9 Rules for Bipolar Relationshipsby Eileen Bailey Health Writer
Most committed relationships have their challenges. Add bipolar to the mix and the degree of difficulty suddenly gets a lot higher. But a diagnosis of bipolar can also enhance a loving relationship and enrich the lives of both parties. You just need to be mindful of the hazards and establish some rules for moving forward with love and compassion. Here are some rules to apply to a relationship with someone with bipolar that will help you emerge from the tough spots even stronger in your relationship.
Never engage in dialogue with the other person’s amygdala
We all have a fear center in our brain called the amygdala, responsible for activating flight-or-flight reactions. Our clear messages get lost and we become irrational and unreasonable. For persons living with bipolar, the amygdala may be overactivated or very easily triggered. Don’t engage in an argument or debate with your bipolar partner when he or she is in a fear state. Wait until there is calm again.
When symptoms of bipolar flare, the result can look like a two-year-old having an ugly tantrum. If you walk downstairs to find your bipolar partner in a screaming fit, try to suspend judgment as best you can, much like you would with a toddler whose scoop of ice-cream just fell off the cone. He or she is reacting to the world as he or she sees it. So are you. Same world, two entirely different views. Take stock, determine where each of you are coming from. Apply a heavy dose of compassion. Resolve to work your way to an understanding.
Make the best decision and don’t fret mistakes
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.”
Fasten your own oxygen mask first
Living with and loving someone with bipolar can be quite a rollercoaster ride. You’re always anticipating the next episode. To better tolerate the stress, be sure to take time for yourself every day, even if it is a few minutes. Do something you enjoy every week: gardening, hiking, belly dancing, scrapbooking. Follow the flight attendant’s advice and fasten your own oxygen mask first before helping your loved one so that you don’t run out of air. You need to take care of yourself in order to care for someone else.
Get angry at the disease, not the person
It’s natural to get angry at the person who is causing you pain. When manic, persons with bipolar disorder can be horribly insensitive and inconsiderate. When depressed, he or she may be self-absorbed. Placing the infuriating and frustrating behavior within the context of the disorder can help you place the blame with the disease, not the person. Fight the illness, not your loved one.
Remember your limitations
As the partner of someone with mental illness, you probably feel guilty when bipolar episodes become out of control. You feel guilty that you can’t do more. The reality, though, is that you were not born with super powers. Your role is limited. You can love, you can support, you can advocate for, and you can be there. Remember that your behavior hasn’t caused the illness and your actions can’t take it away. If you are feeling especially helpless, hopeless or guilty, it is time to reach out for help.
Never put up with abuse
This applies with equal force to both parties. The stress bipolar persons put their 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. Ultimately each has the right to leave the relationship if their needs are not being met. If you think you may be a victim of domestic abuse, reach out to a hotline.
Acknowledge the gifts of the illness
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 more deeply and widely. We light up those around us. We have empathy in abundance. It goes without saying that we are a gift to the right person. Remember to acknowledge the gifts of the illness.
Focus on the good moments
You fell in love with your spouse for a reason. He or she has many good qualities, right? Focus on the person you fell in love with, not the struggles, the anger, or the disease. Remember the many good times you’ve shared torson you love, even when life is unpredictable.