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7 'Rules' for a Great Relationship When Your Partner Has Bipolar Disorder

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Kathy and I have been together for five years. I find this astounding considering we both live with bipolar disorder. I have bipolar 1 and Kathy has bipolar II. Over those five years, we have grown and learned together. Our relationship has not been perfect, but it has blossomed into the best relationship both of us have ever had. That is why I’m writing this — to share with you the rules we follow to have a great relationship while living with bipolar.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

Rule #1: The person with bipolar disorder has to treat and manage their illness and continue to make every effort to treat and manage their bipolar disorder.

Treatment is usually in the form of medication. They should also be following a bipolar management strategy.

To the partner – Rule one is all about effort. You cannot wholly control bipolar disorder. Once a person has bipolar disorder, it does not just go away. Bipolar disorder has a tenancy to display symptoms or get triggered at the strangest times. Proper treatment and management do lessen the symptoms, but they still happen. If the effort to treat and manage this illness is there, that is all you can ask. There is no such thing as “perfect” stability, nor should you expect your loved one with bipolar disorder to be completely stable all of the time.

Rule #2: Educate yourself.

Kathy has bipolar II and I have bipolar 1. When I met Kathy, I knew a lot about bipolar 1 disorder and foolishly thought bipolar II was the same. Let me say that assumption was almost disastrous. The different types of bipolar disorder may sound like the same illness, but each type has unique symptoms that affect the person differently.

Get to know the kind of bipolar disorder they have and its symptoms. You cannot manage someone’s bipolar disorder for them, but you can educate yourself on what good bipolar management is. Develop an understanding of the medication that has been prescribed, what it is meant to do and possible side effects. Learn what the warning signs of relapse look like. Become aware of triggers and stressors. Understand the need for proper sleep, a healthy diet and regular exercise. Learn why there can sometimes be a need to limit caffeine and alcohol intake. Help in the way of a cheerleader, not the boss. Encourage rather than demand. Making sure Rule 1 is followed is of the utmost importance.

Rule #3: Both partners must build and use their own support system.

For the person with bipolar disorder, this support team must include both professional and non-professional support. For the person without bipolar, they might not need professional help, but they do need support beyond a few family and friends. There are support groups for family and friends of those with mental illnesses.

Rule #4: It is not about them; it is about you.

This rule applies to both parties and takes a lot of study and practice. If something is disturbing you, that is your problem, not your partner’s. Learning to respond rather than react is one of the most important skills you can develop. The benefit of learning this skill is a surprisingly good relationship. This practice eliminates the blaming, the expectations and keeps your eyes firmly on you. This allows you to see the good in your relationship and not focus on the problems.

Rule #5: Deal with your individual issues through healthy support.

Deal with your couple’s issues through calm conversation and bring in outside help if you need it. Do not weaponize the issues. Do not bring in past issues to be used on your partner to beat them down. If you do not use the problems as weapons, you will get along better.

Rule #6: Problems like addiction and other emotional issues (such as codependency) need to be dealt with.

You deal with them in the same way you deal with bipolar disorder — by using a support system. If there is a co-occurring disorder, do not force a partner to go or be involved in your support. Remember, it is your support, not theirs.

Rule #7: If there is a visible and constant effort to do their best to manage their bipolar disorder, you cannot ask for anything more.

For the partner of someone with bipolar disorder – being involved with someone with bipolar disorder can be hard work, but it’s worth it. By following these rules, I hope your relationship has a better chance of growing and succeeding. Who knows, it could grow into the best relationship you ever had, like Kathy and mine has.

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Originally published: August 30, 2021
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