By: Julie A. Fast
The following is part two of an article from Julie A. Fast, the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder: Understanding and Helping Your Partner. Click here to read part one if you missed the post. In today’s post, Julie concludes her thoughts on how learning about bipolar and creating a space in life for love and joy outside of the illness can actually strengthen the bonds of a relationship.
As you learned before, when you Treat Bipolar First and create a Bipolar Free Zone for special occasions, you can deepen your romantic connection and keep the relationship strong. My final suggestion is a tough one. As with anything in life, it’s easy to focus on how we feel about a situation without thinking deeply about the reality of the experience for the other person. This is especially true when bipolar causes deeply traumatic events in a relationship. Even when you know something is from the illness itself, the experiences still hurt! There is a way to turn this into a surprising strength for your love:
Learn to Listen to Different Experiences: Partners fall in love for various reasons, but I can tell you from having bipolar and loving someone for many years who has bipolar, we do NOT process bipolar experiences in the same way. Learning that two people who share many similarities such as a love of art, sexual desires, children and so much more can actually be diametrically opposed when it comes to what happened during a bipolar episode will help strengthen your relationship and open you to the idea that your opinion is not necessarily right or wrong, it is simply your opinion.
For example, when a person is manic and out of control, they might not remember all of the episode, but a partner who is automatically on high alert due to the adrenaline created from a loved one being ill might remember the situation down to the paint chip in a certain section of a hospital corridor. I remember an example of this clearly. My partner whom I write about in Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder was extremely ill for over three months in a manic and psychotic episode. I visited him every day in the hospital. I was like an animal- all adrenaline and worry and fear. He was often strapped to his bed due to his aggression and strength when manic. I found this safe and didn’t really think of what it must have been like for him. When he got better, and yes, people get better and go on to live wonderful lives just as he has, he said to me, “How could you let them strap me down like an animal!” Oh, I was so naive. Here I was thinking he was safer this way and yet for him, it was humiliating and terrible. We had to learn to talk about these experiences.
In crisis situations, there is rarely a definite answer or clear right or wrong, there is only experience. I had to put myself in his shoes. I never thought to do this. And he had to see it from my perspective. Once we did this, the arguing stopped. I learned compassion and he learned that his experience was only his and not mine. When you talk about bipolar, actively look for places where you simply didn’t have the same experience as the other person and learn from this. This builds empathy and believe me, an empathetic relationship is a strong relationship. Who would have thought that loving someone who was strapped down in a psychiatric ward would help strengthen a relationship? But it did. And then, as a couple we worked together daily to make sure that type of mood swing never got that bad again. I teach how we did this in Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder.
Isn’t it wonderful to be in love? Maybe you have met the right person and just need help navigating how you can keep a relationship strong while learning to manage the illness together. Or maybe, you have a strong love, but the bipolar keeps getting in the way. No matter what your situation, the three strategies above can help you create a surprisingly strong relationship when a partner has bipolar disorder.
In case you missed Part 1, click here! To watch Julie talk about these concepts in her IBPF Psych Byte presentation, click here. Feel free to share your experiences below!