For most people, it’s necessary to have a certain degree of predictability in their relationships with others. However, if you recently met someone who is really upbeat and full of energy on some days, but sad and withdrawn on others, it’s possible they may be struggling with bipolar disorder (BP). Although their episodic mood changes can be disconcerting, becoming more knowledgeable about this condition can help your friendship or romantic partnership endure.
More than 2 million people in the U.S. have bipolar disorder, a mental health problem that causes significant mood changes—from manic highs to depressive lows. For some individuals, these mood states might swing rapidly, while others experience these shifts over longer periods of time. And some people may go for extended stretches—even years—without being symptomatic at all. Regardless of the pattern, the erratic symptoms and behaviors in bipolar disorder can become uncontrollable and have a negative impact on many areas of functioning, including interpersonal relationships.
When you learn someone you care about has bipolar disorder, it’s important to discover more about this condition and the various ways it affects those who have it—as well as how their symptoms and behaviors can affect you too. The following suggestions can help you navigate your relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder.
Gaining an understanding of the symptoms of this condition can prevent you from being surprised by them. Here’s a quick overview:
When someone is manic, they might say or do things that are out of the ordinary, some of which may be hurtful or offensive to you. Your friend or love interest may also be uncharacteristically rude, cranky, or aggressive or behave in ways that feel uncaring—and they may lack awareness about how this affects you. Some research has suggested that those with bipolar disorder may have deficits in social cognition, including being able to understand another person’s state of mind.
In addition, if you are intimately involved with someone who has BP, sexual intimacy can fluctuate—which can be confusing. Your partner may seem to be sexually hyperactive during manic or hypomanic states. Conversely, in the midst of a depressive episode, they may not have any interest at all in having sex with you. This baffling change in desire might feel like you’re being rejected, but it is probably due to your partner’s mood state—which will most likely shift again.
People with this condition benefit from a regular practice of self-care strategies that can help them manage their bipolar symptoms. These same things are good for everyone else too! So, rather than going out to bars for a few drinks, or being couch potatoes and bingeing on old movies, enjoy healthy lifestyle behaviors together instead, such as:
Although people with bipolar disorder aren’t at fault for having it, they can choose to get help for their symptoms, which in turn can create better balance in relationships. In fact, one of the most effective strategies for managing this condition is being compliant with treatment. In many cases, medications are needed to keep symptoms in check and help prevent the debilitating highs of mania and the deep lows of depression.
One of the challenges with this, however, is that people with BP often miss the productivity, euphoria, or creativity that comes with mania. Subsequently, they might decide to stop taking their medication. As a friend, you can talk with them about this. Be understanding, but also remind them about the potential consequences based on past unmedicated manic states. For example, your friend may have engaged in inappropriate social behavior, uninhibited spending sprees, problems at work, conflicts with the law or had to be hospitalized.
Talk with your pal or new romantic interest about BP and let them know how much you care about them. By doing so in a compassionate way, you will develop a better understanding of what their experience is like in having this condition. Talking openly lets your friend or significant other know that you care and provides opportunities for you to let them know about any symptomatic behaviors they engage in that adversely affect you, and what boundaries you may need to set around them.
Although people with bipolar disorder have very difficult symptoms to manage at times, they also have hopes and ambitions to pursue in life too. And like all of us, they thrive best when connected to people they know care enough to support them through the challenging times.
Bipolar disorder and other mood problems can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.