We have talked a lot on this show about dating and how to start a relationship when you have bipolar disorder. But what about if you are already in one? What about those of us who aren’t dating, but are already married or in a long-term relationship?
Tune in as Gabe and Dr. Nicole discuss ways to manage your condition in the context of your relationship and why your partner’s help can be invaluable.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
He is also the host of Healthline Media’s Inside Mental Health podcast available on your favorite podcast player. To learn more about Gabe, or book him for your next event, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Dr. Nicole Washington is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she attended Southern University and A&M College. After receiving her BS degree, she moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma to enroll in the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed a residency in psychiatry at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa. Since completing her residency training, Washington has spent most of her career caring for and being an advocate for those who are not typically consumers of mental health services, namely underserved communities, those with severe mental health conditions, and high performing professionals. Through her private practice, podcast, speaking, and writing, she seeks to provide education to decrease the stigma associated with psychiatric conditions.
Find out more at DrNicolePsych.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Bipolar, a Healthline Media Podcast, where we tackle bipolar disorder using real-world examples and the latest research.
Gabe Howard: Hey, everyone. My name is Gabe Howard and I live with bipolar disorder.
Dr. Nicole Washington: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington, a board-certified psychiatrist.
Gabe Howard: And today we’re going to talk about love. Now we’ve touched on love, romantic relationships, friendships before on this show. But it was pointed out to us that we sort of missed the boat just, just a skosh, Dr. Nicole, and that we just assume that everybody living with bipolar disorder was living alone, was single and was trying to figure out how to get in a relationship. And all the people who have been in relationships, many of them stable and for years, was like, hey, you got any advice for us? You know, there’s a lot of us in including you, Gabe. Haven’t you been married for like ten years? And I went back and listened to the episode and I was like, oh, why did we do that?
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yikes. We missed it. We missed it. Okay. We’re here to fix it, though. So that’s what’s important.
Gabe Howard: We are here to fix it. And that is the good news. So first, I want to disclose, I have been married for ten years. We’ve been together for 11 years and I am in what I would call a stable relationship. That said, it’s my third marriage. So, the previous two or two marriages, one living together situation. They went I don’t want to say they went poorly, but they went less than satisfactory.
Dr. Nicole Washington: But obviously you learned a lot.
Gabe Howard: I learned that that I needed to be stable with bipolar disorder before I got into a relationship. That helps a lot.
Dr. Nicole Washington: I bet it does. I bet it does. Okay. So married with bipolar disorder.
Gabe Howard: Married with bipolar disorder.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Married with bipolar disorder. Okay. Okay, I’m ready.
Gabe Howard: I’ve got the Married with Children song now stuck in my head. Love and bipolar, love and bipolar. Goes together like I can’t think of a rhyme for bipolar disorder.
Dr. Nicole Washington: I, I was trying to see what you were going to rhyme with bipolar, but.
Gabe Howard: I got nothing. But what I do have is this understanding that bipolar disorder is sort of this ever-present companion in my relationship, in my marriage with Kendall. Kendall is my wife’s name. It I can’t exclude her from that. And I want to start right there because so many people think, well, bipolar disorder is my cross to bear. It’s my thing to manage. And I want to, I want to keep her out of it. I want to keep him out of it. I don’t, I don’t want to burden them with this. And I personally think that that is a mistake. Now, I’m curious, Dr. Nicole, from your perspective, when people show up and they’re like, hey, I don’t want to sign the waiver. I don’t want my spouse anywhere near my mental health treatment. What do you think about people who feel that way?
Dr. Nicole Washington: I usually encourage them to do so, and we talk through why we encourage them to do so. So, I equate it to any other illness. If you had diabetes, you would absolutely have your spouse involved. You would want them to know what to do when your sugar was low. You would want them to know what the signs of hypoglycemia were. You would want them to know what to give you in the event that you had a low blood sugar episode, you would want them to be completely involved. So, I typically go from that angle like we’re going to treat bipolar disorder like any other medical illness. And in the process of doing that, then of course you want them involved in what’s going on and usually that works. If I need to be specific, then I can be specific. You know, we can say you only want your spouse to be able to tell me things. You don’t want them to be able to receive information from me. I can do that. I can maneuver around that. But we need to have them involved.
