Bipolar: The Change Trap


Today I want to talk about CHANGE. There’s this sort of anecdote that talks about how a woman married a man for who he was, then immediately started changing him into who she wanted him to be. Then she wasn’t happy, because he was no longer the man she married! It’s supposed to be funny, but there is a ring of truth in it.

As a supporter, you are many things to your loved one. You wear many hats, so to speak. So it’s important that you keep your sense of identity because of it. You have to stay fundamentally “you,” or you may fall into the CHANGE TRAP. Many supporters with loved ones who have bipolar disorder do fall into this trap.

The Change Trap is when you are so frustrated with your loved one and their bipolar disorder, specifically when your loved one is not well, that you try to change yourself to change the situation. But the trap has you believing that by your changing, your loved one will get better, which is NOT true. There’s a difference between changing to adapt to a situation (i.e., learning to adapt) and actually trying to change yourself to change the situation.

When it comes to bipolar disorder, you cannot change the disorder. It is what it is. When it comes to your loved one, you cannot change them. They are who and what they are.

It’s like the Serenity Prayer:

Lord, grant me the serenity to
Accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference

Yes, you have control over yourself. Yes, you have the power to change yourself. But the other things you can’t change, no matter how hard you try. See, there is good change and there is bad change. Good change is when being a supporter to a loved one with bipolar disorder brings out the caretaker in you, and you become a super supporter.

Bad change is changing yourself to try to change the bipolar disorder. The change trap might also cause you to change yourself to try to prevent a situation (like trying to prevent episodes, which are going to happen anyway). This can come from past episodes, where you may have thought, “If only I were more attentive [understanding, supportive, a better listener, etc.], my loved one wouldn’t have gone into this episode. Then you start overcompensating by being overly-attentive, etc. Bad change is letting guilt cause you to change yourself.

Changing yourself might cause problems in your relationship as well – Like in that anecdote.

Your loved one accepts you for who you are. They do not expect you to be someone you’re not.

If you change too much (even though your motive is to please your loved one), they may feel that you’ve become a stranger to them, and then you may have problems with the relationship in general, and communication specifically. Your loved one may feel that they can no longer talk to you or open up to you, which can cause further problems. You need to stay fundamentally YOU.

You can change to adapt to the situation (good change), but not change who you are (bad change).

Well, I have to go!

Your Friend,




  1. This article was ‘on the spot’, as the saying goes. I was married to my children’s father for 16 years then divorced him. He was physically, emotionally and mentally abusive. I knew I had a depression problem after the birth of our third child-bad postpartum. My husband was NOT helpful at all. He and I went for counseling , which started out as a couple then centered on me-not because I needed help, but my husband would not participate in the sessions–he was MR PERFECT–I was the CRAZY ONE. Plus he told everyone about it-family friends church etc. We stopped, but then I started with a psychologist on my own, to which he was invited many times. He hated it because he had to admit his problem. He was always demanding I do this or do that or why don’t you do like my mom does (reference to housecleaning, yard work, and the like). I told my psychologist that when I divorced him I felt like one of his caged dove’s being set free to live the life God meant me to. I found out who I really was instead of what he wanted me to be. Now I cannot say everything is better, but I have a wonderful counselor who helps me both verbally, sometimes reading and medications. I still have those awful mood swings, because one never knows when they are switching. Your article here just mimics what can happen if your partner does not support or help you in any way. Thinks they can change all things in environment and the bipolar person will magically change Bipolar is a disease that can be controlled, but not eradicated. Over the last ten years, I have learned a lot about my disease and how to work on myself to change what I want to change, what triggers my mood swing. I feel so totally different since my divorce and the counselors help. That is one thing I think All need-supportive care, not criticism.




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