Do You Think Bipolar Relationships Can Work?

I cannot tell you how many times a week I get asked the title question- “do you think Bipolar relationships can work?” I can also tell you the numerous amount of criticisms and negativity that the people asking have read on other forums. “Bipolar? RUN!” “Never. Cut your losses and go.” “It’s hopeless.” Blah blah blah. You get the point.

That does not mean that the negative advice is necessarily wrong. There are absolutely times when a person should distance themselves from a toxic, mentally ill person. The problem is that I almost never hear context from the person asking or see context on some of the forums where I periodically lurk. What did that person do to warrant being discarded? I have no arguments if it’s justified. The reader doesn’t know and their situation doesn’t necessarily reflect the advice giver’s.

To answer the question- yes, they can work. Relationships between a normal and a Bipolar person or two Bipolar people can work. However (you were waiting for the but, weren’t you?); they have to be approached differently than you would approach a traditional relationship. There are things you would do in a normal relationship that are best avoided in a Bipolar one. And a Bipolar couple? Christ, sign me up! At least I would have a better grasp on her emotional processes because hey- I have similar ones.

I think the best approach is some ground rules so everyone is clear where the lines are.

1. Take the meds. If you’re going to stop, consult with your doctor first to do it safely.
2. Separate financial accounts. No cosigning. We don’t want to be cleaned out if you swing unwell.
3. Boundaries. Anything abusive will be reported to the authorities.
4. Partnership. As the person that spends more time around you than anyone; your partner can help you spot unwell periods if you actually listen to what they’re telling you.

As for the normals?

1. Don’t use unwell actions and thoughts against us in a petty way; such as throwing it in our face in an argument.
2. Please learn to forgive what you can. We will never get our management 100% right.
3. Don’t be subtle about our unwell periods if we’re missing it. The unwell brain will take it, twist it, chew it up, spit it out. Be direct.
4. Don’t assume we’re unwell because we’re sad or pissed off. If you see other symptoms; then worry. We can experience normal emotions too.

These are just a few basic points that I think can make relationships a whole lot smoother. You don’t want to get bogged down in legislation for a relationship; but you definitely want to have guidelines so everyone is clear on how things go.

But there is an unfortunate side to the equation. I also get asked, “How can I make my loved one understand?” Usually it comes from someone who is trying to get support or help from their partner but their partner has completely closed off to them. That’s usually not a good sign. It usually doesn’t take too many probing questions to see that their partner probably doesn’t give a shit. They would probably see that too if they weren’t the partner in question and having a difficult time. Ultimately, it takes two to make a relationship work. If the other person refuses to work on it or try to understand; then where does that really leave the relationship?

It kind of sucks that I find myself in the position to point out that the other person probably doesn’t give a shit; but I’m not here to tell people what they want to hear or instill false hope. The reality is that many of us are alone in our struggle for sanity even though we’re in a “relationship”. That is an incredibly unfortunate truth I have seen play out over and over again. Some partners have just been through too much to keep trying to push forward, they’re too damaged themselves, or they never cared in the first place.

Communication is an essential part of all relationships. I feel that it is even more important in a Bipolar relationship. The Bipolar party has to be able to hear what their partner is trying to get through to them. They have to accept that their perception and brain is periodically in the crapper. A Bipolar relationship cannot work with one partner telling the other “it’s your problem”. That’s fantastically stupid on so many levels. How is that person supposed to make sound decisions while their perceptions are skewed by an unwell cycle?

But even in normal relationships we don’t hear one another or even address what’s actually bothering us. We cover up the anger and frustration with a partner with bullshit distractions and pointless arguments. That approach simply won’t work if you want to make a Bipolar relationship successful.

You have to learn to shelf petty problems and deal with the real issues of the relationship before they explode in your face. If you can’t get past that, the relationship will be just another point on the leaderboard of losses we Bipolars have.

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7 Responses to Do You Think Bipolar Relationships Can Work?