Gabe Howard: Living with bipolar disorder is difficult. And I’m preaching to the choir here. I don’t think there’s anybody it’s like, no, I just That is amazing. Gabe dropped some knowledge. He said that living with bipolar was difficult, but here is this little skosh of knowledge that I want to drop. It does get easier if you have help, if you have that solid support system. And for my money, your spouse, your significant other, your life partner, they’re the best people to help. And here’s why. They already see you as an equal. You already have equal footing. But many people believe that if they share this bipolar journey with them, that that equality will go away. And I want to I want to I want to say this is plainly as I can. If your spouse life partner, significant other sees you as less than because you have bipolar disorder and they feel that helping you manage that illness makes you less than the problem is with your relationship. The problem is not with bipolar disorder. And I think that’s a point that that many people managing severe and persistent mental illness, managing mental health challenges and managing bipolar disorder lose. They’re like, hey, bipolar disorder cost me my relationship. I’m like, no, I, I don’t think that’s what did it.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Mm-hmm. So, you don’t think it’s possible that a person could just have a really, really severe set of symptoms and the person just not be emotionally equipped to handle that? Because I do think it’s a lot right on the other side of that. I get it right. If you love me, you’ll figure out how to work with me. Through the ups and the downs, we take vows for sickness and in health, like I get all of that. But I also have seen some people’s symptoms be very problematic in a relationship. Infidelity with that high sex drive during mania. Sometimes I think the other person just isn’t equipped to handle that. And sometimes, let’s be honest, the person with bipolar disorder, if they’re in a state where they’re not trying or they’re not med adherent or they don’t want to take meds or they want to be manic or that’s a lot to deal with. So, I think in a stable illness where you’re on meds and in therapy and in treatment, that makes all the sense in the world. But if you were at a point where you were not as willing to go ahead and be in treatment and take meds, and maybe you suffered from a little bit of there’s nothing wrong with me, I don’t really need it. I could see how that would be a deal breaker in a relationship.
Gabe Howard: I completely agree with you that bipolar disorder can be a deal breaker 100%. And we talked about that in the other episode. When you know, when you’re dating and you say to somebody, I have bipolar disorder and they’re like, look, I’m out. I can’t deal with this, that we shouldn’t take offense to it. Because after all, if you said, hey, I have three children and they’re like, hey, look, I don’t I don’t want to be a stepparent. I’m out. Right? That’s respectable, right? We have to accept that. But if you’re going to stay in the relationship, right, if you live with bipolar disorder and your life partner spouse, significant other is staying in the relationship, but with the caveat that they’re better than you, that they have more power that that they’re above, that’s when it becomes problematic. If you want to end the relationship because of it, that that is difficult and that’s hard. And obviously, if my wife came home and said, look, I, I can’t deal with your mood swings anymore. I can’t deal with the symptoms. And that would hurt. That would hurt.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: But it would hurt, in my opinion, somewhat more if she came home today and said, look, I’m just better than you. Right.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.
Gabe Howard: This this is now a 60/40 relationship. I have 60% of the power and you have 40% of the power because you lost some because of bipolar disorder. Now, that said, let’s talk about actively symptomatic. We do have to trade power back and forth. I’m going to flip the script a little bit and I’m going to say that my wife gets in a, well, what do we want to go, when a tree falls on her, let’s do something cool. She is out nature bathing, she’s doing the yoga, she’s following the memes, and a tree just lands right on her, right.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.
Gabe Howard: And she breaks both of her arms. Now, the first thing I want to say is she’s going to make a full recovery. I want to be very, very clear. I’ve seen the future. She’s going to be fine. But right now, both of her wrists, her hands and her arms are in a cast. And the reason that I’m saying this is because she’s going to need help going to the bathroom.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.
