Sometimes the best advice comes from people with lived experience. Dr. Heather Gonzales is a behavioral therapist and a woman who has lived successfully with bipolar disorder. She was kind to let me share these hard-won tips from her own marriage:
1) If you currently don’t share in the household responsibilities or your partner is responsible for more chores, temporarily pick up more of the slack. They are probably suffering from low motivation and inertia, and not cleaning or cooking is making them feel overwhelmed or guilty.
2) Look for any behavior/action that shows progress and give them specific praise for it, no matter how minor it was. Your house is messy but your partner did the dishes? Give them praise for that, even if you’re getting annoyed with the house. Following “good” behaviors with specific praise can often make them “stronger” and more frequent. Your partner is now more likely to do the dishes. Then, they may start to feel more motivated to do another task and then another.
3) Don’t make them feel bad for sleeping all day. Instead, create some support systems that help them stay awake and even productive. Ask them to meet you for lunch, or come home and bring takeout. Ask if they will complete one very simple errand that will cause them to leave the house.
4) Encourage them to be social with some close friends. Take the kids while they have brunch or some beers with friends. Maybe pick up the house while they’re gone.
5) Do not make them feel bad if they don’t want to be intimate with you. Depression and many antidepressants can cause sexual dysfunction. There are options for improvement of libido and it should be only temporary. Be patient.
6) Make a routine of walking with them, either before or after work. If they feel chatty, engage them in conversation that you know interests them. If not, let them put their headphones in.
7) Make it easier for them to get back to a hobby. If they like to paint, for example, take them on a date to one of those painting studios where they let you bring in a glass of wine and paint a pre-selected image. It may be beneath their abilities, but maybe it will start a spark of interest again.
Here’s a big one: If you ask what you can do to help them to feel better, they may not tell you. Just do some concrete things on your own. Keep it up even if it doesn’t seem to be working. Celebrate baby steps.
Best of luck to you. You are in a very difficult position and I know you may be worried and frustrated. You are probably the most vital person in your partner’s circle in terms of supporting their recovery. Take it seriously.