In support groups we often discuss whether “in sickness and in health” means that if your partner has a serious illness like bipolar, you should refuse to leave them because of their illness, after all you wouldn’t leave them if they had cancer or diabetes or some other serious illness.
My response is that you wouldn’t leave a bipolar partner because they have an illness, you’d leave them because their behavior had become dangerous or intolerable, and that while the illness might contribute to that behavior, the illness itself isn’t the issue–the behavior is.
If someone with cancer or diabetes or any other illness refused to comply with their treatment plan and started treating you like you were evil for wanting them to get treatment–would you leave? If they were threatening your safety and your sanity? If they decided to spend you into oblivion because they wouldn’t be there to pay the debt?
If they were doing the same stuff someone with bipolar might do…would you stay with them just because they have cancer or whatever? Nobody looks into divorce because their spouse has bipolar disorder–that’s not the issue–they consider and follow through with divorce because of all of the terrible behavior that comes with the bipolar.
Bipolar doesn’t make people do terrible things, it just makes it easier for them to do terrible things and harder for them to see the consequences clearly. They still get to choose. Many people stay with their bipolar partner until death because that partner does his or her best to maintain their stability and avoids doing things that harm the partner. It is always an option. Nobody HAS to go on a violent rampage, threatening everyone in sight for no rational reason. It’s still a choice.
In sickness and in health doesn’t mean that illness is a “get out of jail free” card. It means that we don’t abandon someone just because they happen to get sick and we might have to carry a bit more than our share of the burden of the relationship. It doesn’t mean that when someone is sick, they don’t have any responsibility in the relationship. That’s just crazy. It may tip the balance, but it doesn’t get them off the hook entirely. At the very least, they have to be able to love us back–otherwise what’s the point? Even an infant or a dog can do that much.
No, nobody would want to have bipolar and nobody would choose to be mentally ill, but we all get to choose how we will deal with the life we were given and if we choose to deal with an illness by destroying everyone around us, we probably need to be left alone.
Sometimes leaving is the action that saves the relationship. It might be the reason that the hurtful word or the physical attack that would be the ultimate deal-breaker never happens. In time, many hurts can heal and even after a divorce the marriage can be rebuilt, but the more abuse, the harder to rebuild. Stopping the situation, whether it’s leaving the room or leaving the marriage, keeps things from going too far.
There’s no sense in being angry or holding onto the hurt from things that were done in an episode–they really are meaningless and not worth your serious consideration. A person with bipolar is operating without rational thought. But there’s no sense in sticking around to watch someone explode when it puts you in the center of the explosion with no power to stop it. When you can’t disarm a bomb, you get everyone away from it and wait until the explosion is over to assess the damage.
Would you leave your partner because they have bipolar? Would you leave your partner in spite of the fact that they have bipolar? Would you leave bipolar out of it and make decisions based on what is in the best interests of the both of you?