Gabe Howard: Right. That’s just a reality. During
Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.
Gabe Howard: The time that her arms and wrists and hands are in a cast, I am going to help her use the restroom. She is going to have to relinquish that control to me. We’re going to have to accept it. We’re going to have to get through it because we love each other.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah.
Gabe Howard: Now, as soon as those arms, wrists and hands come out of a cast, that bathroom door goes closed again. Right. Just we’re going to forget this. We’re going to forget this stage in our life and we’re going to move forward. But here’s the thing. If the if the cast come off, if everything goes back to, quote unquote, normal with her, she gets through the episode, the medical condition. And I’m like, no, no, you owe me. You owe me. I’m better than you. I can walk in the woods and not get hit by a tree. I don’t have getting hit by a tree problems. I never needed help going to the bathroom. Anybody hearing that is like, wow, that’s like a really that’s a really cruel thing to say to somebody. Yet you replace all of that with symptoms of bipolar disorder and suddenly people are like, Well, that’s your deal, man. That’s your deal. Why? Why are you? Why are you making that their problem? It’s their problem because that’s what being a true unit is, in my opinion.
Dr. Nicole Washington: No, I mean, you’re absolutely right. So, if we’re married and I do something for you, it should not be brought up later. It should not be I did that for you when you were manic and I had to deal with blah, blah, blah. You took this person on. You made a commitment to this person. Good, bad sickness, health, rich, poor. We’ve all gone through the vows if you’re married. And that was the sick. So, I don’t think we get to choose. We don’t get to pick and choose which sick things I help you with. Having cancer isn’t more acceptable than having bipolar disorder. Right. We have to figure that part out. And that’s a conversation that really, I do think that if you have some significant illness, I don’t care what it is, if you have any kind of disorder that could be impairing to your relationship, I think you need to talk that out and maybe even do some premarital counseling surrounding it. Think about how significantly, how negative it could be to a relationship if you aren’t prepared for it. So, for those who are in it and they say, I’m in it, I’m committed, you know, what kind of things have you done in this marriage that have helped you be successful, you think, with your bipolar illness?
Gabe Howard: I have been in a stable relationship for ten years and I do want people to be like, Hey, Gabe did it. We’re super proud of you. And I appreciate that. But I want people to know that that I had multiple relationships, including two marriages, fail before I got this knowledge. This is hard fought knowledge. So, I want to share sort of what I learned from the failures and what I applied to the success. And hopefully folks can gain some insight from it. The marriage that works, the marriage that I’m in now, I sent her to class. I literally sent her to a class sponsored by a national mental health organization. It’s called Family-To-Family. You can look it up it. At the time, it was a 12-week course, two and a half hours every week in the evening. So, my wife, she wasn’t my wife. She was my girlfriend, went to work all day and then took a two-and-a-half-hour class on top of that. I asked her to go into some support groups. She was like, But I don’t need support. I’m like, But they’re open. I just want you to talk to people and witness some of those struggles that they had. And then in addition to all of that, all of my Dr. Nicole’s, she can talk to them. They can talk to her, and I share everything with her. And for me, this helps us carry the load together. Now, I want to be very clear when I say helps me carry the load.
Gabe Howard: She’s not in charge. I’m in charge. But I’m on one side of the box. She’s on the other side of the box. We’re carrying it. I’m the one who has to walk backwards. I’m the one that has to decide where we sit the box. I’m the one that decides what’s in the box. I still maintain my accountability and control for as long as I can. But I have this. I have this cushion if something happens. She and I have discussed it when I am well, when I am when I am doing fantastic. And if I am ever not able to take care of myself, she knows what I want. And that that is helpful also because I understand that she understands as much as she possibly can when she says things to me like You seem a little off, my antenna really goes up. I really think, okay, I need to follow this up with some questions. And finally, my personal favorite, she is the only person in the known world who is allowed to ask me if I’ve taken my medication today. The only one, the only one, Dr. Nicole, because I know that she means it from a sincere place, A genuine place. It’s not a backhanded insult. It’s a true helping me remember. Because, you know, life gets busy, especially when we travel. All of those things I think, are very important to the stability of that marriage.
