Should You Argue with a Person Who Has Bipolar Disorder?

Medically Reviewed By Bethany Juby, PsyD
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The symptoms of bipolar disorder include mood shifts, which can affect relationships. However, you can communicate effectively with someone living with bipolar disorder. This article will discuss whether arguing with someone living with bipolar disorder is effective. It will talk about how bipolar disorder can affect relationships. It will also cover how to help a loved one with bipolar disorder and how to handle periods of low mood and mania, which are symptoms of the condition. Finally, it will give tips on what not to say to someone with bipolar disorder.

Should you argue with someone who has bipolar disorder?

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People living with bipolar disorder can have difficulty thinking or communicating clearly. It can also cause them to lash out at those around them.

Though it may be difficult, you should not take their behavior personally. Over time, you may be able to begin to recognize these mood shifts and better navigate the person’s ups and downs, which they cannot control.

When a person with bipolar disorder is experiencing a mood episode and lashes out at you, it may seem easy to respond similarly. However, responding in the same manner may not be an effective way to communicate your feelings to them.

Learn about how a person with bipolar disorder thinks.

How does bipolar disorder affect relationships?

Living with someone with a prolonged or chronic medical or psychological condition can affect every aspect of your relationship. Bipolar disorder is an often misunderstood condition. However, those with bipolar disorder can often manage their symptoms with medication, psychotherapy, and daily coping methods. This can help them to lead healthy lives and maintain good relationships.

The average age of people who develop bipolar disorder is about 25 years old. However, the condition can occur in the teen years or, less commonly, in childhood. People with bipolar disorder may experience a childhood with mood changes they do not understand and that are different from their peers. This can lead to coping mechanisms that are often difficult to live with.

These coping mechanisms may include:

  • Disconnection: When someone with bipolar disorder finds it difficult to understand or predict the moods of others, they may disconnect or withdraw.
  • Controlling behavior: The unpredictability of bipolar disorder may make a person with the condition feel out of control. One way they may try to feel more in control is by controlling others around them.
  • Drug or alcohol misuse: The feelings and mood episodes associated with bipolar disorder can overwhelm the person experiencing it. For some, the only way to cope is with alcohol or drug misuse.
  • Overspending: Overspending and rationalizing is common behavior during a manic episode. Some people with bipolar disorder who are aware of this behavior may ask their spouse to control their finances.
  • Irritability: A person with bipolar disorder can often experience uncontrollable irritability. Those closest to them can become their outlet for that irritability.
  • Grandiosity: The imbalance of brain chemicals that bipolar disorder can cause often leads to an inflated sense of self.

Learn about bipolar disorder.

How can you help a loved one with bipolar disorder?

You can help your loved ones living with bipolar disorder in many ways. How you act and react can help them manage their behaviors and reactions differently.

Ways to help maintain a healthy relationship

When maintaining a healthy relationship with someone with bipolar disorder, keep in mind that you cannot change them, only yourself.

  • Do not believe the stigma: Focus on the person you care about, not their condition. Put aside preconceptions about their condition and work to separate the person from their condition.
  • Understand their behavior: Symptoms of conditions like bipolar disorder can present through social behaviors. It is easy to be hurt by that. However, keep in mind that these are not always conscious choices on the person’s part. This does not excuse the behavior, but it can make it easier for you to handle it.
  • Expect certain behaviors: Adjusting to accommodate symptoms and behaviors associated with their condition does not mean you cannot have expectations of your own. Communicate these needs and desires to your loved one.
  • Try to see it from their perspective: Researching their condition can help you see the world from their perspective. This can help you better understand their behaviors and how you can help them manage and cope with them.

Tips for communicating effectively

One way to maintain a healthy relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder is to learn to communicate effectively.

Use simple, direct, and clear language

The way you begin a conversation can set the tone for the entire thing:

  • Get the person’s attention before starting a conversation.
  • Cover only one topic at a time and share small bits of information.
  • Say what you mean instead of hinting about it.

Practice active listening

Taking the time to truly listen to each other is an important part of communication. To actively listen to someone, follow these tips:

  • Look at the person you are talking with.
  • Focus on what they are saying.
  • Acknowledge what you are hearing with body language or verbal indication.
  • Ask for clarification to be sure you understand what they are saying.
  • Summarize what you have heard them say, free of judgments.

Calmly express your feelings

Calmly expressing your feelings about their behavior is an effective way to express any grievances you may have. To do this, try these techniques:

  • Address specific behaviors rather than blaming the person.
  • Speak firmly while looking at the person.
  • Use “I” statements to tell the person how their behavior made you feel.
  • Suggest to them how they can do things differently to avoid it happening again.

Communicate positive things

It is important to communicate your concerns. However, it is equally as important to verbalize when you appreciate something they have done. People are more likely to continue positive behaviors when they know you appreciate them.

What not to say to someone with bipolar disorder

There are certain things not to say to someone with bipolar disorder. These can seem like simple phrases, but they can be hurtful to that person.

You are just overreacting

The mood shifts involved with bipolar disorder can lead to someone overreacting or appearing to overreact. However, saying this to them can minimize their experience of these symptoms and the condition they live with.

Everyone has mood shifts

Again, this minimizes the very real and severe mood changes someone with bipolar disorder experiences. Yes, everyone does experience mood swings from time to time. However, the mood changes related to bipolar disorder are persistent and can be more severe.

Summary

Bipolar disorder can cause a person to have shifts in mood. This can lead to behavior that is often difficult to live with.

However, there are ways to communicate effectively with someone with bipolar disorder. Arguing with them is not typically the most effective way to communicate your feelings and desires.

Listen to them when they talk with you and use clear, concise language to communicate your feelings and needs.

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Medical Reviewer: Bethany Juby, PsyD
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 21
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