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In every relationship, setting boundaries is essential. Bipolar disorder can complicate relationships, making boundary-setting even more important.
Are you part of a couple struggling to communicate and remain connected amid the stresses that bipolar disorder places on your relationship?
If so, you know, how tough that can be, day in and day out. Emotional escalation can often lead to upset and anger. In addition, hurtful interaction like blaming and criticism are all too common.
Unfortunately, listening, understanding, and problem-solving are too often undermined by BD. It is a condition that easily confuses intensity for intimacy and routinely gets in the way of solid, cooperative relationship-building.
Inevitably, couples coping with bipolar disorder tend to deal with a lot of highly-charged, emotional exchanges.
Therefore, what kind of relationship limits must be in place to build a successful union?
Let’s look at several ways boundary-setting can help you and your partner work out ways to solve problems as they arise and strengthen your bond:
Keep in mind that a boundary is not about rules or telling the other person what to do. You can’t control their behavior; you can only control your own. Limits are based on your personal values and about what you will do to take care of yourself.
Limit the amount of time you spend focusing on the negatives of your relationship or BD. Instead, routinely and intentionally enjoy each other and reflect on what draws you together. BD partners need to be affirmed and reassured more than others.
The non-BD partner endures their own stresses in response to the condition. Thus, it is very important to set a boundary regarding negativity.
Share as many positive responses and observations with your partner as possible. Pile up the enjoyable interactions, outings, and attention to what matters to you.
See this boundary, too, as a cushion around the relationship you want. Pour in as much appreciation, affection, attention, and enjoyment as you can. You’ll want to get back to this positive state sooner rather than later during conflict.
Stan Tatkin, the author of Wired for Love, encourages couples to building a “couple bubble.” At its core, the bubble is an agreement to make the relationship first priority. It is a safe space, where either partner can find relief, acceptance, and security. Kind of like an “us against the world” mindset.
It is vital that your relationship places strict limits on assuming, interpreting, and expressing what you think you know about each other’s thoughts, feelings or intentions.
Assumption most often provokes a defensive reaction and leads to misunderstanding and resentment.
Make it your job as a couple to verbalize your concerns, not read each other’s minds. Talk about what bothers you without assuming the other should already know or that they don’t care enough to know.
BD is sneaky. It will churn the sufferer’s internal waters and make it difficult to slow down unhelpful interpretations of their partner’s interactions.
Both partners will be helped immeasurably by a counselor who understands the disorder and helps create an open, reflective environment for mutual communication.
Escalating, intense emotion is often a maker of BD relationships. Logic and safe interaction can be hard to retain when they are awash with emotion. Setting boundaries that recognize the potential for damaging outbursts, anger, etc is crucial.
Time-outs matter in your relationship. Don’t continue to push each other’s buttons. It’s perfectly okay to de-escalate and defuse the situation. Walk away from conflict assuring each other that the conversation can continue when calm returns.
For best results, prepare for escalation by discussing how you will practice early exiting while you are both calm. Keep in mind that BD behavior is difficult to rein in, so establishing a safe cooling-off place as the non-BD partner is vital as well.
The more emotional and physical safety you can inject into your relationship the more success you’ll have as a couple.
People with bipolar disorders are often triggered when they feel criticized, accused, or blamed. Yet, they also can escalate a conflict with exactly that kind of hurtful and emotional language. Thus, for a successful relationship, it is imperative that you both set a hard boundary limiting complaints and criticisms.
Decide instead that feedback, not fault-finding, is your goal. This includes a lot of “I-statements” ( “I feel.. when you…”) rather than information that insinuates that your partner makes you feel sad, angry, lonely, etc.
The goal is not to communicate control. You want to be honest, but cooperatively so. Consciously demonstrate that you can manage your own feelings, remain compassionate, and show that you care deeply about your connection, regardless of the issue on the table.
BD creates drama for couples. So much so that focus on the relationship can crowd out each partner’s self-confidence and individual connections. Without carving out dedicated time and space for your own pursuits and perspectives, it’s easy to become isolated. Reality becomes skewed and it’s difficult not to become frustrated, depressed, anxious, an/or resentful. Give each other space.
BD-caused insecurity will try to feed a codependence. Seek out others anyway. Call on a therapist, loved ones, spiritual advisors, etc to maintain a balanced perspective. In addition practice self-care activities like meditation/prayer, massage, exercise, and healthy nutrition to ensure that your mind and body are in the best condition to manage the rigors of BD and holding to your boundaries.
Mood swings inherent to bipolar disorder make a successful relationship a challenge. However, applied with fewer attempts to control each other and more compassionate attention to the depth and strength of your connection, lasting love is possible.
Still, you’ll both need support and care to understand each other well, feel supported during difficult times, and find your way back to each other until you become adept at crafting win-win solutions to your problems on a daily basis.
I’m here to help you make the most of your relationship. Let’s figure out what’s working and what is not together. Reach out for a free consultation.Click Here
April Lyons, MA, LPC is a somatic psychotherapist and currently owns a private practice in Boulder. She specializes in PTSD, eating disorders, and bipolar disorder treatment. April is trained in EMDR Therapy, Trauma Informed Care, and is certified as a Eating Disorder Intuitive Therapist. Read more about Bipolar Disorder Treatment.
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