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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