It is important to remember that your significant other, who may be living with bipolar, is a person and not just the diagnosis. Here are my five tips to help you cope with the ups and downs of being in a relationship, that will hopefully lend themselves to you being able to be as supportive as possible.

Communication is key

This is advice that is important in every relationship with every person, but is something that is particularly important when entering into a romantic relationship with someone who has a bipolar diagnosis. Honest, brave and consistent communication, as well as active listening, forms the basis of all points that will follow, and is essential for the maintenance of the relationship.

The symptoms and behaviours that are part and parcel of the disorder can be stressful, confusing and worrying for all parties, and can have a serious impact on a relationship. Negating this can sometimes feel impossible, but opening a line of honest communication between everyone involved in the relationship can help you all navigate and overcome difficulties that you may experience.

Acceptance

A person revealing their diagnosis to you can be a nerve-wracking experience for them, and can be something that is difficult for you to hear. However, it is of incredible importance that you make it clear to them that they are accepted, loved and supported for who they are. There are a number of ways to ensure that you do this in the best way possible, from educating yourself about the disorder to remembering that the diagnosis is real and does not have to change the relationship you have with someone. No matter the education or understanding of the disorder that is behind the acceptance, however, it is the acceptance that is the most important.

Inform yourself

A key part of accepting a person’s diagnosis and having a successful relationship with them is understanding what it means to be bipolar. There are vast swathes of reputable information leaflets, books, blogs and pages dedicated to the disorder, and this knowledge will not only help you understand the disorder, but also the way that it may be affecting the person you love. You can contact Peer Support services and charities that have phone or email services such as Bipolar UK to speak to someone with the diagnosis, to ask questions and ask for hints and tips with situations that you may be concerned about dealing with appropriately.

An informed ally is a good ally, and this information can act as an emotional bolster for all of you. Understanding the illness can help you process thought processes that are common but can be destructive, such as those that relate to the assignation of blame and guilt.

Hands off or hands on?

Sometimes a person may request that they spend time alone, or have some time away as they are working through a particularly intense period of their disorder. It can be difficult to tell if following this request is neglectful or careless, particularly if you know they are struggling.

It can be helpful to remember that this may be a diagnosis that they have been managing for a long period, or if newly diagnosed, a diagnosis that they are attempting to become comfortable managing themselves. As part of the communication channel discussed earlier, it is important to listen to the person you are romantically involved with. If you are concerned that they are a danger to themselves or others, you should always notify the appropriate emergency or crisis services, but if they are safe and merely wish to spend some time alone, letting them know you are there for them should they need anything, a hands off approach and space to think and recover can be invaluable. Touching base with them occasionally is a good way to maintain contact and reassure yourself of their well being, while still respecting their request for space.

Patience

The changes in behaviour and mood that a person with bipolar disorder may experience can be confusing and stressful for both the person with the diagnosis and their involved significant other/s. It is important to remember that these complex changes are not because of you or your relationship, and that the cyclical nature of the disorder does mean that the intensity that you are all currently experiencing will pass.

During the period of intensity, however, being as patient as possible will be of benefit to your relationship and your partner. Take time away if you find yourself getting very frustrated; go for a walk or have a short break away to allow you to have space to relax and regroup.

Despite all of the above, it is important to remember that a mental health diagnosis is not an allowance for abusive or controlling behaviour.

I hope you have found these tips helpful, obviously it's not an exhaustive list, but those above certainly helped me and hopefully they will help you. 


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Together, we can support the person behind the diagnosis of bipolar.