Dealing with my girlfriend
March 17, 2013 6:30 PM   Subscribe

I'll try to make this short. I am at my breaking point. My girlfriend of a year and a half or so is definitely bipolar, I would say without a doubt that it could be severe. I wasn't sure for some time, but now I am certain, after simply looking at the symptoms I can tell she has some sort of bipolar disorder -- even down to being falsely diagnosed with depression I think (maybe she was depressed too, but this is besides the point).

I didn't realize this at the start of the relationship, that she had such deep mental issues. I am also deeply in love with her. She has incredible mood swings, and it always ends with an angry rant towards me, completely hating me, insulting me and saying awful and vicious things etc. She will get very upset about something else and then take it all out on me. She has mentioned to me on one or two occasions that she thinks she may be bipolar, and asked me if I thought she was, in my head I am now certain but I told her I wasn't a psychiatrist so I couldn't diagnose her. Now though, I believe if she were to be examined they would call it a textbook case of bipolar disorder.

I have absolutely no clue what to do. She doesn't really like therapy or even believe in it, and told me recently after another one of her wild mood swings and verbal attacks on me that she did not want to see a therapist again.

I really do not know what to do. We are both young but I wanted to marry this girl. At this point it is becoming extremely hard to manage my own life (or at least enjoy my life with her around) and her irrational, erratic, and hurtful behaviour towards me. I don't know what to do.

Please help me figure out the next steps, I would prefer if everyone would stay away from saying "break up with her". I'd like if someone could offer me advice on how to deal with this.
posted by YoungConfusedMan to Human Relations (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds as though she needs to see a medical doctor. A psychiatrist would be best, but if she refuses that, at the very least, she should see her regular doctor, explain her symptoms, and talk with her/him about what potential treatment options would be.
posted by decathecting at 6:32 PM on March 17, 2013

She needs to go to a psychiatrist and maybe get on medication. You cannot save her all by yourself.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:34 PM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

If she stays unwilling to seek medical attention (whether a therapist or getting on meds) the hurt and pain will just continue. It seems that you've reached a point where things are unmanageable. You need to let her know that.
Consider taking a step away from the relationship until she takes steps to get healthy. That might be the motivation she needs.
posted by arsey at 6:40 PM on March 17, 2013

Bipolar is one of those mood disorders that is actually helped way more by medication than talk therapy. She'll probably still have to see a psychiatrist semi-regularly to get her prescriptions, but it's definitely possible for her to manage her bipolar if the prospect of having to endure therapy is all that's standing in her way.
posted by krakenattack at 6:49 PM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

You can't make her do anything. You can, however do things for yourself. I would recommend you get a health care professional involved in YOUR life to give you a reality check each time you describe to them the latest episode. Build up a support network for yourself; it sounds like you are starting to feel you are not in control of your life - and you are not, if there is someone with an untreated serious health issue impacting your basic choices like how much sleep you get, how joint money is spent, and how often the same topic can be discussed until you agree with them etc (for some common examples). Her family should ideally be on board with her needing treatment, if so, build bridges to them as advocates for her, if not, distance yourself as much as possible. If you have mature friends, lean on them, otherwise look for support groups or professionals that can teach you coping skills.

Be honest with her, when she comments that she is concerned she may be struggling with bipolar, reassure her first of your love, your commitment, and your desire for her to be healthy and in control of her life. Ask what you can do to support and help (make the appointments, go with her, promise a treat after the appointment to conteract the possibly negative experience) and then do it. Good luck.
posted by saucysault at 6:50 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am also deeply in love with her.

Doing the right thing means you don't get what you want.
posted by mhoye at 6:56 PM on March 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

You might benefit from reading Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone et al. That said, you need a script, perhaps something like this...
    GF, I love you deeply and completely, so it hurts me to see you in such pain. A few times you've mentioned wondering if you might be bipolar. Could that be your intuition telling you that something's up biologically that's preventing you from being your best self? Does that ring true to you? [Regardless of whether she says yes or no] I think it's worth exploring whether there might be a medical dimension to what you're experiencing. It's one option and it's worth seeing if it should be eliminated or if it holds promise of help. We're in this together--I'm here for you for the long haul--and I want to invest in us having a happy future together where both of us get whatever we need to have enjoyable satisfying lives. Can we please work together on this? Can we start by talking about some baby steps we can take together, like [asking for a referral from trusted physician/setting up a getting-to-know-you appointment/whatever]?
Something like that.
posted by carmicha at 7:00 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

and told me recently after another one of her wild mood swings and verbal attacks on me that she did not want to see a therapist again.

