I thought about writing a blog entry about the best ways to help a partner who’s bipolar, but then I thought: So many of you out there reading already know how to do that. But what’s often forgotten is how to take care of yourself in the face of another’s mental illness, and how to ensure that you’re looked after, too.
1) Consider what your own needs are.
So often, a partner’s mental illness will dwarf your lives. You’re trying so hard to help that person maintain optimal functioning that you forget what you need to be your best.
Think about what you value in a partnership and whether you’re getting it (mostly–no one gets it all!). Are you feeling loved? Appreciated? Assisted? Safe?
2) Recognize that your needs are as important as your partner’s.
His or her needs might be more obvious, and yours might be easier to overlook. But that doesn’t mean they’re not valid.
People with bipolar disorder often take up a lot of space and energy in a relationship. Their moods are often a determining factor. That’s not their fault; it’s the nature of the illness.
But sometimes the relationship becomes fully skewed in the direction of their needs, regardless of whether they’re actively in an episode. It can be all about what lowers their stress, keeps them happy, etc. If that’s what’s going on, recognize it, and address it. It doesn’t have to be that way.
3) Resolve to talk to your partner about this (at the right time.)
As in, if your partner is in the middle of a hypomanic, manic, mixed, or depressive episode, then now is not the time. You might need to sweep things under the rug but only temporarily.
Write down what you’re thinking and feeling, and resolve to share it with your partner as soon as he or she seems to be stable enough to engage in the dialogue. Maybe you’d even start the dialogue by giving your writing to your partner, asking him or her to reflect, and then to respond when ready.
4) Make sure dialogue leads to an action plan.
You need to identify what needs to change, and the specifics of how to produce that change. Keep it measurable and realistic but also cognizant of the illness. For example, you might want more date nights so you can feel special, but if a date night falls during an episode, then you’ll have to agree that sometimes it won’t be possible.
But this is about striving for better, not simply accepting the status quo. This is your relationship, too.
Woman reading photo available from Shutterstock