We want intimacy, understanding, and ultimately, love.

Having stated what I consider obvious, I’ll give some thought to what many see as the difficulties of dating a person with bipolar disorder.

I have read several online forums in which some people complain that the person they are dating who has bipolar disorder is moody. I read recently one description of a bipolar person running hot and cold. In other words, the person with the disorder seemed quite close and caring and affectionate one day. The next, they were distant and curt and even mean. My thoughts on this situation are few. Please, don’t ever ask the person with bipolar disorder whether or not they are taking their medicine as prescribed nor if their symptoms are flaring up. What you might try doing instead is explaining to the bipolar sufferer how you feel when they behave this way. Talk about your feelings and not about their disease. Try to keep any discussion centered on your feelings about observed behavior.

In fact, I would suggest that you not talk about their disease at all, unless they want to. I have bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t define me. I am many things, and having bipolar is only one piece. When you are together with the person you are dating, find other things to talk about, like art or music or movies or really anything other than the disease. Don’t talk about their medication regimen or other aspects of their treatment, unless they want to.

Plan activities they like, too. Ordinary things can become extraordinary. Baking cookies together can be quite flirtatious. Romance in the kitchen is a lot of fun really. A person with bipolar disorder needs to eat and so do you. Cook a meal together.

If you want to be extravagant, cook the meal for your date. Don’t let them assist you. Make him feel like a king or her like a queen. Tell him/her to sit and relax. I really enjoy having friends over and cooking something with love to give them.

If you talk by phone often or send text messages regularly and that suddenly stops, don’t assume the worst. Your date may simply be having a low period. Your date may not be good at expressing what is happening, and they may not desire to. Don’t take it personally. As with other things I’ve written here, ask what you can do to help them feel better. Offer hugs, asking nothing in return. Don’t assume it’s the disease. There are myriad reasons for a person with bipolar disorder to feel low. We are just as prone to sadness as anyone in the general population. A low point does not automatically lead to serious depression, which calls for a doctor’s intervention.

I can’t help but reiterate a person with bipolar disorder that is under treatment wants what every person does. We aren’t different.

What does one do when the disease really appears to be altering your date’s behavior? There may be times in which you find them behaving unreasonably or even in a bizarre fashion. All I can do is relate my experience and personal knowledge. I am not a doctor. However, I am a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health, and I have been trained in how to relate to other people with mental illness.

Here are my suggestions for dealing with a person who is acting out of the ordinary:

  1. Be genuine.
  2. Make sure you and your date are safe.
  3. Communicate using “I” statements. Don’t pummel your date with “you” statements and accusations.
  4. Speak about concrete examples of behavior that you are observing.
  5. Be respectful of your date and yourself.

I think it’s important to point out, however sad it may be, that the disease can affect a person negatively, and your feelings may get hurt. Only you can decide whether to continue dating an individual with the disorder. Only you can tell if that person is actively seeking help or not. Each situation is unique, and every person is special.

Mental illness carries a tremendous stigma. It is not fully understood by doctors and is less so by the general population. Having one does not mean that a person is not worth the effort required in forming a romantic relationship. All relationships need work.

If you are dating a person who tells you they have bipolar disorder, you should feel honored they shared that information. Thank the person for opening up. I dated a man for eight or nine months and told him my diagnosis only to have him abandon me, leaving my life without a trace even though I was completely stable during our time together. It scarred me.

Dating is all about enjoying yourself. Ask your date if they are enjoying their time with you. Talk often; listen more. Explore your own feelings and your date’s. Don’t assume any particular behavior is a symptom.

Finally, be genuine.

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12 thoughts on “How to Date a Person with Bipolar Disorder

  1. Good suggestions for dating and even platonic friendship. It is unfortunate if a date or friend chooses to bail but I do believe it is also for the best. Any individual that passes negative judgement on a relationship based on disclosure of a bipolar illness is too small minded to worry about. Many people who struggle with bipolar illness are exceptionally creative, profoundly sensitive and have a greater capacity for love and empathy than average. We are quite simply higher tuned. So many bipolar artists have reached pinnacles of success in every creative genre while struggling to manage their own demons. The range of feelings and emotions are sometimes overwhelming but often times the impetus for outstanding achievements.

