“My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 2 years. He had not been on meds and the manic episodes were very destructive to my home, to him to me to my son. When his parents told me he was bipolar, I insisted he get medication. Too late. He is now incarcerated for domestic violence to me and my home, my car, etc… He steals from me and his family…UGH. Anyway, since being in jail for a month now, he is on lithium and respiridone (?)- He is still manipulative, rude, and self-centered. Is it really bipolar or is he just an out and out self-centered jerk? He is OCD also. I will find him the mirror for hours combing his beard and staring at himself. Really I have tried to help, but being called a degrading names every other day is not good. His mood swings are rapid and explosive. Thoughts?”
I know that using the word Bipolar as a short reason for a big, destructive behavior can really seem like a load of crap. It can even sometimes be a load of crap, but for me, more often than not, it really is the bipolar that is the foundation for the behavior that has other names like rage, selfishness, giddiness, inappropriateness, etc. This is NOT to say that being bipolar is a passport to treat your loved ones or yourself poorly. In fact, it is just the opposite. Now that we know what the problem is we are kind of obligated to take care to understand it better, and hopefully try to treat it. The most important things for me inside of a relationship, especially a relationship where the person and I are very close or even sexually intimate, is boundaries. I am like a happy little agility dog that can perform so well when I know what I am allowed to do, what the objective is at each platform, when I am praised for doing it right AND just for making the effort on the course, forgiven and loved despite any mistakes I might make (and believe me, there are PLENTY!). I feel safest and most loved when my person sets and sticks to the consequences of for instance… pooping on the course or starting a fight with another dog.
What I am saying is that I have to have the freedom to participate but not without the person who is next to me letting me know the repercussions of my actions, how they feel, how they will handle it, and of course, what their boundaries are. This kind of guidance helps me stake out my own boundary lines, and I just function much, MUCH better when I know I can’t get away with anything. Allowing your boyfriend to go to jail and experience the consequences of his actions was the best thing you could have done. But now it’s time to draw your own boundary lines, and you MUST make sure you can stick to them. If they are too hard for you to uphold, you are basically letting him know he will be praised and rewarded for pooping on the course.
It is so important to set your boundaries, and allow him to test them, because he will. It is up to you to uphold them. If he sees you doing this, and he realizes you mean business about keeping yourself healthy, it doesn’t seem so scary or feel so abandoning for us to create and maintain our own boundary lines too. I know it sucks to go first, especially as the girl you probably want him to be able to be the man of the house, and lead you to safety. Unfortunately, this may not be possible in the beginning. Setting boundaries and learning to respect them is a skill. He might take to it like a duck to water… or like a duck to a boiling pot of water. It is important for you to do your best to provide him a nice cool pond instead of a crockpot of boiling water for duck soup. How do you do that? Boundaries!
Also, keep in mind you are not obligated to stay with him. It doesn’t matter what he says, or what he does, you are not obligated to be with him and “try to make things work,” especially if you are the only one tryin’ and makin’ and workin’. This isn’t a weapon or a threat, it’s a tool to empower you to set boundaries you can stick to with consequences that focus on helping you instead of punishing him. Always make sure that your boundaries are for your own benefit and not set to punish him. Not only will he know, he will punish you in return and you would have just tried to make things break instead of try to make them work. You will have to lead in this situation, until he learns the ropes. If you don’t want to do that, you are not obligated to stay. I know I wouldn’t want to do that!!
In conclusion, as a type 1 bipolar myself, I can certainly relate to his rage. I have a very extreme manic classification, and along with that comes the dreaded and terrifying manic rage. This does not make what I do ok. I understand that. But I cannot always control it, in fact, anytime I am in a rage I am totally out of control. The only thing I want in a rage is safety and forgiveness and comfort. Unfortunately my rage makes me more like a porcupine than a puppy, and as badly as I want someone to get close to me it’s either dangerous or just downright impossible. It was a good idea for me to be allowed to talk about my rage episodes with the people I rage at, during a calm time, so everyone is on the same page about how to handle it and where it comes from. Above all else, bipolar is an illness of awareness… at least for me. We may look unpredictable and as though we are acting without reason but make no mistake about it, everything we do has a reason. Often it is the awareness of what we are reacting to that causes the reaction; the stress, pain, shame, fear, uncertainty, confusion, disappointment…. all of these can be reasons that just a simple word or question triggers a rage episode.
I hope this helps. I would encourage you to find a support group either online or in person, and read about how to cope with someone else’s illness. It easy to forget that you are suffering from your boyfriend’s Bipolar disorder too, while you are focusing on your boyfriend’s struggle with his bipolar disorder. Good luck!