When you care for someone who lives with Bipolar Disorder, there can be a variety of questions around how to handle discussions that involve their symptoms or their behaviors. Wanting to be sensitive and not overstep is common, and sometimes it may be necessary to bring something up, regardless of that feeling. Here are a few suggestions on how to approach them.
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Talking about Bipolar Disorder can sometimes be difficult to do with people that you care about. It can be exhausting to educate people that you care about on the way that you interact with your symptoms and the world when you experience them. It is not your job to teach every person in the world about Bipolar disorder, unless you want to be an advocate, which is always encouraged for the betterment of everyone. However, in all relationships, directly or indirectly, we teach the other person about ourselves.
We as humans are social creatures. Our relationships with family who raise us, partners who love us and friends who care for us influence our understanding of ourselves, others and the world. While family is assigned to us and partner(s) are one to a few people, our friend group can be ever-expanding and changing. Friends are chosen social supports and can be there through the best and worst of times. When someone is living with bipolar disorder, the challenges that occur can affect the way in which friendships occur and are maintained.
Emotions are the foundation of a romantic relationship. They are an inherent part of the attachment we have to our partner, and our emotions surrounding the person, behaviors and events all affect are feelings about the relationship itself. When one person or both people struggle with bipolar disorder, it can add additional layers of work and challenges. The focus in the relationship may be on the hardships that bipolar creates for the person experiencing it, but it is also necessary and beneficial to look at the effects on the partner who does not have bipolar disorder.
There’s nothing quite like having a long-term relationship. After you have moved past some of that initial nervousness, it can feel great to have a steady person in your life to be a friend, lover, and support. Knowing their patterns and knowing how to predict interactions and conflicts can create a sense of stability. However, falling into a false sense of security with this can leave one person, both people, or the relationship neglected. When struggling with symptoms of bipolar disorder, being able to communicate your needs will be vital to maintaining a healthy relationship.
Relationships can be full of ups, downs, stress, excitement, and everything in between. From family relationships that have been lifelong, to platonic friendships that withstand the test of time, to romantic relationships that take us to a new level of emotional intimacy, relationships require above all an awareness of self and the other person. Being in tune to your emotional needs and desires as well as the needs of the other person is the foundation to having a successful relationship. For someone living with bipolar disorder, this may include an additional challenge.
Courtney Davey is a marriage and family therapist in Philadelphia, PA. She earned her Masters from La Salle University in Marriage and Family Therapy. Her work and interests focus on anxiety and mood disorders in couples and sex therapy. She currently works with both inpatient and outpatient populations promoting safety, positive decision making, and improving communication.