Dr. Nicole Washington: So, it sounds like you all trust each other.
Gabe Howard: You have to. You just have to.
Dr. Nicole Washington: You trust her not to use your bipolar disorder as a weapon against you.
Gabe Howard: Yes.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Not every time you cut somebody off in traffic or give somebody a fancy hand signal in traffic. Oh, my gosh, he must be manic. He’s not taking his meds. Like she trusts you enough to allow you to be human and have all the emotions that humans have without always jumping to it’s his bipolar illness.
Gabe Howard: Yes.
Dr. Nicole Washington: And she trusts you and you trust her. And so, I think that’s where we fall apart sometimes, because a lot of times what I see is that the person who has bipolar disorder has this mindset of, well, that’s just none of their business. This is my problem. They don’t have to deal with this at all. And that’s just not true. Because you also have a good understanding of how your illness can affect her if you all don’t have good communication and she’s not educated and the whole system isn’t as well as you have it outlined right now. And so, if anybody’s listening, I would say, do you trust your partner? Have they been educated on your illness? Have they been educated on your specific history of mania, hypomania, depression? Do they know what your symptoms look like so that they can say something? I will tell you, a lot of times, especially husbands, I’m going to beat up on the men right now, but especially husbands. The wives can literally look you in your eyes and say, something’s not right, something’s off. They can tell me one little thing. Like he typically does this one thing all the time. He hasn’t done it in three days. That’s typically an indication of depressions coming or that’s typically an indication, you know, he is usually okay with sex three times a week. We’ve literally had sex every day this week. That is usually a sign that hypomania or mania is on the horizon. Listen to them. Listen to them. Please listen to these people.
Sponsor Message: Hey everyone, my name is Rachel Star Withers and I live with schizophrenia. I’m also the host of Inside Schizophrenia, a podcast that dives deep into all things schizophrenia. Featuring personal experiences and experts to help you better understand and navigate schizophrenia, Inside Schizophrenia is a Psych Central and Healthline Media podcast and we are available right now on your favorite podcast player. Check us out!
Dr. Nicole Washington: And we’re back talking about successful relationships while living with bipolar disorder.
Gabe Howard: People living with bipolar disorder who don’t want to disclose in a relationship. It’s always tabled on this idea that they don’t want to lose power, they don’t want to be stigmatized against. They don’t want their spouse to constantly say, Oh, well, that’s a symptom. They don’t want to lose. They want to remain equals. And they’re worried about that. That is that is a possibility. We’ve already discussed that ad nauseam, but that’s not the only one. There’s another factor involved that people with bipolar disorder are used to managing this on their own, and they don’t want to burden their spouse. They don’t want their spouse to have to carry the weight of a bipolar disorder in any way. Remember my analogy about carrying in the box? I know that some people heard that and they’re like, no, no, bipolar disorder has caused me so much pain. I don’t want any of that pain transferred onto the people that I love, the person that I love. That’s why that’s why I’m holding it in. And I want to talk about that just for a moment, because from what I’ve seen and from what I’ve heard and what I’ve personally experienced, when you don’t let that person help, the box just keeps getting heavier and heavier and heavier and eventually that box is so heavy it can’t be carried by one person and you’re not available to help carry it anymore.
