Monday, February 9, 2009

The Bipolar Relationship Riddle

Later this afternoon, I will be making a 50-mile drive in the pouring rain to La Jolla in San Diego to attend a DBSA friends and family support group. It concerns a very bad communication I had last week with a former girlfriend. I really need to talk to some people who understand.

I have bipolar. Or more accurately, bipolar plus other stuff. I have yet to meet someone who just has bipolar.

My second marriage - to a very lovely women with bipolar plus her own collection of add-ons - ended just prior to Thanksgiving two years back. Then I had a short relationship with delightful cowgirl with bipolar (more pluses) that ended just prior to Thanksgiving a year back. Then a slightly longer relationship with personally stunning ball of fire (bipolar fully loaded) that ended - drumroll please - just prior to last Thanksgiving.

What is it about three Thanksgivings in a row?

I'm obviously no expert on relationships - in fact, call me a jerk - but my experience from both sides of the bipolar fence as a patient and loved one has conferred me with certain insights. In the six weeks this blog has been going, I have already posted two blogs on relationships, and intend to post many more.

The experts talk about "functionality," which is arguably a more reliable indicator of the severity of our illness than ticking off a symptom checklist. The two key indicators of functionality are work and relationships (keeping in mind we may choose healthy alternatives to both). Predictably, our population performs poorly in both categories.

Obviously, figuring out how to get it right is a fairly reliable predictor of recovery.

Think of the above as a preamble to this announcement: My favorite bipolar blogger, Therese Borchard of Beyond Blue is devoting an entire week to relationships. Here, she gives a rundown on what we can look forward to in future posts. Check out her first installment, You Deplete Me: 10 Steps To End a Toxic Relationship. Brief excerpt:

"Be prepared to dry off as you step out of the river of Denial. A few questions will get you there. Ask yourself these, for starters: Do I feel energized or drained after I spent an hour with X? Do I WANT to spend time with X or do I feel like I have to? Do I feel sorry for X? Do I go to X looking for a response that I never get? Do I come away consistently disappointed by X's comments and behavior? Am I giving way more to the relationship than X? Do I even like X? I mean, if X were on a cruise and I didn't know her, would I walk up to her and want to be her friend/boyfriend based on her actions and interactions with others?"

More later ...

From mcmanweb: Family Fallout

"The authors devote a whole chapter to mood triggers, and place strong emphasis on partners working together to reduce the stress in the living environment, from keeping work and social obligations under control to more discriminate TV viewing to proper diet, sleep, and exercise. ..."


Cristina Romero-Sierra said...

Mmmmm... Have you ever thought of dating a non-bipolar chick? LOL! I've never dated anyone with bipolar (to my knowledge). I believe in some extent to the saying that opposites attract. My best success has come with men who are have a steadiness and predictability about them - something I don't have since I'm bipolar.

Sandra K said...

I hope your meeting went well.

Romantic relationships with people who have a bipolar disorder continues to be the most commented-on and most-lamented subject I've ever written about at World of Psychology. I'll be watching Therese's series with interest too, since I ran out of ideas for positive posts about those horrific relationship problems and the statistics behind them. YOU know what they are.

Therese is great at conjuring up hope, though.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Sandra. I feel like one of these people who keeps driving his car into the same brick wall every morning. When am I going to learn? Over at BipolarConnect, relationships are the questions people ask about the most. Their stories are heart-breaking and dismal.

I don't have answers. Thus, I, too, will be reading Therese's posts with great interest.

Glad to have you here. Please keep commenting.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Christina. Yes! Someone who is WELL. Please - be my guru. Educate me, enlighten me.

Seriously, as a bipolar writer and advocate, it's hard to publicly admit that I may have to give up on the idea of dating or having a relationship with someone who has bipolar. But I have three strikes on me.

If it were JUST bipolar, I think I might have a chance. But no one - me included - is JUST bipolar. We all have other things going on. Bipolar PLUS this, PLUS that. Suddenly we're highly combustible.

I look at the wreckage of three relationships with bipolars. I have to decide what's good for me.

