Loving With Bipolar Disorder: A Letter to My Husband

Letter to husband from a wife with bipolar disorder

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

It’s been one of those days. You know, the one where you wake up filled with hope that today is going to be the best day ever. I frequently wake up feeling this way. For me, it’s that I’m going to change, that I won’t be filled with despair at the end of the day, that I won’t feel the weight of sheer exhaustion of just being me. 

It’s only the afternoon but I already feel defeated. This is what life is like living with bipolar disorder. My rapid cycling of feeling manic and excited then shifting to easily irritated and triggered has already reared its ugly head. 

Sadly, the person I take it out on most is my husband. I married someone with no clinical diagnosis of mental illness. Although he experiences situational anxiety and sadness, like most, nothing neurological prohibits him to feel happiness like I do. 

Living with bipolar disorder is hard. I recently had a conversation with him about my own happiness. I expressed that it’s difficult for me to feel joy most of the time. The highs of my mania and sudden drops into depression seep into my everyday life and ruin most experiences for me. It truly is not easy to enjoy my life at times.

It’s only the afternoon but I already feel defeated. This is what life is like living with bipolar disorder. My rapid cycling of feeling manic and excited then shifting to easily irritated and triggered has already reared its ugly head.

I have seen psychiatrists, therapists, and checked into mental health facilities. I take my medications regularly and I have a fantastic support system of friends and family. My mood swings still happen almost daily and it’s taking a toll on my marriage. 

I often feel judgment and even resentment. But the lack of empathy is what triggers me the most. I understand being with someone diagnosed with bipolar cannot be easy. In fact, I imagine it can be heartbreaking. However, without empathy, you’ll never be able to give the grace and love that people who are suffering from mental illness really need. 

One of the most helpful books I have read on relationships and marriage has always been “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. He details five specific ways that we express and receive love. Learning these “languages” has taught me invaluable lessons that I try to apply to my marriage. 

The five love languages include:

And lastly, my personal favorite, words of affirmation.

I’ve always been better with words, especially when writing. Sometimes when I talk I become too emotional and the words just do not come out right. So to my husband, I write you this letter…

Dear my love,

I’ve often told you a funny bipolar quote that always makes me cringe and chuckle at the same time. “Bipolar- good in bed, hard to live with.”  What’s always been funny to me is that it’s somewhat accurate. Well, at least the latter part. 

I am hard to live with. Our love languages differ and it can be difficult to express my emotions. My mental illness affects my ability to think clearly and rationally. But hopefully, by writing this letter I can further explain how each love language can be used for us to better communicate in the future. 

Physical Touch: 

One of my symptoms of bipolar disorder includes bouts of mania and hypersexuality. I love touch. I think it’s one of the main components of our marriage that has kept us intimate and close. 

When I’m manic or spiraling it might seem like I am trying to push you away. However, for me at that moment, that is the complete opposite of what I want. I want you to hold me. I need you to physically wrap your arms around me and remind me, “Yes—this will pass.” 

Acts of Service:

When I’m manic and full of energy, I don’t mind doing all the chores to take that load off your back. I’ll cook. I’ll clean. I’ll randomly organize the house on a Sunday morning.

But when I’m in a depressive state? We both know that all changes. There are days that I cannot even muster the strength to get out of bed. I need you and “acts of service” more than ever in these down moments. 

I love that you’ll take the kids with you on long trips so that I can get a break. I love that you’ll do the school pickups and dropoffs when it just seems impossible for me to even get them in the car. And you know what I really love? How much time and love you pour into doing the things for me that take the weight off my back and help get me back on my feet. 

Quality Time:

Ah, quality time. We have four kids. How on earth do we make time for one another these days? I’m starting to realize it’s the little moments that count. It’s the small pieces of time we do have alone that make everything worthwhile.  

My mood disorder can bring me up, down, and all over the place. But when I’m stable and genuinely happy? We do enjoy those moments as fleeting as they may seem. I try to hold onto the good memories of our quality time rather than harp on feelings of discontent. 

Receiving Gifts:

My mania often causes me to overspend. Sometimes guilt combined with the desire to self-soothe through shopping has caused me to buy big, extravagant gifts for you and the kids. While I know you appreciate the gifts, I also know you’d much rather have me spend my money appropriately than on grand gesture presents. 

How can I show my love to you through gifts while also making sure not to overspend? Well, this letter is a perfect example. I hope this letter and its contents will translate in all the ways I do love and appreciate you. 

Gifts don’t have to have a monetary price on them. Some of my happiest gifts are when you and the kids go outside and bring me a flower you picked. I love the sticky notes you leave me on the mirror reminding me of your love. I love the practical gifts you give me even if it’s just the items on our grocery list. These small tokens or little surprises bring me so much joy in moments of despair when my bipolar disorder seems to be taking over my life. 

Words of Affirmation:

This is my favorite love language. Maybe it’s past trauma or maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always needed further validation through words as a reminder of your love. This occasionally causes disagreements between us as I know words aren’t your strong point. 

But words can also hurt. I know this personally living with bipolar disorder. I’m sorry for sometimes not having complete control over what comes out of my mouth when I’m in a manic or agitated state. Not all mania is euphoric and causes elevated feelings of joy. Sometimes I cannot manage my emotions and I take it out on the people I love the most. 

I’m sorry for not being everything you want all the time. I’m sorry that I crumble at times and feel the weight of my depression. It’s not that I want to give in to my sadness, but I truly cannot help it. But I do love you, and there is no end to that love.

I hope this letter explains to him that my mental illness is not my choice. I have had the unhealthiest coping mechanisms for the longest time in order to “treat” my bipolar disorder. In the past, this has involved drug use and smoking or drinking. When life feels too overwhelming, I’d rather numb the pain in any way possible.

Now as a mother of four, I cannot rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms. But what do you do when the one person you want to count on the most isn’t there for you? I have to understand and accept him for who he is and what he is capable of giving me. 

But what do you do when the one person you want to count on the most isn’t there for you? I have to understand and accept him for who he is and what he is capable of giving me. 

Sometimes love isn’t enough. Love can’t always sustain happiness during times of heartache and loss. I can’t rely on another person to make myself happy. As a person with mental illness, it’s completely unfair to have someone else’s happiness contingent on mine. I read this analogy on social media which has helped shift my perspective on love:

“Some people are ‘gallon people’ and some people are ‘pint people’. I live my life as a gallon person. I want to give a gallon, and expect to get a gallon in return. However, some people are pint people. They only want a pint. When you give them a gallon; it overflows and is wasted. Then when you expect a gallon to fill us back up, they only have a pint to give. A person is never going to be able to give you what you need; you need to find it somewhere else— or better yet, within yourself.”

Love is always something that should be given freely with zero expectations. Expectations become conditions and should never be motivations. If we get love, it should be a bonus but not the sole reason and purpose of our love. 

I still struggle with self-love, especially living with bipolar disorder. But by slowly learning to accept me and recognizing the limitations my mental illness may cause, I’ve learned to be a better partner and wife. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with bipolar disorder, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

By Tiffany Romito
Tiffany Romito is a Seattle-based freelance writer sharing her experiences with bipolar disorder. She holds her master's degree in Special Education.