Relationships

5 Rules for Bipolar Relationships

John McManamy Sep 7th, 2012 (updated Aug 20th, 2015)
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Living in any loving relationship poses considerable challenges. Add bipolar to the mix and the degree of difficulty suddenly gets a lot higher. How difficult? Imagine Yo-Yo Ma performing a Bach cello suite blindfolded, while pedaling a unicycle backwards on a tightrope over Niagara Falls. But bipolar can enhance a loving relationship and enrich the lives of both parties. We just need to be extremely mindful of the hazards.

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Never engage in a dialogue with the other person’s amygdala
Never engage in a dialogue with the other person’s amygdala

Life is far more complicated in a bipolar brain. The amygdala-the part of the brain that activates flight-or-flight-may go off for no reason or may over-respond. The all clear message gets lost. In this state, we become irrational and unreasonable, and there is no sense in trying to reason with us.

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Do not judge
Do not judge

We need to suspend judgment when the bipolar individual is acting out. He or she is reacting to the world as he or she sees it. So are you. Same world, two entirely different views. Do not judge. Take stock, determine where each of you are coming from. Resolve to work your way to an understanding.

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Think very carefully
Think very carefully

When do you go with your head? When do you go with your heart? How do you justify a decision to your partner? Our only guide is a lifetime of experience, which inevitably involves a history of wrong choices. Mistakes are inevitable, but they may also give us the wisdom to move forward. Says the Dalai Lama: “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.” 

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You should never have to put up with abuse
You should never have to put up with abuse

This applies with equal force to both parties. The stress we put our partners through can be interpreted as a form of abuse. Each partner has the right to set their own boundaries, make their own rules, interpret abuse as they see fit. And ultimately each has the right to leave the relationship if their needs are not being met.

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You are entitled to happiness
You are entitled to happiness

The bipolar diagnosis should never cut us off from humanity. Our illness imbues us with an insight and wisdom that tends to leave the rest of the world for dead. We think and feel deeper and wider. We light up those around us. We have empathy in abundance. It goes without saying that we are a gift to the right person.