Relationship expert Jo Lamble answers many prickly questions in her book, Answers to Everyday Questions about Relationships. This week she has advice on how John can get the support he needs to deal with his partner’s mental illness.
I have been with my partner on and off for 20 years. She suffers from bipolar and although I love her with my heart and soul, I often find the mood swings too extreme. Because we split up quite frequently, my family and friends are finding the situation difficult to cope with, and the effect on my young son is devastating. I feel as though I am isolated from everyone and don’t know where to turn. Can anyone help me?
A. Unfortunately mental illness is still so misunderstood, so it’s not surprising that your friends and family are having trouble coping with your situation. And children often have to grow up very quickly when they see the effects of an illness like bipolar. It’s wonderful that you love this woman, but it can make it even harder to deal with the extreme mood swings and frequent break-ups. Have you had any couple counselling? I have seen many couples with similar issues and together, they can discuss ways to support each other and deal with the crises. Or sometimes, they make an informed decision to end the relationship. Depending on the age of your son, family counselling may be worth a thought as well, just so your son gets the support he needs. As for your friends and family, I’m assuming that they have educated themselves about bipolar. If not, you could recommend excellent websites such as the Black Dog Institute so that they can develop some understanding of the illness. In the meantime, why don’t you consider joining a support group, so you feel less alone? Again, details of support groups can be found online.
Family and couple’s counselling can be arranged by visiting your doctor and asking for a referral. The cost of this is often covered by Medicare.
Bipolar support groups – www.bipolar.com.au/support