• bipolar disorder;
  • burden;
  • support needs;
  • caregiver;
  • coping


Bipolar disorder is a chronic and severe mental disorder. Little is known about the experiences of the spouses of such patients. A grounded theory study was undertaken to examine the burden for spouses living with a partner with a bipolar disorder and to explore how they cope and what support they need. Fifteen spouses and ex-spouses were interviewed; they experienced heavy burden and found themselves to be ‘alone together.’ Their coping process is found to involve appraisal of the situation and attempts to achieve a balance between self-effacement and self-fulfilment. While support can clearly reduce experienced burden, the spouses surprisingly receive virtually no professional support. A theory is developed that constitutes a starting point for the development of adequate support for spouses.