Bipolar Relationships: Reassuring Your "Normal" Partner
Last week, we looked at bipolar relationships from what you need to do to when your partner is feeling depressed or manicky. This typically involves meeting your loved one on his or her own terms, however irrational their thinking and behavior may appear to you.
This means suspending judgment, listening, and validating both the person’s feelings and how they are perceiving reality. The overriding concern is to make your partner feel emotionally safe. This sense of safety sets the scene for establishing trust and engaging in a constructive dialogue.
Believe it or not, this same approach applies in reverse. This time, you - the one living with bipolar - need to make your “normal” partner feel safe. Let’s look at two hypotheticals:
You’re at a family barbecue. You run into Cousin Leonard, whom you haven’t seen in ages. This is your chance to expound on your favorite topic - Old English 8th century poetry. Your loved one shoots you the evil eye.
How do you respond?
How about: “I’ve got it under control.”
Your loved one is clearly exasperated. She tells you that she is sick of your whining and complaining and you lying in bed all day. That enough is enough. You need to snap out of it.
How do you respond?
How about: “I realize this is really hard on you.”
I like to joke that I may have bipolar, but it is the people close to me who suffer from it. We put our partners through hell. We wear them out. We drive them to the breaking point.
You can say the same about two “normal” people in a relationship. But any condition - physical or mental - is bound to turn up the heat. Thus, if we truly value the loved ones in our life - if we want them to stick around and keep putting up with us - we need to demonstrate our sensitivity to their concerns.
Let’s look at Hypothetical #1. What you see as the evil eye is almost certainly your partner’s expression of deep concern and high anxiety. Yes, she appreciates your enthusiasm for Old English poetry - in fact, that may be the reason she fell in love with you in the first place - but she also recalls the time you squirted grey poupon on poor old Uncle Albert during a heated discourse on Beowulf.
Yes, the poupon was an accident. But here you are, another condiment incident in the making. Remember that other time, with the mango chutney? Your partner certainly does.
All your loved one wants is to enjoy the barbecue. Unfortunately, there have been too many times when she has had to watch you like a mother with a two-year-old kid by the edge of a swimming pool.
Seriously, how long do you think she is going to keep putting up with all that?
“I’ve got it under control,” lets your loved one know that you don’t require adult supervision and that she can relax. It’s a small gesture, but one that can save a relationship.
Okay, let’s look at Hypothetical #2. Yes, we all know that “snap out of it” is a very insensitive thing to say to someone going through depression. A small confession - I have said it.
Before you judge me, if you are a parent, recall all those things you vowed you would never say to your kid. Especially: “Because I told you so.” How long did that last?
I have been on both sides of the relationship equation, as someone contending with severe depression and someone contending with someone close going through severe depression. Sorry, we’re human. You may be the one in crisis, but it is your loved one who may be about to hit the breaking point. He needs some reassurance. “I realize this is really hard on you,” goes a long way.
While you’re at it, you might want to add something about how it may not be easy for you to control your behavior at times, but that you’re working on it and you can use his help.
Believe me, this is music to a loved one's ears. He might actually stick around.
Wrapping it up
About half of marriages in the US fail. For marriages involving a partner with bipolar, the figure that gets bandied about is 90 percent. I have been unable to trace this to an authoritative source, but it is safe to assume that we’re looking at frightfully long odds.
There are no easy answers, here, but if we want our partners to understand us, we need to make the same effort in understanding them. They can only put up with us for so long. “I hear you,” works as much for them as it does for you.
Say it like you really mean it. Let me know what happens ...