Having a relationship is a lot of work, and having a relationship that includes mental illness can be wildly tricky.
To start, I like to think of humans as being like a pitcher, or cup, or carafe… as units we are capable of pouring our affection and attention onto others, and we are also capable of storing those good feelings, they generally help power our lives.
As with any relationship, we take turns comforting each other or filling each other with love and good feelings when the other is running low. Being a team can be very helpful that way!
In a healthy relationship (even one that might involve mental illness) this support system is a two way street. Needless to say, it can be very difficult to be supportive and attentive when your partner has run out of juice when you are distracted.
For me, having an emotional disorder can mean feeling a constant need for love and affection, and the feeling is so profound there are times when those intense feelings distract me and I can’t see that my partner is running completely dry. This is where things become unhealthy, because he is a great guy and more than worthy of an equal share of the love and support in the relationship!
Ultimately I consider myself very lucky that my partner is very patient and supportive, but as someone who can become distracted and potentially forget to be as loving and affectionate as he deserves it is extremely important to me to try to maintain a sense of balance in our relationship. Anyone with bipolar disorder knows that balance is like a beautiful mythical creature we’re constantly chasing, and I am definitely not perfect but I do my best.
Some of the things that have helped in this endeavor include:
- using support systems like therapy, group therapy, and friends to help express some of my more negative emotions so my partner receives a better balance of positive & negative emotions from me
- taking on more chores when I am feeling more capable to take some of the load off from when I may have been depressed
- encouraging (or simply being understanding) of my partner spending time with other people away from me so he has a chance to help refill his pitcher with support from friends, family, or therapy
- expressing my affection in whatever way I feel capable of at the time, whether that is vocally, through a small gift or a treat or a favorite meal, or something as simple as a foot rub
- remembering that times where I am not receiving as much support or affection are not typically coming from a place of punishment or vengeance but simply of the cup running dry!