How Do Couples Best Cope with Bipolar Disorder?

1. Professional support: Both PWBD and their partners reported seeking support from professionals, including therapists, nurses and physicians, to be essential for effectively coping with bipolar disorder, especially during difficult times. In addition to providing appropriate care in general, and responding with clinical interventions during more symptomatic periods, participants reported that professionals provided safe and confidential emotional support, particularly when others, notably their spouses in the case of partners of PWBD, were unavailable. For PWBD, when they were uncertain about whether they were doing well, professionals were able to respond appropriately, offering both medical care as well as reassurance if there were no concerns.

2. Social support: Both partners and PWBD described providing support for one another to the extent possible. In addition to providing pragmatic help (e.g. keeping track of medications, helping get to appointments, stepping in to take care of home and children during hospitalizations, etc.), participants consistently reported that open communication, free from secrets, and a decent sexual relationship, were important to long-term coping and relationship stability.

Participants noted that support from parents was very important for effective coping, including support from their own parents as well as in-laws. Again, support was both emotional and practical. Parents encouraged optimism and determination during difficult times, including giving breaks by taking over caregiving and other responsibilities when necessary. PWBDs specifically noted the importance of friendships for coping. Friends helped out with important basic issues, such as getting meals, in addition to providing in-person, one-on-one support. Partners also reported getting support from friends to a lesser extent, typically in times of heightened stress.

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