Gabe Howard: And then you’re your life partner, you’re your spouse, your significant other is standing there in front of this massive box. They cannot move and you’re on the other side of it behaving in ways that they are unsure of, unaware of, uncomfortable with. They don’t know what’s going on. And all of the sudden that thing that you did to protect them is actually the thing that has put you and them and ultimately your relationship in harm’s way the most. I want to further say that I understand, though. I really understand this idea that I feel like I have to protect my family from that. And I get that. I do.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Well, that’s the stigma, right? That’s the stigma of mental illness coming out in your in your marriage. But like I said earlier, if you had diabetes and you were prone to hypoglycemia, if you had heart disease, if you had a cancer, if you had a seizure disorder, if you had any of those things, we aren’t as hesitant to put that on our spouses. So, I’m encouraging everybody listening. You have to start thinking of your bipolar disorder as a brain disorder, not a mental health disorder, not a behavioral disorder, like we’re going to call it a brain disorder, because that’s what it is, this is an issue with your brain, just like heart disease is a cardiovascular issue. Seizures are a neurological issue, like it’s an organ system. It’s a system issue. So, we have to start thinking of it in that way and not stigmatize ourselves because that’s exactly what you’re doing. Like you’re adding to the stigma and the shame of mental illness by saying, well, you know, I don’t really want to have to put that on them because in some ways you feel like it’s all on you because it’s your fault, it’s your issue. We don’t do that with other disorders.
Gabe Howard: You’re also putting your relationship in harm’s way, because when you have those symptoms, if your partner, your spouse, your significant other is not well educated, they could see those symptoms as you being an asshole, as you being dismissive, as you being lazy, as you being a bad partner. And then of course they’ll think, well, he just started yelling at me all day to day. And if they don’t see that as agitation, if they don’t see that as, as grandiosity or the start of mania or anger or just any symptom of bipolar disorder that you choose that comes out in these short bursts of irritability. If they think that you’re just being a jerk, then, yeah, reasonably speaking, they should be like, look, you know, I tried to connect with them. I tried to talk it out with them. They completely dismiss me, ignored my feelings, and yeah, why would I want to be in a relationship with this person? And then after they leave, you’re like, Yeah, bipolar disorder cost me another relationship, but in actuality it’s not sharing what was going on. I know that my spouse and my friends for that matter, and many family members, pretty much everybody in my life, Dr. Nicole, they have figured out there’s just times that, look, hey, you know, Gabe’s depressed. We’re not going to try to talk him out of it. We’re not going to just he needs some help. And when I say depressed, I don’t mean like clinical depression. I mean, like, Gabe is sad. Gabe. Gabe is moving slow today.
Gabe Howard: Gabe needs some extra space. And because they understand that that’s a symptom of my bipolar disorder, they give me that extra space and then they see where it goes, because the majority of time it trends right up and I hit right back in the middle and everything’s fine. They keep an eye on it. They keep an eye on it so if it doesn’t trend up, then they have the conversation, hey, you haven’t been sleeping well, you’ve been irritable for the last couple of days. You you’ve started six projects and haven’t accomplished anything. And, you know, quite frankly, you’re even kind of mean to the dog. Something is clearly going on with you. And I’m like, well, I didn’t notice that. But it began because I established all of the ground rules when I was well, when everything was going good, right? When they say it, I think, huh, maybe I need to take some action because this has been well established. But you remove all of that education, all of those conversations, all of that understanding, well, that’s just another person yelling at me when I’m upset. Well, I don’t need this. You know what I’ve got going on right now? Nobody understands me. And of course, we say that nobody understands us because of bipolar disorder, but in actuality, nobody understands us because we didn’t say anything and we hid it from them.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yes.
Gabe Howard: There is personal accountability here that we can control. And in our most intimate relationships, our romantic relationships, letting people in is also a beautiful thing. I want to tell a sappy story, Dr. Nicole.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay. I’m ready.
Gabe Howard: All right. We always talk about how we have to hide bipolar disorder in the context of protecting our loved ones or not losing status. Obviously, avoiding stigma and discrimination. All those things are true. Don’t forget about all of those. That’s a real reality.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Okay.
