More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Bipolars in Relationships: Emotional Safety is Parmamont
by John McManamy
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Recently, I began writing a new "Ask the Expert Patient" feature here at BipolarConnect.

In response to two women whose husbands with bipolar crossed the line into abuse, I advised:

"Your husbands may be the ones who have bipolar, but you are the ones who suffer from it. I have absolutely no sympathy for someone who puts their loved one through hell. The ?bipolar excuse' doesn't cut it with me."​

I have two failed marriages, which makes me an expert in relationships.

A few days later I reinforced the message in the comments section to my post:

"I'm bipolar, but being bipolar is not a license to abuse your loved one. It doesn't matter whether the illness is responsible for the behavior or not. Bottom line - no one should have to put up with outrageous behavior."​

Okay, so we have the bottom line when it comes to a loved one of a bipolar, but what is the flip side? What is the bottom line if a bipolar wants to enter a relationship? Well, a bipolar shouldn't have to put up with outrageous behavior from his or her partner, either. But something else enters into play as well.

Even in well states, many of us experience and express a range of emotions that are likely to take our partners by surprise. They may react with humored bemusement, or they may let loose with outright hostility. The tables have been turned. We're the one walking on eggshells. We're the ones who are emotionally unsafe.

This is no abstract conversation with me. I left a marriage nine months ago. I am now emotionally ready to start considering the possibility of getting into a relationship. So, here I am, bipolar. What's my bottom line?

It turns out to be emotional safety. My "normal" may well be my partner's "strange." When I'm up, Jim Carrey appears soft-spoken. I get road rage and I don't even drive, my depressions would put an existentialist to shame, plus I frequently get anxious and have a bald head to prove it.

And I haven't even gotten into my personality quirks.

And, mind you, I consider myself in full recovery. Better than recovery, even. I regard my bipolar as a gift. "Normal-normal" to me is boring. I can't imagine leading the type of life they do, shorn of the breadth and depth of emotions I experience.

That may be fine, but what kind of potential partner is likely to put up with me. What's my bottom line?

I want to be able to laugh - laugh real loud - without my partner thinking I'm flipping into mania.

I want to be able to get upset without my partner thinking I'm out of control.

I want to be miserable without my partner giving me "the look."

I want to express my visionary ideas without my partner thinking I'm grandiose.

I want to make off-beat observations and dream without my partner playing her "practical" trump card.

I want to bubble with enthusiasm without that "here he goes again" expression from my partner.

I don't want to be told to snap out of it, take a chill pill, stop acting like a baby, be patronized, talked down to, and otherwise made to feel that I'm the weird and irresponsible one in this relationship.

I want my partner to say, "I understand," when I go to pieces for seemingly no reason. I want her to say, "I hear you," when I'm upset and distressed. I want to hear her laugh as loud as me, laugh with me, cry with me. I want her to take me in my arms, and hear her say, "It's okay. I know where you're coming from. I would feel the same way in your situation."

I want her to give me a swift kick in the pants when I need it. But I want her support and not her disapproval and judgment.

I need to be safe. Emotionally safe. Otherwise, I'm the one walking on eggshells. Otherwise, I'm the one living in a constant state of stress.

That's a tall order for any would-be partner of mine. Who on earth could possibly understand where I'm coming from?

The answer to me is a no-brainer. Another bipolar, of course. One who also asks the same of me. With another bipolar, there is a possibility I will feel emotionally safe in any relationship I may find myself in. Bring it on.
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