Bipolars in Relationships Revisited

John McManamy Health Guide
  • This morning, a reader brought to my attention a blog I had posted 10 months before:

    Bipolars in Relationships: Emotional Safety is Paramount


    Interesting, I thought. I wonder what I wrote

    “My ‘normal’ may well be my partner's ‘strange,’” I read. Too often, we’re the ones who cause our partners to walk on eggshells. We have to take responsibility. We have to modify our behavior. But what about our needs?

    Our needs, not theirs. 

    It all came back. Nine months earlier, my marriage - my second - had broken up. I had just met a lovely woman. It was time to reflect on what I wanted in a relationship:

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    “I want to be able to laugh,” I wrote, “laugh real loud, without my partner thinking I'm flipping into mania.”

    The list went on:

    “I want to be able to get upset without my partner thinking I'm out of control.

    “I want to be miserable without my partner giving me ‘the look.’

    “I want to express my visionary ideas without my partner thinking I'm grandiose.

    “I want to make off-beat observations and dream without my partner playing her ‘practical’ trump card.

    “I want to bubble with enthusiasm without that ‘here he goes again’ expression from my partner.”

    And what did I want from my partner?

    “I want her to say, ‘I understand,’” I wrote, “when I go to pieces for seemingly no reason ...”  Likewise, “I want her to give me a swift kick in the pants when I need it. But I want her support, not her disapproval and judgment.”

    My bottom line?

    “I need to be safe. Emotionally safe. Otherwise, I'm the one walking on eggshells. Otherwise, I'm the one living in a constant state of stress.”

    That particular post drew an unprecedented 64 comments. Clearly, I had struck a chord. From the comments, it was clear that a lot of us feel emotionally safe in loving relationships with individuals who do not share our diagnosis. Others felt that only fellow bipolars “get it.”

    But there was clear unanimity for the proposition that no one wanted to be walking on eggshells. In one of my comments, I added this:

    “It's easier for me to deal with a bipolar partner who is flipping out than it is for me to deal with a ‘normal’ partner who is judging me.”

    Okay, that was then. What about now? Stress looms large in my illness. Relationships are stressful in their own right, no matter what. Walking on eggshells poses a clear and present danger to my health. Emotional safety in a relationship is as big an issue for me now as it was then.

    The relationship I was getting into at the time fell apart after three months, thankfully not over emotional safety concerns. It was a very enjoyable relationship and one I would call successful, despite its short lifespan.

    Nevertheless, shortly after the relationship, the accumulated stresses from two years caught up with me. I needed a time-out from the world. I needed to cut back on work and social commitments.

    For eight months, I didn’t even think about women. Okay, I lie, but I didn’t take those thoughts very far. Then - literally out of the blue - I met a very lovely woman. A very very lovely woman. Suddenly, we were dating.


  • This time, I promised myself I wouldn’t overthink matters. It was all about living in the present and enjoying each other’s company. She felt the same way. Then I had a look at my forgotten blog:

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    “I want to laugh ...”

    I CAN laugh, I realized. I CAN go to pieces. I feel SAFE with her. She feels safe with me. No wonder we’re enjoying each other so much.

    There. That’s as much thinking as I dare get into. “Past John” has done more than enough thinking for “Present John.” Future John? Don’t even think about it.

Published On: July 31, 2008