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Q:  My girlfriend is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  She has a history of cheating on boyfriends and I know she has also cheated on me numerous times.  I have confronted her on the issue and she blames it on her disorder.  She also says that because of it she doesn't think about how it will effect me when she does these things.  I was wondering if you could offer me some insight on this or what we could possibly do to help the situation.

Thank you so much,

Dear C,

     This may be an appropriate topic not only for private discussion between you and your girlfriend but for the two of you in her therapy sessions if she is agreeable.  Like many rewarding activities, sex has a particular pull when your girlfriend is getting manic.  This can be true even if she is a person who is sexually conservative during her stable times.  People get themselves into very risky sexual situations when they are escalating and sometimes the emotional results which can include feelings of shame, humiliation, and anger- worsen their cycling mood state.

     When you feel strongly pulled towards rewards, it's hard to step back and ask whether you're making healthy decisions for yourself.  Some people benefit from knowing that they're prone to sexual "acting out" when they're in the early and active phases of mania.  Knowing this about yourself is the first step toward controlling it.

     The best way to avoid dangerous sexual situations is to spend as much
time as possible with people you know and trust who can talk you out of impulsive sexual encounters.  That is, when you go out at night, go with a friend who knows about your illness and who can "run interference" when you start to show poor judgment.  Make special efforts to stay away from alcohol and street drugs.  There is nothing worse that self-medicating an escalating mood with caffeine, drugs, or alcohol, which will almost certainly contribute to your mood escalation and lower your threshold for acting on a sexual impulse.  Encourage your friends to take you home if they think you're making foolish decisions.  Ultimately the decision to have, or not have, sex with someone is yours alone, but limit setting from others (even if quite irritating to you at the time) can help you from getting into encounters that  you'll regret later.

     Some people report that their primary romantic relationships improve when they get manic or hypomanic because they become more sexually engaged with their partners.  Others report that an increase in their sexual encounters with their partner contributes to their upward escalation into mania.  But for most people, being manic doesn't mean having to avoid sex with their regular partner.  In fact, sex can be a good outlet for your energy if it is with the right person at the right time.  The key is not to allow your mania to drive you toward irresponsible or risky sex.

David Schafer, M.Ed.
Staff Psychologist

Published May, 2006

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