Can someone with bipolar disorder be faithful? 

Infidelity-related behaviors are often found to be common in individuals who struggle with bipolar disorder. 

However, a well-adjusted individual diagnosed with bipolar who is able to have honest and open communication in the relationship can be faithful and have healthy and successful relationships and marriages. 

There is no relationship without challenges, it is normal to find that couples no matter race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age group face ups and downs. 

However, a relationship that has an individual with diagnosed bipolar disorder struggle with is the question of fidelity or the diagnosed individual’s tendency to cheat on their partners. 

Though there is sparse statistical certainty on the rates of infidelity in individuals with Bipolar Disorder, it has been found that individuals with the disorder have a higher tendency to struggle with relationship adjustment- infidelity being one of the elements as found by this study

A 1975 study conducted on the sexual experience found infidelity to be more common among people with bipolar with the study citing 29% of people with bipolar disorder had cheated on their spouse 10 times or more.

To answer the question of can one’s bipolar diagnosed partner be faithful, one must understand what the disorder is and what makes it likely that they might cheat on you.

What is Bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder, according to the American Psychological Association in the DSM- V, categorizes Bipolar disorder as a mood disorder that is marked by  intense emotional states that typically occur during distinct periods of days to weeks. 

The disorder is characterized by three main symptoms that can occur which is manifested in the individual’s behavior and mental state. 

  • Mania

While experiencing mania, a person with bipolar disorder may feel an emotional high. They can feel excited, impulsive, euphoric, and full of energy. 

This may pose a threat to their psychosocial functioning like carrying out responsibilities or making rational decisions. 

They often engage in risky behaviours, for example, spending sprees beyond financial capacity, engage in risky sexual behaviour like unprotect sex with strangers or infidelity putting their relationships at risky. 

  • Hypomania

Hypomania is similar to mania, but it’s not as severe. Unlike mania, hypomania may not result in any trouble at work, school, or in social relationships. 

  • Depression.

During this episode, one experiences symptoms of depression such as:

Deep sadness, hopelessness, loss of energy, lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed, periods of too little or too much sleep, suicidal thoughts

The disorder is further categorized into three types:

  • Bipolar I

Bipolar I disorder is diagnosed when a person experiences a manic episode and may include a depressive episode with possible neutral episodes where no symptoms manifest. 

  • Bipolar II

A diagnosis of bipolar II disorder requires someone to have at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode. People return to their usual functioning between episodes.

  • Cyclothymic 

Cyclothymic disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder involving many “mood swings,” with hypomania and depressive symptoms that occur frequently continuously for at least two years.

Individuals with any type of Bipolar disorder face the risk of behaviors that may put them or others in face of physical harm or psychological distress due to their manifesting behaviour during their episodes. 

An individual in their manic episode may become reckless, unable to consider the consequences of their behavior, and may have a general carelessness towards their roles and responsibilities driven by impulse. 

Studies have found that individuals with bipolar disorder have a higher tendency to be controlled by their impulses.

Challenges in a bipolar relationship

Bipolar disorders are often found to have a lot of challenges due to the suddenness of the episode shifts. 

Your partner, especially one that is not under treatment- medication or therapy, can experience shifts in mood which come unannounced. This often causes a lot of misunderstandings and emotional distress. 

There is also the challenge of the manic episode which often includes high sex drive, and disregard of social constraints and consequences. 

Your partner may exhibit higher libido, disregard responsibilities such as work, parenting, or share responsibilities that has been discussed prior in the relationship which may cause a lot of tension. 

Distress may also develop during the diagnosed individuals depressive episodes where one may exhibit behaviours related to suicide or suicide ideation, they may cause worry due to their lack of appetite and sleep. 

Major relationship struggles arise when one partner has diagnosed mental disorder while the other partner struggles with boundaries and a fractured sense of self. 

Often partners who themselves struggle with ineffective emotional regulation, unresolved childhood trauma, unhealthy patterns of attachment styles are those that find themselves struggling more than others in relationships that have the other partner with a mental disorder. 

Oftentimes, people who have an insecure attachment style will find themselves struggling to make peace with their Bipolar partner’s manic episodes or depressive episodes. 

Cycling moods can be stressful for both partners. This stress may compound the challenges of managing differences in needs, wants, even libido.

Why is infidelity more common in bipolar relationships?

The high frequency or likelihood of infidelity in a relationship with an individual diagnosed with bipolar disorder is often regarded as Bipolar infidelity, though it is not a standardized term. 

It has been found that the likely cause of the infidelity is a combined result of the partner’s hypersexuality, impaired judgment, poor impulse control, and grandiosity brought on by mania.

To understand why it is more common one must understand what is hypersexuality. The Goodtherapy summarizes hypersexuality related behaviors in bipolar individuals as:

  • A sudden, unexplained increase in sexual feelings.
  • Overwhelming sexual urges that cause immense distress. A person might continue thinking about sex even when they don’t want to.
  • Feeling intense and painful feelings of rejection if a partner is not interested in sex.

It is this particular manic- related symptom that often causes strain in other aspects of the relationship which creates tension in the relationship. 

When one partner wants sex much more frequently than the other does, the partner who wants sex more often may feel rejected or ashamed and may sex out sexual partners from outside the relationship. 

At the same time, the partner with the lower sex drive may feel pressured and find themselves resenting their partner, fear that their partner may seek sexual gratification elsewhere especially if this has been a recurring pattern, and develop mistrust.

