Some of the simplest sounding questions can touch on the most fundamental issues that require a careful response. When confused asks, 'is it possible to have a long term relationship with someone who is bipolar’ he or she isn’t looking for a yes or no response. Perhaps I should start with the most obvious answer and then drill down to some specifics.
To my mind the most obvious answer is that any long-term relationship requires commitment on the part of both people, whether or not one of them has bipolar disorder. But, when we factor bipolar into the mix, the most that can realistically be offered is some general guidelines and tips.
The old saying that knowledge is power is useful in this context as it may help to explain what is happening and why. Of course bipolar disorder is a heck of a concept to get the head around. Even some of the people I know with bipolar, and have worked with for years, struggle to understand what they are going through. The fact that there are different types and varying levels of severity makes discussing the issue in a uniform fashion more problematic. But why let that get in the way of progress, so let’s give it a try.
C.J. Gregory is one of the Experts who live with bipolar. His post, The Top 10 Ways to Support Your Mate, provides great personal wisdom and worth reading more than once. I too wrote a post with similar sentiments entitled, 10 Ways to Support a Loved One With Bipolar but I remember being particularly impressed by the additional comments that Suzanne passed, reflecting on her own positive relationship and why it worked so well.
There’s a risk at this point that any reader ends up with tips fatigue (this isn’t a medical category - yet). But rather than throw in the towel, I somehow feel the urge to offer yet more advice, gleaned from various lines of research into relationships:
- Supportive relationships do help to reduce the risk of relapse.
- Hostility, over-involvement and over-protection can increase the risk of relapse.
- Supportive relationships that focus on respect and enhancing self-esteem can help to reduce depressive relapse.
- Doing enjoyable things together enriches and sustains relationships.
- In any relationship tempers can flare. This is normal.
- Bipolar conversations (as distinguished from conversations not influenced by symptoms) often lead to unnecessary conflict. Get to know the symptoms in order to identify what is being said and why.
- People with bipolar frequently get to recognize their own symptoms developing. If they tell you, take it on board as it helps to prevent confusion and misinterpretation.
- When your partner is fully symptomatic, you may need professional help to guide and support you, and to treat them.
There’s so much more that could be said, but if you can take on board just a few of these tips, it may help to nurture the relationship. I’m sure others will be happy to contribute their own thoughts and observations relating to this topic.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.