    People with bipolar are a special breed. Living with a double edged sword isn’t easy but true love and friendship isn’t easy either. We have much to offer our families, friends and partners.

  2. I have a friend who was just diagnosed with BP after attempting to kill herself, not sure if it’s been defined as 1 or 2 however. She says she’s slightly manic now but in the 3rd week of her first ever medication/therapy regimen trying to see what works. From personal experiences I don’t like throwing out cliché expressions like “I’m here if you need me” so I have been trying to support her through my actions like taking her to movies, joining her on her jogs etc. We’re becoming closer, and as that continues, I wonder when would be a good time to ask her out? Obviously not now because she’s got a lot on her plate and she’s manic. I haven’t attempted, nor will I ever, to take advantage of any hyper sexuality she might be feeling during her mania because I want her response to be genuine and not mania-driven but on the other hand, I think the best time to ask her would be after a nice evening of having supper at her place because she’ll be most comfortable. Can you offer any insight? Thanks.

    • The first thing I would like to say is that you are doing a great thing by being this lady’s friend. What you have described and called supporting her through your actions is highly commendable. It’s what every person wants, and it’s what people with a mental illness lack so often. You sound like a true friend.

      It’s only my nonprofessional opinion, but you’re doing everything right. You’re taking it slowly. All relationships should be that way. You are also being very respectful of her. I like that. It speaks volumes.

      If I have any suggestions, it would be to ask about her new diagnosis and treatment. Tell her you want to become knowledgeable about what’s going on with her. Explain clearly that you don’t want to ever use her diagnosis or treatment as a weapon against her but that you want to understand what she’s going through. You can tell her that you’ve been trying to become educated about bipolar disorder so you can be supportive of her.

      I don’t think it’s wrong to tell her you’re interested in her romantically but you want to go slowly. Ask her how she feels. You could also say upfront that you want her to choose the time when you might start having dates. Put her in the driver’s seat, so to speak. That might take any pressure off her and will give her the power to choose when to move the relationship onto a more romantic level.

      Thank you for writing and best of luck to you both.

  3. I wouldnt smooth it over too much. To date bipolar yu all will need boundaries and self respect. And how to use it with them dont go studying bipolars or try fix them…youll need tools deal with thier anger, moods even maybe probably abuse outburst, dont make excuses for them…get edgy back, or they will walk all over yu youll be spun.

  4. Sorry I don’t agree with not asking if they are taking their medication. I have a father that regularly decides to go off his meds or decides to drink too much. He makes me life hell if I am not his eyes and ears. Be happy when someone at least cares enough to bring up the med issues. The problem is some people when in a bipolar hyper state can be very stubborn and you literally have to spell it out to them what is going on. Subtle suggestions just don’t always work when you’re in a certain “state”.

    • You know your situation best. Do what works. For many people with bipolar disorder, we often hear questions about our emotional state and medicine and other treatments thrown at us as weapons. It hurts.

  5. Thank you for this. I have a friend whom I am getting closer with who has liked me for quite a while and I enjoy hanging out with him and spending time. I have read some books on bipolar disorder because I find it fascinating. (For instance, I didn’t know until I read about it that there are different types.) I don’t know if my friend is in therapy currently but I know that he takes his meds. But he also drinks. (But then again so do I and I have depression.) It doesn’t sound like it’s easy by any means to be in a romantic relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder, but you’ve answered some of my questions.

  6. What about when a bipolar individual decides to stop dating you because they do not want to subject you to their life? How can you still be there for that person without being so emotionally distraught or heartbroken by the fact that they decided for you, whether or not a relationship should be pursued and they say they want to remain friends, for your own sake? Any suggestions here are appreciated very much.

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