Sounds like she knows something needs to fixed, and I guess maybe therapy is all she knows about and it hasn't worked before. However, that first part is the important part. "Would you be interested in getting a kind of help that didn't involve seeing a therapist?"
posted by rhizome at 7:04 PM on March 17, 2013

I could have been your girlfriend; I DO have bipolar and I was diagnosed with depression and put on anti-depressants and I went pretty off the rails. Getting treated was really, REALLY hard, because I was manic and my thoughts were racing and I was miserable and just not really functioning well enough to handle my own mental health but I got to a doctor (a really good one, fortunately) and now I'm okay.

Here's the thing: if she's not willing to get to a doctor, there's nothing you can do. I did not treat my male companion well during this time, but he stayed with me because he loves me AND because I was trying to get better. If I hadn't been trying to get better, we couldn't have stayed as a couple. We've been really, REALLY happily married for over five years now and it's wonderful, but only because I work really hard to take care of my mental health and he works really hard to help me.

Basically, if she won't go to a doctor there's actually NOTHING you can to do help her. Feel free to MeFi mail me (or have her MeFi mail me) but I can tell you that if she's actually having a hypomanic episode she's likely not able to calm down enough to deal with this directly and she's probably scared but too hyped up to deal with how afraid she is. Seeing a doctor really is the only option.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:10 PM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

It might be helpful to separate the issues of her mood swings and her verbal abuse of you. She very well may get on medications, etc. and still be abusive.

The Abuser in Therapy from "Why Does He Do That?": "I have yet to meet an abuser who has made any meaningful and lasting changes in his behaviour toward female partners through therapy, regardless of how much “insight”– most of it false– that he may have gained. The fact is that if an abuser finds a particularly skilled therapist and if the therapy is especially successful, when he is finished he will be a happy, well-adjusted abuser– good news for him, perhaps, but not such good news for his partner. Psychotherapy can be very valuable for the issues it is devised to address, but partner abuse is not one of them; an abusive man needs to be in a specialised program."

The author also points out that abusive partners who do have mental illnesses often use them as an excuse for their behavior, but mental illness is rarely the actual cause of the abuse, and most abusers do actually have control of their actions and are actively choosing to blow up at their partner. (The usual point is that if they are able to keep their tempers around their bosses, the police, etc., then they do have the ability to control their behavior, they're just choosing not to around their partner.)

I know you said you don't want to dump her, and I think her seeing a doctor needs to happen, but you may want to start holding her accountable for her actions (even if only in your own head, if that's safest) and setting boundaries about what's appropriate. If she doesn't get treatment, it'll help you from getting caught up in her craziness; if she does get help, it will be important for you to track whether the treatment actually stops the abusive behavior.
posted by jaguar at 7:14 PM on March 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Please help me figure out the next steps, I would prefer if everyone would stay away from saying "break up with her".

Here's the problem you're giving us. Your girlfriend doesn't respect you. No, wait, hear me out. She abuses you. She yells at you, she insults you, she torments you during her mood swings. And maybe she's mentally ill, so that she isn't really responsible for her behavior during her mood swings... But she IS responsible for her behavior all other times. She's responsible for realizing that her mood swings are hurting you and that she needs to work to change it. She doesn't do that, though. She isn't doing the work to keep you from being abused, insulted, tormented.

That's what disrespect looks like. It looks like someone recognizing that her actions hurt another but not caring enough to change it.

But the problem's deeper than that, too. Because, it sounds like, you don't respect yourself, either. You're staying in a situation that involves you being abused, insulted, tormented. And you won't hear of the alternative. It sounds like you don't think of yourself as someone deserving better treatment. That's disrespect.

This is why "break up with her" has to be on the table. Because it shows a respect for yourself, a recognition that you damn well deserve better than how she's treating you.

I'm not saying you should break up with her... But, again, it should be on the table. This is totally the sort of thing that an ultimatum is appropriate for. Tell her (in terms like carmicha uses, if you'd like) that either she needs to see a psychiatrist and doctor immediately, or the relationship is over. And if she refuses, then you leave.