  1. Siberia says:

    Excellent comment (as usual)! Please please keep on writing like this, it’s really comforting.
    Conclusion: difficult, very very difficult relationships. BP is always there (Who is to blame??). So, power of will (that includes getting educated, therapy, meds, forgiveness…) is key.
    Again, thanks for your comments,

    Regards from Spain

  2. Tammy Rolley says:

    I am bi-polar with a bad history with men usually when they get a glimpse of the real me it doesn’t work. Like you said no one can be 100 percent managed episodes even with meds. What I am asking how soon do you think you should mention bi-polar to someone you are thinking about having a relationship with

    • Dennis says:

      Hello, Tammy. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      I don’t know if there is a good answer to this question. It really depends on the person. I think early is the best idea. Let the person experience the balanced you before introducing them to the Disorder. You made the comment of them glimpsing the “real you”. Well, the Bipolar you isn’t the “real you”. That would be the mental illness. It obscures the “real you”.

      For example, ten years ago I wouldn’t have given two shits about your or anyone else’s problems. I was mired in dark depression most of the time and didn’t give a shit about even waking up. But was that the real me? No. It wasn’t. That was the Disorder. I’m not a raging prick when I’m balanced.

      After you have a friendship established; sit down with the person and explain to them that you are Bipolar, what you do for management, and some of the stuff you’ve been through as a result. If things are going favorably, offer them insight on how to interact with you if you happen to swing unwell. I think probably the most important thing is to not let an unwell cycle be the person’s introduction to the Disorder.

      If you’re still having unwell cycles and drastic instability; keep working on getting the Disorder under control so the real you can be there and thrive! It’s never too late.

  3. susan says:

    my daughter is bipolar. and we don’t have any relationship. which to me is brutal.
    she has never accepted that she has a problem. so when we do get together it is terribly toxic.

    I hope that those with a problem get help, and honesty though it can be painful is always the best course of action.

    • Mia says:

      Hi Dennis,
      You are an amazing writer and your honesty and genuine desire to help others is appreciated. Your writing is easy to read and understand and is not clinical like so many of the other sites i have been to. You promote love and understanding and that is an important aspect for all involved.
      I am still trying to understand and navigate my way through bipolar as a loved one of someone who has bipolar however myself and my children have been so deeply hurt by this person and I know i still have a long way to go as i still have days when my thoughts/feelings go back to the anger and feelings of betrayal (such as today).
      When he is manic it is so difficult to like him, but i have to keep reminding myself that he is extremely sick and try to ignore and block the cruel words and actions. This as i know you can appreciate is sometimes overwhelming and difficult.
      One thing i don’t understand is how can he be cold and cruel to his own children when he is manic yet seems to have no trouble finding girlfriends. Wouldn’t he be acting the same way? Or can it be controlled with some people? I am so confused. I want to forgive and forget but i feel i need so many answers first and he just doesn’t seem to be able to give them to me.

      • Dennis says:

        Thank you for the kind words about my body of work. I try to maintain a fair line for all parties involved, but unfortunately there are some mentally ill people who do such severe damage to their relationships that they cannot be repaired. You can glue the mirror back together after you break it, but the image is always distorted after.

        You’re absolutely right to feel angry and betrayed by his actions. You see, we do have a choice while we are unwell; but a lot of the time we don’t understand it or the swing is so strong that we only see the path that is immediately thrust into our head. And usually it’s a bad one. Learning to question and dismantle your thought processes is something one can learn in therapy and with a lot of work. But to even start that process a person needs to be aware of their problems in the first place.

        As to the girlfriends question. People love a hypomanic/manic Bipolar. We’re energetic, charismatic, sharp, and come off as incredibly confident. I cannot tell you how many people have written me, talking about how they met this intense and fascinating person and now they are just depressed. They want to know how to get that other person back. But that other person isn’t good either. Because that other person does things like treat their wife and children like trash. And the reason for that is familiarity.

        You see, nobody really knows what’s going on in the minds of the people around them day by day. We all have our masks and armor we put up to the rest of the world. But the people at home? That we’ve known for years and years? They get everything in all of its horrible glory. Eventually, cracks would form in his facade with the girlfriends. He’s probably lied and manipulated them about the situation overall; relating what he believes to be reality as opposed to what actually is real. And they don’t know him well enough to understand how much of that is falsehood or just plain wrong.

        I suspect he is going to feel like complete shit once he finally balances off. If he is Bipolar, I wouldn’t be surprised if a suicide attempt comes out of it. Your brain goes from I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD to holy fuck I destroyed everything I care about. And then amp that up from the depression. From the sounds of things, this may be the most severe to date. If it is Bipolar Disorder; it’s because the Disorder gets worse with age because it causes physical degeneration of a few important sections of the brain. Meds help slow and stave off that degeneration.

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