Gabe Howard: But there’s success. There is success with bipolar disorder. When you achieve that stability, when you get that job, when you get that promotion, when you realize, hey, ten years ago I couldn’t work part-time without having to sleep for 12 hours and spend the whole weekend recuperating. And now I work this this high-level job and I’ve got health insurance and I just bought a house. There is success in achieving and accomplishing with bipolar disorder. And the people who help you, they get to share in that success. One time I got an award, I got an award for advocacy in my community, and I dedicated the applause to my wife. I said, Don’t clap for me. It’s her. She helped with this so much, but she never gets to be on the stage. They never put her name on plaques. This podcast is hosted by Gabe Howard and Dr. Nicole Washington. There, there’s no Kendall Howard listed anywhere. But she is she is such a huge, huge part of this. And she knows it and she knows how thankful I am for her support. And there’s a beauty in that that she and I get to share because from day one, I let her know that I was managing this illness and she got to help. So, in that way, my success becomes her success becomes our success. And these are really the things that really cement and strengthen relationships. And I have to say that, too, because, you know, it’s almost Valentine’s Day and I want full, I want full credit
Dr. Nicole Washington: Stop it.
Gabe Howard: For Kendall Howard. I love her so much. She’s beautiful and.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Stop! [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: [Laughter]
Dr. Nicole Washington: Stop! You did not just try to get brownie points for right for Valentine’s Day. Stop it.
Gabe Howard: You got to get them where you can.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Stop, stop, stop, stop. It does also remind me, though, that vulnerability is part of this. And sometimes ego can get in the way of being vulnerable. People out there listening. Another thing I want you to hear me say is we have to set ego aside and being vulnerable with your spouse. I mean, if you can’t be vulnerable with your spouse or committed life partner, then who can you be vulnerable with? I mean, who? Who? Who is that person? Because there are little things that you can do and put in place, but it requires you to be okay with doing those things. You know, an example of that is bank accounts, right? If you are someone who with your mania, hypomania, you tend to get a little spendy, right? You tend to spend a little bit more than you need to spend. I have couples who will have an account with a limit set on, you know, how much a person can charge or the person with bipolar disorder has an account where they can spend no more than what’s in their account, and they only use that check card. And that works because then if they get a little spendy, they’re going to get declined. They’re not going to be able to spend and go into the hole. And they have in the past. So, it’s just a safeguard. It’s not a my spouse doesn’t trust me with the money. It’s I know that if I get in that state, I can’t trust myself with the money. So, I need to make sure that I’m not putting my spouse and my family and my life in jeopardy because of my illness. And that’s a that’s a vulnerable space. So, I think there are little safeguards like that that you can do. Have you done any of those? Do you have any kind of safeguards in place like that to kind of help in the event you end up in a space that you don’t want to be in?
Gabe Howard: Oh, yes. I have many safeguards in place to do many things. But we’ve already established that I’m the bipolar one and my wife does not live with bipolar disorder. But when she and I met, she was in so much debt, she just bought whatever she wanted. She charged everything. She had so many credit. Remember all that goodwill that I just earned? It’s gone. The brownie points are now all gone. It just got me to this point. And when we got together, I had savings and very little debt. And she had what can only be described as a metric shit ton of debts. And, I am really, really good with money. I’m really, really good at managing money when I’m not sick. I’m really good at this. And I said to her, What’s going on? And she’s just like, Well, when I see it, I buy it. I’m like, okay, well, now that we’re moving in together, now that we’re getting married, we have to stop this. And she’s like, Well, this is just how I’ve always been. This is how my family’s been.
Gabe Howard: And I said, all right, we’re going to use technology to help us. We are going to turn on every time you swipe your credit card, it sends us text messages. So, if I buy something, a text message goes off on her phone. It just says alert. Gabe bought XYZ at XYZ for XYZ dollars. And the reverse is also true. And here’s, of course, what this has done. Every time Kendall pulls out that credit card, she’s like, As soon as I swipe this card, Gabe’s going to know. Will Gabe be okay with it and that it’s just that moment. Now the reverse is also true. The reverse is true for me. Every time I swipe the credit card. Of course, Kendall’s phone dings and she knows what I buy. And this holds us accountable. Because it makes you stop for a moment, right? It just makes you stop for that moment and thinks, okay, all right, she’s going to know. He’s going to know. Use modern technology to help.
