Relationships are hard work even for the “normal” people. Think about how many “normal” people you know that have family conflicts, multiple failed marriages, constant drama with friends, hell, even trying to find a compatible date for Friday night on Match.com is a trying experience. You throw a mood disorder into the mix and it is almost always recipe for disaster. It is easy to fall in love with a person with Bipolar Disorder because they are intriguing, dynamic and they have a type of magnetism that draws you in immediately but you have to be a special kind of person with a special kind of patience to endure the ups and downs of loving someone with BP for the long haul.
The very first thing you need to do is educate yourself about Bipolar Disorder. Just because you don’t suffer from it doesn’t mean you won’t suffer because of it. It doesn’t affect everyone the same way, with the same intensity or even with the same symptoms. Remember, it’s unpredictable. The more you know about the illness the easier it will be for you to determine how to manage a relationship with a person that has BP or even if you have the ability or desire to.
All relationships are different and complicated in their own way. You can make maintaining a relationship with someone with Bipolar Disorder a little easier if you try to remember it is not personal. The irrational, impulsive aspect of BP makes us say and do things that we would not if we were stable. Ugly things. Things that we can’t take back and surely later regret. If your brother calls you for a favor that you are unable to fulfill and he ends that conversation by saying you are a stupid bitch and goes into great detail of how you are ruining his life and you just want to punish him he is most likely somewhere in the middle of a manic episode. I know that when I am in a manic episode whatever it is that I need or want to do or say must be done immediately. There is no room in my brain for it…whatever it is. If the idea requires any type of participation or facilitation by another person and that person is unable or unwilling to help, it triggers the agitation and in the moment you are the person standing directly in the way of me being able to turn this idea into something real. Now. Right now. Not later. Now. For instance, if I decide that I need to paint my family room because the Home Depot commercial I just saw inspired me and if I ask you to drive me to buy said paint and you tell me that your day is booked up but you will tomorrow, you are a selfish piece of shit. Not really but in the moment you are preventing me from doing what I need to do at the precise time I need to do it. I will apologize later.
You should know that if you are a “fixer”, you can not fix Bipolar. You cannot cure it with your words or your actions. A manic episode will not disappear because you sing a soothing lullaby to your boyfriend while you serve him a steaming cup of chamomile tea. A depressive episode will not just go away because you say things like "just snap out of it" or "tomorrow’s a new day" or "Let go and let God". In general, people with BP are intelligent people and we can recognize that your words and actions are out of concern and love but sometimes when our loved ones say things like "just get back up on that horse" it only reminds us that we can’t. This type of support can sometimes make the situation worse. This is not to say don’t even bother, sometimes we need words of encouragement and sometimes we just need space and if and when you can figure out the difference it can save everyone a lot of frustration. It may even be the difference between the success and the demise of that relationship.
I know that it sounds like I am putting a lot of the responsibility of making the relationship work on the “normal” person but in all relationships it takes both parties to make a healthy union. You should never sacrifice your own happiness or safety. You have to set boundaries. To steal a line from all of those prescription drug advertisements, you have to weigh the risks with the benefits. Only you know if a relationship is worth the turmoil.