What should I do about my husband's refusal to get professional help with his bi-polar disorder? I want our marriage to work, but the strain on our relationship is becoming too much to bear. Do you have any advice for me?
Bipolar disorder is a serious and extremely complex mental illness. Causes may include genetic, as well as environmental and medical factors. For these reasons, optimal treatment consists of a combination of medication, therapy, and spiritual support. In most cases, medication (usually mood stabilizers, and if deemed appropriate by a physician, antidepressants) is indispensable, along with Christian counseling for the sufferer, his spouse, and sometimes his family.
If your spouse is unwilling to agree and adhere to a plan of treatment, your response will have to focus primarily on the need to protect yourself and the other members of your family from the negative fallout of his poor choices. This could mean a number of different things: "tough love," intervention, possibly even a temporary separation, designed to "force a crisis" in your husband's life. Without detailed information we really aren't in a position to suggest a more specific plan.
In the book Mood Swings, Dr. Paul Meier suggests that you nurture, support, and encourage the person with bipolar disorder while also maintaining realistic expectations and setting appropriate boundaries. Such limits will depend on your individual situation. They might include:
- Taking away all credit cards.
- Assuming legal control over bank and other financial accounts.
- Taking away car keys during a mood-swing episode.
- Urging hospitalization (in spite of resistance) whenever the sufferer is out of control.
Meanwhile, both you and your spouse need to understand that there is nothing sinful or shameful about seeking professional psychological and medical assistance in cases of genuine bipolar disorder. It's a condition that arises from an imbalance between chemical neurotransmitters which function to control mood and euphoria within the brain. As such, it's a problem that can and should be dealt with medically. There are many other diseases associated with similar chemical imbalances – for example, diabetes and thyroid disease – but few carry the social stigma that is often attached to bipolar disorder. As you're probably aware, many uninformed people draw a connection between this particular disorder and the sufferer's moral and spiritual character. This is a dangerous misunderstanding that needs to be corrected.
You are in a difficult position, and you need all the outside help you can get. We'd strongly encourage you to seek out the fellowship of a support network, possibly through your church or a special interest group. You should also consider the option of getting assistance from a licensed Christian counselor, with or without your husband's willing participation. You're welcome to call our counseling staff for a free consultation. They can also provide you with a list of referrals to qualified family therapists in your area.
Bipolar Disorder: A Brief Overview