 Is it possible for my  Bipolar partner to remain faithful to me?

Having a partner who has been diagnosed with bipolar disoder doesn’t mean they will be an unfaithful partner, but it does make infidelity more likely, according to statistics. 

Infidelity for people with bipolar disorder is usually fuelled by mania meaning that the cause of the infidelity is not so much about the person but rather their symptoms. 

Specifically their  poor judgment, lack of impulse control and hypersexuality. In fact, “sexual indiscretions” are such a common marker of bipolar illness that this symptom is listed in the DSM-5’s diagnosis criteria. 

While Statistics on bipolar disorder and infidelity can make it seem like odds are stacked against relationships where mental illness is a factor. 

Fortunately, the most debilitating and risky symptoms of bipolar disorder are the easiest to treat. Mania-related symptoms in bipolar I can be managed through treatment- medication and therapy. 

Whether your partner goes to counselling and therapy alone or with you- in couples counselling- it is often advised that to have a healthy relationship with an individual with Bipolar disorder when you yourself struggle with issues related to attachment to seek out couples counselling to understand each other’s needs and establish boundaries in your relationship. 

Maintaining a healthy relationship with a partner who has bipolar disorder.

If you find yourself in a relationship where your partner has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder here are a few things for you to consider if you want this relationship to work out long term.

The goal here is to develop healthy boundaries that protect you, your partner, and the relationship.

  • Educate yourself

On disclosure from your partner about his Bipolar diagnosis, you can start by educating yourself about the disorder by reading up articles and material backed by research. 

You can even choose to enroll yourself to groups and forums that tackles the same issue that you are struggling with. 

Be it fear of your partner cheating on you or the struggles of having to live with your partner during his manic episodes, or simply because you want to learn more about the disorder and equip yourself with tools and skills necessary to navigate the relationship. 

  • Learn about your partner’s personal experiences with the disorder

Do not assume that every symptom of the disorder is the same as the oe your partner faces, each individual struggles with mental disorders differently. 

  • Strive for open communication

Sitting down with your partner to discuss and understand each others needs in the relationship can be a good way to set boundaries.

Understanding what works for you and what does not work for them through an open and non-judgemental conversation can be effective in setting aside unrealistic expectations of each other.

This can also go into a discussion regarding shared sexual experiences during their manic episodes. For example, a mutual understanding that they can use porn as a way to meet their hypersexual needs if you are unable to comply with them. 

  • Support their care

Be it their therapeutic journey or their medication treatments, it can be immensely supportive and affirming to the individual if the partner seeks to understand and support their journey towards healing and managing their symptoms. 

It is also a way to affirm their own responsibility of the symptoms and their manifesting behaviors especially if both partners are serious of making things work for the long run. 

  • Couples or Individual counseling

When the going gets tough, you and your partner can seek professional help to regulate stress within the relationship. 

Through couples therapy, you can work towards learning skills and techniques that can benefit the relationships and each other’s needs. 

You also have to remember that if the strain of the relationship is too much for you, the individual relationships can also be something you can invest yourself in as a way to build resilience, protect and nurture oneself, and gain insight. 

Frequently asked questions related to ‘Bipolar disorder and Infidelity: How likely is it?’

Can bipolar cause you to cheat?

The cause of infidelity in relationships when a partner has bipolar disorder is often due to symptoms related to the manic episode: specifically their poor judgment, lack of impulse control and hypersexuality, and not the disorder in itself. Meaning that a person with the disorder is not guaranteed that they will cheat.

How long do bipolar affairs last?

In case there is infidelity in the relationship, affairs fueled by impulsivity, poor lack of judgment, and hypersexuality may last as long as the manic episode does- weeks or even months. 

Should you marry a person with bipolar disorder?

Many people with bipolar disorder have happy, successful marriages provided that the individual diagnosed with the disorder takes full responsibility by accepting the diagnosis and seeking treatment. 

While marrying an individual with a mental disorder can be stressful, you and your partner can seek help to cope with the stress.

How does one cope with hypersexuality?

Here are some ways that one can cope with hypersexuality during a manic episode as listed by bphope:

  • Be Consistent with your treatment and medication.
  • Avoid triggers by being mindful of your fluctuating moods and symptoms.
  • Physical exercise can be a useful outlet in letting out tension related to a high libido.
  • Sex therapy for you and your partner could be one way to resolve issues related to your sex drive.

Can someone with bipolar disorder have a normal relationship?

You can have a healthy, happy relationship with a partner who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or even when you yourself have the disorder. It will take combined effort to manage the symptoms, build trust, set boundaries to have the relationship flourish. You and your partner can opt to seek couples counseling together to help you cope with the challenges of the relationship.

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).02-Apr-2021

Kathleen Holmes, M., Bearden, C. E., Barguil, M., Fonseca, M., Serap Monkul, E., Nery, F. G., Soares, J. C., Mintz, J., & Glahn, D. C. (2009). Conceptualizing impulsivity and risk taking in bipolar disorder: importance of history of alcohol abuse. Bipolar disorders, 11(1), 33–40. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1399-5618.2008.00657.x

Muke, S. S., Ghanawat, G. M., Chaudhury, S., Mishra, S. K., Verma, A. N., & Singh, A. R. (2014). Marital adjustment of patients with substance dependence, schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder. Medical Journal of Dr. DY Patil University, 7(2), 133.

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