How to Improve Bipolar Relationships

A picture of the same man in a black shirt making three different expressions.Bipolar Disorder can run the gamut of emotions. From expansive, unrealistic thoughts to feelings of desperation and hopelessness.

Bipolar relationships are not easy to handle.  Do you or someone you love have bipolar disorder? How do you deal with this type of relationship? If someone you know has bipolar disorder, how can you help?

Some disorders and the relationship problems they cause can be hard to solve. Bipolar is one of them. How to tell if someone has it? The only way to be sure is to obtain a diagnosis from a qualified mental health practitioner. But let's look at the hallmark symptoms of bipolar disorder and learn how to cope with bipolar relationships. 

Getting an Accurate Bipolar Diagnosis

Bipolar relationships are tricky. But, not everyone who seems bi-polar meets the criteria for diagnosis. The main way to tell if someone meets the criteria is to determine if they have mood swings. Now everyone has mood swings. That is to the say, mood swings are normal, to an extent, which makes bipolar relationships a challenge. 

Plus, mood swings can be symptoms of other disorders, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder and Cyclothymia, types of depression. Stress can cause mood swings, or living a chaotic and uncertain lifestyle. So, just because a person has mood swings, that doesn't mean he or she has this disorder.

Pre-adolescents and adolescents, for example, can appear to be manifesting the symptoms. Given all the drama in middle school, who wouldn't have fluctuating moods? Some people may be more dependent upon their environments and changes in their circumstances than others, so their behaviors may seem rather up and down. Personality factors may also come into play.

Bipolar is different in that it means extreme shifts in mood. When the person feels good they feel real good, and when they take a dive they really go down. In other words, when they're in a manic phase, they're on top of the world, and they have expansive, often unrealistic thoughts. When they go into a depressed phase, they generally hit rock bottom, seeing everything as gloom and doom. Just remember, the test is extreme mood swings.

As the bipolar person's emotions run the gamut, going from extreme to extreme, it can be hard on them, and everyone around them. Spouses, in particular, have a hard time adjusting to the changes. Non-bipolar spouses often tell me it's like dealing with two different people, or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

To be sure that you or your loved one has bipolar disorder, obtain an assessment and diagnosis from a qualified professional counselor or therapist.

Whether you're dealing with a bipolar relationship or another type of difficult relationship, I recommend Relationship Gold, an eBook I wrote for my psychotherapy clients on how to solve the most troubling relationship problems and how to mine the hidden gold buried deep in even the most problematic relationship. It's an easy read and you can refer to it whenever you need help with various relationship problems. It contains the best strategies and tips obtained from my nearly four decades of experience as a professional therapist working with couples and relationship problems. Relationship Gold reveals what works and what doesn't work to fix relationship problems, and gives you hope for dealing with lost or broken relationships. 

The same woman making a happy/relaxed facial expression and a frustrated facial expression.Those with Bipolar Disorder may seem like two different people. When they're in a manic phase, they're on top of the world, and when they're depressed they hit rock bottom.

Tips for Improving Bipolar Relationships

1. Get an accurate diagnosis. Be sure. Know what you're dealing with. Genetic testing may be a new option.

2. Once they have a bipolar diagnosis, encourage them to stay on their prescribed medication, which evens out the mood swings. Bipolar is one of those mental disorders that requires medication in order for the patient to be able to function at his or her best. Encourage them to participate in regular therapy. You should work with the therapist, as well. 

3. Learn about bipolar disorder. Understand bipolar symptoms. Learn how to best support your bipolar loved one. And learn what not to do. Get help from the professionals in determining the most effective ways to help. You can begin with these tips, and go from there.

4. Stay calm and avoid over-reacting to bipolar episodes, or you'll have two people acting as if they have bipolar disorder in the household. Talk about chaos!

5. Avoid taking their behaviors personally. Remember, they have an illness.

6. Take good care of yourself, and make sure you get the support -- emotionally, physically and spiritually -- you need to stay strong.

7. The golden pillar of relating well to your bipolar loved one is to resist the urge to change them. You can't. So don't try to do it.

Or you'll make the bipolar person feel unworthy and resentful. He or she may try to change for you, deep inside knowing they can't. And you'll just do more harm than good, ultimately disappointing yourself.

8. Listen closely to what your bipolar friend has to say. Make them feel heard, accepted and understood.

9. Do things together, and spend time having fun. Lots of fun. Let the good times balance out the bad. Focus on the good, not the bipolar symptoms that drive you mad.

10.  Express your feelings and concerns, but don't blame or put your spouse down.

Therapy for Bipolar Disorder

Yes, therapy does help with bipolar disorder, but only certain kinds have been associated with successful treatment outcomes in the literature. Find a therapist who specializes in the treatment of bipolar disorder.

Encourage your bipolar spouse to go to therapy and to stay with it. Many tend to quit before it starts to help. Nothing will help your Bipolar relationship more than getting therapy as an individual or couple. 

The key to working with bipolar disorder is to respect the disorder, and to work with it, not against it. If you do your best to understand how the disorder impacts the patient, and how, in turn, you can be affected, you'll be on your way to improving your bipolar relationship.

Other disorders are hard on relationships, too, such as ADHD, Autism spectrum disorders, Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, to name a few. In all cases, it pays to learn as much as possible about the disorders involved, and to get the help you need to provide the best possible care and support to the diagnosed individual.

Get Backup and Support from Loved Ones and Professionals

A bipolar relationship can be enhanced by close monitoring and paying attention to changing symptoms. It will be a labor of love, even when you become really skilled at working with a difficult relationship partner who has bipolar symptoms. Dealing with the various forms of mental illness can be difficult and discouraging, and may be more than some can handle. Don't do it alone -- get backup and support. Let family members help and build a professional support team to help with diagnosis, medication and therapy. 

Stay calm when problems pop up. Expect problems. It's just part of it. Work together. See to it that your loved one takes his/her medication properly and consistently, and that you both talk things over and communicate on a regular basis. Learn from mistakes, and learn to handle problems in a better way. 

And remember, be sure to provide high quality self-care. You're going to need support because this is a considerable undertaking. When the bipolar spouse engages in good self-care, the bipolar relationship stabilizes and  improves. 

A Couple EmbracingHandling Bipolar Disorder is Easier to Manage When You and your Bipolar Partner Work Together

Relationships are not easy, especially when you're dealing with bipolar, ADHD or other types of issues that cause relationship problems. Get relationship tips and learn more about coping with difficult relationships. Relationships give us so much satisfaction they are worth all the work. Get help with anxiety and communication in relationships and make your relationships more satisfying and enjoyable.