Bipolar infidelity is a common – and tragic – consequence of mania and hypersexuality. It is critical to discover the facts and avoid the pitfalls of this detrimental aspect of the disorder.
In this section we will discuss infidelity causes, solutions, and some unfortunate statistics. We hope this information helps you to learn more about Bipolar infidelity so you and/or your loved one can implement measures to prevent this consequence of manic episodes.
Bipolar infidelity represents one of the most common, but also one of the most taboo, Bipolar symptoms. Not everyone with Bipolar Disorder will manifest this symptom, but it does occur in some cases.
This is a page I have wanted to write for a long time because it is SUCH an important topic, and because it is the issue, I get the most questions and requests about.
However, it is a difficult subject for me personally because this was the primary way my Bipolar symptoms became evident and the manner in which my most serious manic episode manifested.
Sadly, too few people yet realize Bipolar cheating is one of the most typical bipolar symptoms of all.
My own Bipolar infidelity destroyed my relationship, my finances, my self-respect, my happiness, my peace of mind, and my entire sense of self, so I hope there will be readers who can benefit from my story and my mistakes.
The cause of the infidelity is hypersexuality, impaired judgement, poor impulse control, and grandiosity. These are scary and severe Bipolar symptoms all brought on by mania. The solution is to stabilize the bipolar spouse and treat the mania – invariably this is best done with a proven mood stabilizer such as lithium.
In this sense, there is nothing personal about Bipolar infidelity. Of course, it does not feel that way to the spouse/partner of the Bipolar person, especially if sexual cheating has been accompanied by emotional withdrawal and/or irritability. However, this behavior is a Bipolar symptom and is also generally part of a manic episode.
Bipolar symptoms are not always personal
I know this is a difficult concept – how ridiculous to say that this most personal and intimate of betrayals is “nothing personal.” I am not asking you to not react to this controversial statement or to not feel all the hurt and anger that infidelity creates. In order to understand things though, and in order to improve the situation, you must try to engage a more detached and rational side of yourself. Try, if possible, to separate your unfaithful partner as a person from the manic behavior.
Sometimes “hate the sin, love the sinner” is too much to ask and it is not possible to forgive cheating. Nobody else can decide this for you, but I do know that regardless of whether or not you stay in the relationship, you will feel much better if you can understand this central point: A Bipolar person cheats in the grip of mania. It is the illness in one of its ugliest manifestations. It would not have happened if your partner had been well and stable. It is a symptom of the disease; unfortunately, quite a common one.
The decision to forgive will require you to have important information so you can decide how much of it was “mania” and how much of it was “personal.” You need to know if your partner was on medication at the time and look for all the other signs of a manic episode. Talking to a professional could be very helpful here.
Please think carefully about this information on Bipolar infidelity. However, I know that AN EXPLANATION IS NOT AN EXCUSE!
The more you can understand how mania fuels hypersexuality, impairs judgment, and distorts the Bipolar person’s underlying personality and character, the quicker you can move on.1
Your only point of power is in the present, so while your partner MUST take responsibility for their infidelity, you MUST keep moving forward if you are to overcome this betrayal.
Like almost everything else to do with mental health, cheating by people with Bipolar Disorder has not been scientifically studied nearly enough. However, there is some research that has been conducted on this topic.
A 1975 study that looked at lifetime sexual experience found extramarital sexual experiences to be more frequent amongst Bipolar people, as 29% had had 10 or more experiences.
According to figures quoted by Goodwin and Jamison (year), hypersexuality was reported in 57% of manic individuals, based on averages across seven studies, with a range of values from 25% to 80%!
And remember, “sexual indiscretions” is such a significant marker of Bipolar illness that it is included in the DSM-IV’s diagnostic criteria.
It is not a good idea to persist in a relationship with a Bipolar spouse who will not actively seek treatment, comply with their medication regimen, and work at getting and staying well.
If sexual promiscuity has been part of their manic behavior, consider using a condom to protect yourself from STDs at least until you are sure your Bipolar partner is stable, and get tested for STDs, including HIV/AIDS.
Also, keep an eye on joint finances, consider how to restrict your partner’s access to money, and also how to avoid liability for any debts they incur. It is not uncommon for someone on a manic spree of Bipolar hypersexuality to destroy their finances in order to have sex
Every day remind yourself:
– the infidelity was not your fault
– the infidelity resulted from your partner’s Bipolar mania. They made a terrible choice fueled by hypersexuality, impulsiveness and impaired decision making ability
– you are loveable, desirable and you deserve better. Your partner MUST actively work at avoiding further manic episodes for you to even consider a second chance
– you have options and can make decisions in your own best interests and those of your children (if applicable)
– you can heal from this as an individual. Given the right attitude and treatment, it may also be possible for your partner to heal, and it is possible to heal your relationship.