Cristina Romero-Sierra said...

Hi John. :) Oh, I'm no guru on relationships. LOL! But that's the aspect of my life that I pay the most attention to and value the most - healthy relationships.

I'm not saying you necessarily need someone who is well. Just because a person isn't bipolar doesn't necessarily compute that they're well. And visa versa. Fact is, though, that most people are unwell in some aspect of their lives.

The thing I look for is not whether a person is well, but how they handle their unwellness. Are they trying to find solutions? Are they resourceful in finding people to find help? Are they consumed only with their own problems, or do they lend a helping hand to others too? Do they want to get better? Are they willing to think outside the box in finding solutions? Have they been stuck on the exact same problem forever, or have they made progress? These are the kinds of things I look for not only in a partner but in friends as well.

One of my friends said to me years ago that what she looks for the most in a partner is that they share the same values. It sounds trite, but I've found that too to be crucial in a healthy relationship.

Take care, John. I wish you luck in finding another heart to beat with.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Cristina. You're wrong. You ARE a guru. These are absolute words of wisdom, here. I'd love to hear more. In fact, it would be great if you were to expand this into a guest blog or two. Please let me know if you're interested. I'm serious about this.

Tom Wootton said...

The most important factor in having better relationships is not a trait of the other person at all, it is about what personal growth you are willing to do. All other factors are laying the responsibility on the other person. A person who turns his own actions to those of a saint can have a fabulous relationship with anyone.

Those who think success in a relationship has anything to do with the other person wonder why relationships keep working out badly and when the right person is going to come along. The right person is what we need to become, not someone out there waiting to be discovered.

The first thing we should be thinking during and after all interactions is "how did I act and what changes can I make next time I find myself in a similar circumstance." When we focus on our own behavior our relationships improve. When we expect the other person to change we end up disappointed and blaming the other person for our own failings.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Tom. I appreciate where you're coming from. I'm all for focusing on my behavior as a means to improve relationships. I know I'm a much better person to get along with than I used to be. But I could no longer be with the wrong woman than put up with the wrong boss or the wrong group of friends. We make choices. Sometimes they're the wrong ones. Then my growth involves owning up to my bad decisions, moving on, and hoping to make better ones.

I'm not about to blame my relationship failures on the women I was with. Then I would be doomed to repeat the same mistakes. An awful lot of things have to go right to make a relationship work. Only a few things have to go wrong.

We're all the right people, but many of us tend to get into the wrong relationships.

Tom Wootton said...

At a much higher level there are no wrong relationships or choices of the wrong people. One could argue that Jesus had a bad relationship with the Romans, but he chose it. Are you saying that he made a bad choice? Or did he act in a way that made it one of the greatest relationships of all time?

I would rather develop right behavior than be wrong about picking the right person. As long as one thinks that there is the wrong person or wrong boss, he/she will miss the point that the most important choice is how we act. Funny thing about the world, we keep getting the same boss until we figure this out. All three of the women could have been the right one and still could be. Thinking that it is the wrong person IS blaming the failure on the women you were with.

We have a great workshop on this with Dr. Maureen Duffy. She focuses self care and regulating ones own emotions and responses in relationships as well as learning how to avoid abusive relationships.

John McManamy said...

Hey, Tom. Very interesting points. But when a woman writes to me about being physically and emotionally abused by her loved one I'm not going to tell her about the relationship Jesus chose with the Romans.

You never met the women I was with, so it's not your place to judge my actions, nor do I have to defend myself.

They were the right women. The relationships were wrong - that's all you need to know.

I'm not Jesus. I'm a very imperfect being trying to be a less imperfect. Despite these relationships ending in failure, I still regard them as successful. But there were patterns to the last three that I cannot divulge here that I do not wish to repeat.

Unfortunately, those patterns originated in my being open to dating women with mental illness and in my failure to spot the more subtle patterns developing. The simple solution is to simply stop dating women with a diagnosis. The more complex solutions involve a lot more risk.

No right or wrong here. We simply learn from experience and try to do the best we can.