Bipolar Disorder and Relationships

The Kanye West (now known as Ye) and Kim Kardashian’s divorce saga is being put in the spotlight for the most unexpected reasons. This is mostly due to Ye’s response on social media following the divorce proceedings.

In summary, Ye has been accusing Kim of kidnapping his children or preventing him from seeing them, criticising her relationship with her current boyfriend Pete Davidson, questioning her parenting, insulting Pete repeatedly on social media and asking his followers to verbally criticise Pete on his behalf. Additionally, he believes that he is fighting for his family and that God will bring him and Kim back together.

Ye has previously been transparent about his bipolar disorder and claimed to have stopped taking medication.

Kim has largely remained silent on this issue on social media, except for one post where she says Ye is making co-parenting “impossible”.

Many speculated Ye’s struggle with bipolar was allegedly the cause of their divorce and it triggered his erratic behaviour following the divorce proceedings. However, these are just speculations and there is no concrete evidence showing the correlation between Ye’s struggles with bipolar and the divorce.

The takeaway here is that there are people out there who are in a relationship with someone who struggles with bipolar disorder. Hence, it’s pertinent to understand how they navigate through relationships, so we too can learn something from them.

To discuss further about bipolar disorder and relationships, below is a conversation with Taylor’s University Psychology lecturer Pang Chia Yee, who specialises in sex and relationships.

1Twenty80: How can you tell if your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse has bipolar disorder? Also, what are some of the red flags to look out for?
Pang Chia Yee: First of all, we need to understand that bipolar disorder is a spectrum, meaning it can range from mild to severe. There are also a few types of bipolar disorder according to the DSM-V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual – Five). Generally, a person with bipolar may shift from extreme highs (also known as mania) to extreme lows (known as depression) – or vice-versa, with the presence of a ‘normality’ mood in between the two extremes.

Some possible red flags to look out for are:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse 
  • Reckless spending 
  • Frequent mood swings

However, in the context of a relationship, do note that it is harder for you to put the pieces together and identify that your partner has bipolar disorder as compared to a third party. Such disorders require a professional diagnosis rather than a partner potentially mislabelling the other in the relationship.

First of all, we need to understand that Bipolar Disorder is a spectrum, meaning it can range from mild to severe.

1Twenty80: What causes bipolar disorder? What are the triggers that will ‘set off’ an episode?
Chia Yee: There are some risk factors that may cause bipolar disorder, such as environmental stressors, genetics (you may find a relative who has this disorder if you trace your family history), chemical imbalances in the body, or changes in the brain.
Some triggers include stress, lack of rest or sleep, breakdowns in relationships or divorce, alcohol, drugs, the weather (winter tends to be more depressing), pregnancy (because of the change in hormones), loss of job, loss of any sort, financial stress, and environmental and external pressures such as the pandemic.

There are some risk factors that may cause bipolar disorder, such as environmental stressors, genetics), chemical imbalances in the body, or changes in the brain.

1Twenty80: If one is in a committed relationship with someone who has bipolar, what can one do to help him or her and work towards a strong relationship?

Chia Yee: Identify things that trigger them and hopefully they will be honest and open up to you through sharing their ups and downs. Do not take it personally or blame yourself when they are in an extreme mood.

It is also useful to:

  • Encourage your partner to seek professional help.
  • Accept and understand your own limits.
  • Be patient and accepting.
  • Seek to understand and find out more about his/her disorder/ difficulty.

While I encourage the person to also persuade the partner to seek professional help, understandably social stigma or self-pride would be a challenge as it really depends on how the individual perceives mental illness in general and the idea of seeking help.

Some tips to help persuade a loved one is to demonstrate how much this therapy means to the relationship. Another way is to let them know that you don’t know how to support the other half (who has the issue) and you want to know how to assist them. Hence, you require their ‘assistance’ and you are willing to be there at therapy with them. Also note that finding a suitable therapist is important, so if your partner does not ‘click’ with the therapist or psychiatrist, find another one.

1Twenty80: If a partner or spouse with bipolar or mental health disorders start to escalate in their actions towards an individual, what should the person do?
Chia Yee: Always remember that your safety comes first. If your ex-partner or ex-spouse with bipolar or mental health disorders starts to be physically or verbally abusive or aggressive towards you, you need to inform the authorities (police officers), your family, and neighbours. As for professional help, you do not need to wait till the situation becomes dangerous to seek help.

Relationship with someone who’s struggling with Bipolar Disorder requires a lot of understanding and patience.

1Twenty80: There are people who have very bad and sudden tempers, and they overreact to the smallest issues. Is this a symptom of bipolar disorder?
Chia Yee: It’s hard to make a conclusion based on just these statements, and more investigation is needed. Sometimes these behaviours develop from certain causes, such as pent-up emotions/ stress or childhood trauma, and may not necessarily be a disorder. However, it’s possible for bipolar disorders to develop depending on how these stressors have impacted the brain over time.

Being in a relationship with someone who’s struggling with bipolar disorder requires a lot of understanding and patience. Couples should not be afraid to seek therapy if needed. Individuals should also inform authorities when a relationship turns abusive under any circumstances.

Sidebar There are several 24-hour lines which you can contact for help, if needed:

  • Police (999)
  • WAO Hotline (03-3000 8858)
  • Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) SMS or Whatsapp Line also known as TINA (018-988 8058)
  • Talian Kasih hotline (15999) or Whatsapp (019-261 5999)