Loving Relationships - Help! I Can't Figure It Out

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Valentine’s Day is approaching and I won’t be taking someone special out to dinner. According to various studies, at least two-thirds of you are in a similar state. Mastering loving relationships is difficult enough as it is without a severe mental illness to contend with. It’s not just the bipolar. Virtually all of us come pre-loaded with at least two or three other conditions - trauma, anxiety, personality issues, drinking ... It goes on and on.

    By far the largest category of questions to the Ask feature here at BipolarConnect involve relationships. Some of the questions come from aggrieved individuals with bipolar, but the vast majority are from distressed and perplexed loved ones at wit’s end over the behavior of the person they had once thought was their soul mate.

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    The behaviors run the full gamut of the loved one from hell: Explosive anger, physical violence, psychological abuse, manipulation, failure to take responsibility, infidelity, physical and social and financial recklessness, dark moods, laziness, isolation, neglect, inconsideration ...

    And the unpredictability - loving and thoughtful one day, Jack the Ripper the next, an unresponsive slug the next ...

    How could anyone possibly live with such an individual?

    Here’s the rub. It turns out just about all my correspondents are working very hard at it. To a person, they all want to share their lives with the person they fell in love with. They want that person back. They’re convinced the monster currently making their lives hell is an interloper. The behavior they are forced to put up with is so outrageous that it can’t possibly be coming from the person they love. It has to be coming from an outside source. It has to be bipolar, right?

    Not necessarily, I caution. We all have ways of deluding ourselves in the early rounds of a relationship. Hormones are churning, dopamine is zapping, we are not thinking with our brains. We obsess over the object of our affection, we idealize what we see as good, we rationalize away the bad, we fantasize a future that doesn’t exist. The crazy thing is, we call it love.

    What is really strange about love is that a good many of my correspondents did fall head-over-heels in love with terrific people. Because bipolar has wrecked the lives of all who have been diagnosed with it (think about it - we don’t seek help when life is good), we are all left with the impression there is nothing good about the illness.

    But the people who address their questions here have totally different descriptions for the individuals they fell in love with: Fun-loving, fun to be around with, smart, funny, thoughtful, talented, great in bed ...

    This can’t possibly be the bipolar, right?

    We’ve had a lot of fruitful discussion on this site about where illness crosses over into personality. For instance, is it exuberance or hypomania? Is it depression or thinking deep? A little bit of both? What I’m interpreting from my correspondents is this:

    Please tell me it’s bipolar. Because if it’s bipolar, then maybe a pill will make it all go away. Please don’t tell me my boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband is acting this way because he/she is a rotten person. Then (it stands to reason) it won’t go away.

  • What I’m also hearing is this: Just make the bad stuff go away. Keep the good stuff.

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    Alas! Alas...alas...alas.

    To shift perspectives, if so-called “normal” people can make bad decisions, what about a population where bad judgment is part and parcel of our illness? Our perspectives are often skewed, we make snap judgments, we impulsively leap before we look. If the mania is doing the talking, we find ourselves expressing our enduring love. If the depression is the dominant voice, we’re wanting to break off the relationship.

    And our behavior, our weird, outlandish, outrageous behavior.

    “I’ve looked at love from both sides now.” I have bipolar. I’ve been in loving relationships with individuals with bipolar. I still can’t figure it out. Suggestions, anyone?

Published On: February 06, 2010