Family Problems from Bipolar Spouse
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Family Problems from Bipolar Spouse

Q: Dear Dr. Phelps, The father of my 3 children has been diagnosed BP in '98, after 2 depressions ('97, '98), suicide tentatives and a broken marriage. Knowing this mental health condition is hereditary - his father and aunt was BP - I would like to know if manic or sex addiction could be part of his behaviour or status. My teenage girl received sexual comments from her father regarding such intimacy in a couple relationship and how a woman should please and never say no to satisfy her man and how she's responsible to save the marriage - letting my daugther know that his actions to get want he wants outside our past relationsip was justified, etc. I'm worrying about my daugther (ethics and moral values sent by her father)of what is the message he's sending her and how could he "steals" her rights to live her own life experiences? How to deal with my children about such peculiar incidents (they'll grow and become more active sexually). I'm working on my kids moral values and global health not on their father's - whom had repeatly ceased medication episodes and relapses. Sex addiction, money and power addiction are so many "facettes" of his personality - despite this, he's very intelligent and manipulative person. Thanks for your kind advice.

Dear Anne --

You can see from the questions of others here that you're not the only person with a tough, good question.  My first reaction is "yipe".  But then I settle into my professional role, which is not as alarming a position as to be a parent in this circumstance, and here's what comes to mind:

First, yes, no doubt, hypersexuality is clearly recognized as part of bipolar disorder.  I would expect he has had diminished sexuality as well during those depressive phases?  So, you can try to frame the sexual energy as a "bipolar" phenomenon, for starters.

Secondly, poor interpersonal boundaries, such as he has exhibited with your daughter, are also common in bipolar disorder (manic phases).  This I'm sure is frightening to live with at times, or so at least my patients tell me.  Do you think your daughter could accept your support to set her own very firm boundaries around any "sexual counseling" he might offer?  Could she recognize this behavior on his part as "manic", given your family's previous experiences?

Third, there are enough issues in your brief note alone to suggest that some family therapy might help at least you and your daughter.  There is a bipolar-oriented family therapy that offers basic how-to-live-with-it strategies.  If you lived in Denver you could go to the pro's (Miklowitz et al) for that; otherwise, you could buy their book (Bipolar Disorder: A Family-Focused Therapy, Miklowitz and Goldstein) and see if you can find a therapist to take that approach for you all.  If that's not possible (this is a new book; many therapists won't have heard of it, perhaps most), a basic family therapy would probably be helpful as a minimum.

Finally, there's a great site for significant others of people with bipolar disorder.  Check that one out; that might be the best of my ideas...

Dr. Phelps

Published September, 2000

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