Dr. Nicole Washington: So, what I do hear you saying is that even when you don’t have an illness like bipolar disorder, you still need your significant other to help you sometimes. And so, I think that’s good to hear, because, again, we always talk about how sometimes when you have an illness that is so big, like bipolar disorder, you tend to see everything in that lens when in reality we all need help with something, we all in a successful marriage, there’s always going to be something that the other person needs help with as well. It’s not just because you have bipolar disorder. It could be the other way around.
Gabe Howard: It could absolutely be the other way around. And it’s important to understand that marriages are a give and take, and people with bipolar disorder often feel like, well, I’m taking more, well, I’m taking more. And maybe in the beginning that’s true. But life is long. Life is very, very, very long. And at some point, you’ll need to do more. I look at my parents and my grandparents. My grandparents for the longest time just did everything for my mom, right? That’s what I saw growing up. My grandparents were constantly coming by and fixing stuff in the house, babysitting the kids, just doing all of this work. Because my mom had three young children at home. My dad had a job where he was often away for two or three days at a time, being a truck driver. And my mom needed a lot of help. She didn’t know how to fix anything and my grandpa did. And then life went on and eventually all the kids go away and my grandparents got older and suddenly the reverse started happening. My mom’s driving Grandma and Grandpa, all their doctor’s appointments. My dad is fixing stuff and mowing the lawn. Things that historically they could do on their own that they no longer could. And that’s what I mean by life is long.
Gabe Howard: We tend to look at it in the moment. Well, she doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t need anything. They don’t need anything. But I do. So therefore, there’s an inequity. And I’m the problem. Ten years from now that that could be different. Your loved one, they could get hit by a tree, and then all of a sudden, you’re up. And I do think that we need to understand that when you’re making plans with somebody for life, there’s going to be back and forth, there’s going to be ups and downs. And you need to let your partner know, hey, I appreciate you helping me manage this and we’re going to be managing this the rest of our lives. But I want you to know anything that you need. You have credit, you have savings, you have a rainy-day fund. I am here for you and then be there for them. That’s the way that you pay this kind of thing back. And I think that is incredibly, incredibly empowering to know and to remind them that you’re ready, you are ready to be there to support them. And I think that even that is extraordinarily supportive. Listen, the trapeze artists don’t want to use the safety net, but they feel a whole lot better knowing it’s there and you’re that safety net.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Yeah, I call that relationship equity. Like you have equity in the house.
Gabe Howard: I love that.
Dr. Nicole Washington: It’s equity. So, I’ve poured in, I’ve put in and you know, heaven forbid if I’m out in the woods doing something and get hit by a tree. I’ve already put
Gabe Howard: Nature bathing.
Dr. Nicole Washington: That equity. I’ve already put that equity in. And so, it doesn’t feel like I’m taking, taking, taking. I mean, I’ve been married 23. Yeah, that’s right, 23 years. And I can tell you there are times when, when, when, when my husband has carried a load or a burden. And there have been times when I’ve said, okay, I’m ready. Go ahead. And, you know, put me in coach. Tag team, and I take it on because we we’ve needed to do that. And I think that’s what you’re describing with, you know, the illness. And we never know what life is going to bring. You can get hit by a bus, you can get hit by a tree, you can have a piano fall on you, whatever happens. But anything could happen. And we never know when we’re going to be up, when we’re going to be up next. Right? So, we just have to not play this game of keeping tabs or keeping okay, I did this one thing, but what has he or she done for me or. Oh, they did two things and I only did one. Trust me, it will all balance out in the wash. If you literally approach this thing as a forever plan, it’ll always balance out.
Gabe Howard: Before we head on out of here, I just want to remind people that all of the rules of relationships, they stay the same. There’s no rules that go away because you live with bipolar disorder, because you’re managing mental illness. And I say rules just for lack of a better word. You’ve got all the concepts, ideas, agreements, everything that matters to relationships and to you and to them that’s there. You don’t get to remove any because of bipolar disorder. If you’re in a relationship with someone and they say, Listen, this is important to me, you don’t get to say, Well, because I have bipolar disorder, I’m not going to do that. You have to compromise. You have to agree, you have to figure it out. You might not be able to, but you have to be open to the idea to try and discuss and accept that they made a compromise on your behalf. If you are unable to do it because of bipolar disorder, it needs to be a partnership and an agreement. Again, none of the stereotypical rules of relationships go away just because you have bipolar disorder. And in many ways those rules are what will keep you safe, are what will keep you together. Just there is nothing, in my opinion, more empowering and satisfying than being able to look my wife in the eyes and say, I’m struggling, I’m having this problem and know that she will provide what I need 90% of the time, right? So just be like, All right, you just want to talk about it.
