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Q:  Hello:
my boyfriend is bi-polar. Ive never dealt with anyone with this disorder and dont know how to react when his moods set in. what should i do when he gets " scarry" or when he gets angry. What should i do when being the girl i am press his buttons. i know i say things in arguements with him that i shouldnt say but i dont wanna not say thnigs on my mind because im afraid he will blow up. i never know when hes going to flip out. should i tip toe around waht i say? are there certian things i shouldnt do that triger his change of attitude?

please help.

Dear D,

     Let's put the shoe on the other foot for a second and forget about the bipolar diagnosis.  If you were the "moody" one who often blew up and flipped out, would you be happy knowing your partner had to "tip toe around" you worrying about pressing your buttons for fear of setting you off?  I'm guessing you wouldn't be.  In other words, ideally any plan to identify triggers that lead to predictable bipolar symptoms should be a mutual effort.

     Sit down with your partner and have a conversation when he is in a relatively good mood.  Ask him what it is that you do that seems to trigger his bad moods.  He may or may not be able to answer this question.  Try to tell him the importance of the both of you being able to communicate even if the subject matter may be a bit uncomfortable at times.  Certainly too there is a huge difference between loud overbearing arguments and calm rational discussion.  I can tell you now that you will both respond better to the latter in a back and forth exchange.

     Symptoms are results, triggers are the cause.  Symptoms, as you say "getting scarry, angry, blowing up, flipping out, etc. are what you must deal with on a daily basis but the symptoms are not the real problem.  They are only a sign of a problem.  The real problem is what "triggers" the symptoms.

     As you read the following list from the book "Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder", circle each common trigger you think may be a problem for your partner:

Arguments/ Travel Time or Changes/ Work-related Stress/
Caffeine Use/ Drug Use, Including Medications/ Change in General/ Social
Events/ Shopping Centers/ Driving in Traffic/ Poor Diet; High In Refined
Foods/ Alcohol Use/ Lack of Exercise/ Unstable Family Situation/ Poor
Relationship with Partner, family member, friend or co-worker/ Lack of
Balance in Life/ Lack of Structure/ Too Many Obligations/ Contantly On the
Move/ Exposure to TV and Other Forms of Media/ Hanging out With
Crazy-Making People/ Aggression Toward Self or Others/ Overly Stimulated
Lifestyle/ Lack of Spirituality/ Overscheduling of Overcommitting/
Listening to Negative Internal Dialogue/ Everyday Obligations/ Illness or
Death of a Loved One/ Stressful World Events.

Trigger lists such as the above are not about what someone does wrong.  They are simply a way of understanding and getting a clear picture of what specific behaviors and situations provoke stress and bipolar mood swings. Some triggers begin very gradually and build up over weeks.  Some triggers are always disastrous.  Some are more immediate and predictable.  Triggers can change.  Remember, at first it may be hard to pinpoint the triggers of your partner's symptoms but with practice a pattern often emerges. How can you modify and stop bipolar disorder triggers in your relationship?  As the person who spends a significant amount of time with your partner you really have a very large influence on their health.  Make an agreement with yourself right now that you will NO longer argue with your partner.  Naturally, this will be very difficult if your partner is ill and wants to argue but then YOU have to be the one to stop.  Arguments are very stimulating and trigger many bipolar disorder symptoms.  Simply make the decision to STOP.  This does not eliminate the option for calm  discussion.

The following book is recommended:  "Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder:
Understanding & Helping Your Partner, Fast, J.A. & Preston, J.D., 2004

David Schafer, M.Ed.
Staff Psychologist

Published April, 2006


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