Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Sample E-mail Question and Answer by Carol Agnew, MA, LMFT
I am in a relationship with someone that is bipolar and it can be a hard thing to deal with. His attitude can change with which ever way the wind blows.
Is it really possible to have a lasting relationship with someone with bipolar disorder? I do love him, but he can be so negative and uncaring sometimes it affects me too.
Do you have any suggestions on how to live with someone with bipolar disorder?
Thanks for writing. This is a great question. Oftentimes when we talk about mental illnesses we forget about the people that live with them and the things that they have to endure. You are right. I bet it is hard to deal with his bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder can be so unpredictable and I am sure it is hard not to take it personally. Try to remember, though, that in a manic episode, it is usually about the person with the bipolar disorder, not the people around them.
I do think, however, that it is possible to have a lasting relationship with someone with bipolar disorder, as long as there are a few things in place. Depending on his attitude toward his disorder and his willingness to deal with it, you may need to decide on some ground rules. I would suggest those ground rules to be that he see a psychiatrist on a regular basis and maintain his medications. Medication doesn’t take away the mood swings but it can help stretch out the time between and lessen the severity of the ups and downs. It would probably help as well to see a counselor, both him and yourself, to have a place to vent frustrations, process the grief of him having the disorder for the rest of his life, and general relationship issues. I am sure the bipolar disorder is not the only issue in this relationship, so make sure you look at those things as well.
I would also recommend you educate yourself about the disorder and encourage him to do the same. There are many, many books out there and information on the internet and organizations devoted to helping those with bipolar disorder and their families. Take advantage of these resources. That way you will be able to tell what is the disorder and what is not. As you become more and more familiar with your boyfriend’s moods, you will be able to see the signs of mood swings coming and will be better able to handle them yourself, without taking them personally.
Bottom line is that life with a person with bipolar disorder IS going to have its ups and downs (no pun intended!) and only you can decide if it is worth the effort. There have been some pretty amazing people with bipolar disorder, so be careful not to judge him solely on the disorder, but on the man as well.
Good luck and if you want to talk more, I am available for private sessions through the phone, email or chat at www.asktheinternettherapist.com.
Carol Agnew, MA, LFMT