Gabe Howard: Cool. Or here’s some advice that I have. Again, I say 90% of the time because the world is not perfect, right? 100% is not reasonable. I’m not saying that we’ve never bickered, fought or gotten a disagreement because of a symptom of bipolar disorder. Absolutely we have. But the majority of the time it really is this thing that in its own sort of twisted, beautiful way we share together, and that has helped me tremendously from the days where I felt all alone sitting in a corner that nobody understood me and nobody loved me. This is a much different feeling, and frankly, it’s a better one. And I’m thankful that I got to this place because I burned through so many perfectly good relationships. I’m really glad that I got to this place because now I understand that in a relationship, equality is the goal. And part of that equality comes from sharing everything with somebody, the good, the bad and the ugly. It has a moment that you can achieve together, but you can only achieve it together. But it takes, as you said, Dr. Nicole, it takes some risk and it takes putting your ego aside and it takes some vulnerability. And I understand why that’s difficult. I really, really do.
Dr. Nicole Washington: And if you find yourself waking up every morning next to someone that you don’t even trust to be vulnerable enough to share the burden of your bipolar disorder, then there’s something that needs to happen. There’s some room for growth in your relationship. There’s something. So, whether that means you need to seek out individual therapy to help you deal with the stigma that you have about your own illness and how you feel about being a person living with bipolar disorder. Do it. If that means that you need to send your significant other to the Family-To-Family class that Gabe talked about, hit up the NAMI website, find out your local NAMI chapter. Do they have a class coming up? Find that out. They need to be educated. Maybe it means you need couple’s therapy. Maybe you two need to sit down in the room with a mediator for brief, brief therapy. I’m not saying forever, brief therapy. Just to help you figure out how your relationship can continue to grow and thrive in the presence of the bipolar disorder. Because it is always the elephant in the room.
Gabe Howard: I completely agree with that. And the last thing that I want to disclose is my wife and I have been through tons of couples counseling, tons of couples therapy. I don’t want anybody to listen to this episode and think, ooh, Gabe figured it all out and he has a perfect marriage. No, no. You can ask anybody who has spent any significant amount of time with us. Gabe and Kendall, not perfect. We just make it look perfect on social media because, well, that’s what social media is for. Sincerely, don’t compare your relationship to others. Your relationship is your relationship. If you and your partner are content and happy and stable and you are fulfilled, that that alone is the hallmark of a good relationship, not how it differs or how it’s the same of somebody else’s. I swear, Dr. Nicole, comparison makes more misery than anything that I know.
Dr. Nicole Washington: Comparison is the thief of joy. That’s what they say.
Gabe Howard: Dr. Nicole, as always, it’s awesome that you are here. And to all of our listeners, thank you for being here as well. My name is Gabe Howard and I am a public speaker who travels nationally and I could be available for your next event. I’m also the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” which you can get on Amazon. But if you want me to sign it, just head over to my website at gabehoward.com and learn all about me and grab the book there.
Dr. Nicole Washington: And I’m Dr. Nicole Washington. You can find me on all social media platforms @DrNicolePsych to see all the things I have my hand in at any given moment.
Gabe Howard: And wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free. And hey, can you do us a favor? Share the show, send a text message, put it on social media, bring it up in a support group, send an email. Sharing the show is how we grow. We will see everyone next time on Inside Bipolar.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Inside Bipolar from Healthline Media and psychcentral.com. Have feedback for the show? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous episodes can be found at psychcentral.com/ibp or on your favorite podcast player. Thank you for listening.