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Dating with Bipolar Disorder: A Q&A with the LifeStance CMO

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By Lifestance Health on March 24, 2021

Dating with any mental health disorder can be a difficult endeavor. People who live with a bipolar disorder face unique challenges in this pursuit. We talked with Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, Psychiatrist & Chief Medical Officer of LifeStance Health to see how people with a bipolar disorder can approach dating in a healthy way.

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Q: If someone with a bipolar disorder wants to start dating, how should they approach it?

A: With dating, it is important to be mindful of your time. Be aware of how long you are spending on a dating app and the time you spend trying to match with somebody. The most important thing is to maintain your sleep structure and consistency in your routine.

Approach dating just like you would approach a new job or hobby that you’re exploring. Remember that, just like anybody else, you still have the gamut of emotions and your own personality, but it is so important to be cognizant of your triggers that can send you into a manic, hypomanic, or depressive episode.

Be respectful and aware of your own triggers. It will be helpful to make sure you are connecting with your therapist, psychotherapist, and support groups while you are starting to date, to understand your diagnosis.

Q: When should someone disclose their bipolar disorder diagnosis to a romantic partner?

A: This is a very personal decision. It is important to feel comfortable with the person that you are dating and as you are thinking about getting more serious with somebody, you will start to disclose more personal information about yourself.

The same way you would introduce them to your family or friends, you can begin to disclose this part about you. Remember that it’s just like disclosing any other chronic medical condition you may have. For example, if you had asthma and needed an inhaler, or if you have type one diabetes and need insulin.

Q: How can someone with a bipolar disorder ask for their partner’s support?

A: You can approach this by engaging your partner in helping you with maintaining balance and consistency in your life. As I’ve mentioned, it is so important that you maintain your sleep schedule, routine exercise and healthy eating habits. This advice is important for anybody when they are dating.

The other part of this is talking and having honest conversations. Don’t be afraid to bring up your diagnosis and ask questions of your partner. As you get to know your partner, you also need to be in touch with your emotions and keep sharing those with one another, in the same way you would whether you had bipolar disorder or not.

Q: How can someone with a bipolar disorder prepare their partner for episodes of depression and mania?

A: Remember, just because you get angry or sad or tearful, doesn’t mean you are having an episode. We are all human and have the gamut of emotions. It’s a matter of recognizing your depth of emotions. You have to be aware of your reactions and make sure that that a life-changing moment doesn’t push you into an episode. Make sure you are still getting pleasure out of things and still reaching out to your network. You know yourself better than anybody else does, so remember your cues to prevent yourself from getting into an episode.

Q: How can partners support people with bipolar disorders?

It’s important to learn and be knowledgeable about your partner’s diagnosis and that it presents differently in everybody. You can prepare yourself by being open and curious about how your partner’s diagnosis is impacting their life.

You should approach this in a mindful and respectful way. Your partner’s bipolar disorder diagnosis is just a biologic condition and is just as much a part of who they are as the type of work they do or their likes and dislikes.

You can start to communicate and support your partner by having an open heart and being present and receptive to how they are feeling. Continue to be a loving and supportive partner.

When you start these conversations, remember to use “I statements” such as, “I want to be supportive of you” or, “what are some things I can help you with.”

Just like in any relationship, being in tune to one another’s emotional state, continually learning and having earnest, humble curiosity and genuine care and love are incredibly crucial in building and maintaining a healthy relationship.

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