Cheating on a Bipolar partner
Bipolar infidelity cuts both ways. Sometimes it is not the Bipolar partner who strays. Being in a relationship with a Bipolar person can create some difficult circumstances that may promote infidelity.
For example, some medications cause weight gain and loss of libido. This can be difficult for the other person who finds themselves in a relationship with a Bipolar partner who is disinterested in sex and looks different physically to the person they were first attracted to. Also, if a Bipolar person is having a depressive episode, they may have little desire to make love and may be emotionally withdrawn or unavailable.
This can be very isolating and make the partner of a Bipolar person feel rejected, angry, frustrated – all the negative emotions that so often trigger infidelity.
Therapy is essential
Regardless of which partner is cheating (or tempted to cheat), or which has Bipolar Disorder, GO TOGETHER to therapy.
My personal perspective is that therapy and counseling are essential, either after the Bipolar infidelity, or when the person is showing signs of an impending manic episode. It is important to go together, and to see a therapist who is experienced in treating Bipolar Disorder. One of the terrible ironies of my own manic meltdown was that I was in therapy at the time! I even told my psychologist about my cybersex addiction. Unfortunately, I was seeing someone who did not have the skills and knowledge to recognize the disorder. Couples counseling with an experienced professional could have saved my relationship, so PLEASE do this for yourself.
Bipolar infidelity and the Internet
The Internet does not, in itself, cause Bipolar infidelity, but wow – it sure can fan the flames! I know because this was my own downfall. If a Bipolar person looks like they are becoming manic, it is a very good idea to move fast to restrict or monitor their access to the Internet.
In particular, be aware of the following: Chat rooms and typical internet dating sites may look different – especially if the chat room is for bipolar support – but both can harbor folks who are looking for sexual connections. If your loved one is spending a lot of time in ANY kind of chat room, you need to know what is going on. If they appear defensive or secretive, you need to talk. Of course, they may be getting much needed support and are entitled to privacy and space, but hanging out in any potential pick-up joint is a recipe for disaster when mania is brewing. Also learn about bipolar sleep, as insomnia and late night surfing are symptoms AND warning signs of pending mania and, by extension, possible infidelity..
The crazy spending sprees and irrational financial decisions that characterize bipolar mania are a form of betrayal.
Restricting or monitoring Internet use, or cutting off access to finances, may sound heavy-handed or provocative. However, as someone who destroyed a wonderful relationship through my own Bipolar infidelity, I believe these actions can be necessary, constructive and loving.
A Bipolar treatment contract is an agreement a Bipolar person makes with their loved ones during periods when they are well, in order to handle the difficulties that may arise if the Bipolar person becomes unwell.2
(You can read more about treatment contracts and other practical tools in The Bipolar Toolkit, available from the Bipolar resources page.)
Bipolar infidelity is such a huge, complex and painful topic. It is impossible to cover it properly in a webpage, so Bipolar Lives has just finished writing an e-Book about it. It is much more detailed, and provides practical, concrete tools for dealing with the before, during and aftermath of Bipolar infidelity – for both parties. Please visit www.bipolarlives.com regularly, as it is coming very soon.
My first book, The Bipolar Diet, was published a few years ago and is doing great:
Coping with a spouse that has Bipolar Disorder is wrought with many stressors for the caregiving (i.e., non-Bipolar) partner. Managing and getting through manic episodes, medication side effects, and residual symptoms in between episodes (among many other stressors) takes a toll on the caregiving partner. If/when infidelity occurs, it is often considered ‘the last straw’ for the non-Bipolar partner. Infidelity, although a well-known consequence of the disorder, is often far beyond what the caregiving partner is willing to understand, accept, and cope with. Many relationships and marriages do not survive infidelity, even if the cause is something that is out of the Bipolar person’s control.
When a person with Bipolar Disorder is in the midst of a manic episode, it is as if they transform into someone unrecognizable to all who know and love them. I recall when I used to work in an inpatient psychiatric hospital many patients were admitted during active and severe manic episodes. Some for the first time while others had more episodes than they or their families were able to keep track of. During family sessions, it was often revealed that the Bipolar person had been unfaithful to their partner when the mania was at its peak. The Bipolar person experienced extreme shame and guilt due to their actions while the spouse dealt with severe heartbreak and despair. This is undoubtedly a very difficult circumstance and the route the couple chooses to take regarding the future of the relationship will vary. Prevention efforts are key in order to avoid these often-irreversible consequences of mania.
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