Leaving, if she refuses to seek help, isn't a punishment. Don't let her frame it like that, and don't you frame it like that, either. It is, instead, two things at once: a) you giving her the space she clearly needs to sort her shit out; b) you respecting yourself as deserving better. The ultimatum isn't intended to force her to bend to your will, but instead it's designed to ensure you get what you deserve. Either she starts respecting you enough to get the help she needs to avoid abusing you, or you distance yourself from someone who is abusive and disrespectful enough to not even try seeking help.

I know. I'm sorry, it hurts.


Now, with that said, another note. I assume, in the above, that she isn't currently in the midst of a manic episode. You can try to reason with her if she's not manic. But if she IS manic? Then do NOT try reasoning. Do NOT try determining new terms for the relationship. Give up on the entire idea of "being in a relationship" and focus only on convincing her to seek medical help and, if that's impossible, getting yourself away to a safe distance. Mrs. Pterodactyl is right: if this is mania, there is NOTHING you can do, there is NO WAY for you to help, other than getting her to a doctor and protecting yourself. (Do NOT roll your eyes at the idea of needing to "protect yourself." Do NOT discount the possibility that your girlfriend could turn into a complete stranger over night who screams, rants incoherently, and is a threat to you and herself. I am so sorry, but if she is bipolar, it is a possibility. I am speaking, here, from experience.)

So how do you know if it's mania? That's not something any of us can say. Nor is it a judgment call you're not able to make -- like you said, you're not a psychiatrist. This is, again, putting you in a terrible situation. If this is mania, you are in the deep end of a very treacherous pool without ever having taken swimming lessons. This is why, again, it is so important for you to think about taking care of yourself: she is abusive, she may be seriously ill, and she may get much worse. If she won't do what needs to be done to ensure your safety and security (ie, if she won't see a doctor about her own mental condition), then you must: you must leave.

I know more about this than I wish I did. I am sorry this is so tough. Please feel free to MeMail me.
posted by meese at 7:29 PM on March 17, 2013 [27 favorites]

You can't be responsible for how she treats you, but you can be responsible for how you treat yourself. You deserve better than abuse. If she won't see a psychiatrist or a therapist, think about seeing someone yourself for support in setting appropriate boundaries and taking care of yourself.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:30 PM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm so sorry. This is hard; so, so, difficult.

Here's the thing: she's an adult, and she needs to get help. That is her job, as a grown woman: to recognize when she needs help (and actually, she has started doing this a bit, which is a good sign, in my opinion) and then go out and get that help.

Her life is going to be very, very difficult without help. You can't give her that help, her parents can't give her that help, her friends can't do it; she needs professional help.

And she has decided that she doesn't want professional help, at least not right now.

So what do you do? Well, what you are doing right now - putting up with it - is not working.

In my experience, you should be as kind as possible, but you need to tell her that this is not working, and that the way she treats you is not OK.

This has a high probability of ending your relationship. And that is really sad, and really difficult, and that makes it hard to do what you need to do. It's OK if it takes time, but one thing I learned is that all that time I took waiting for my ex to get better, to stop treating me poorly? That time was, unfortunately, wasted. All I have to show for it is some battle wounds and more wrinkles and a few more years tacked on to my age. Oh, and a healthy understanding of how and why to set boundaries with people.

Sometimes we love people who are not able to love us back in a healthy way. Feel free to look at my previous comments for more about this; I have written a lot about my experiences with this here. The best thing we can do in these situations is tell those people we love them, but love doesn't mean getting beat up emotionally or physically.

You need to love yourself, too, and do what is right for you. If you were treating your girlfriend this way, what would you want her to do? You'd want her to leave, to protect herself, because what is happening is not OK. Do that.

Leaving someone like this is extremely difficult. They make it hard; in fact, my ex said to me during our long breakup: "I'm going to make this as hard as I can for you" - and he meant it. Another thing I recommend that you do, therefore, is find support. Talk to friends and family (if you can) about how she treats you. Gauge their reactions. Be honest, and get support and advice from other people that care about you. You might want to get a therapist of your own (that's what I did) if you can't talk to family or friends, because you are going to need support during this time.

And feel free to memail me to talk more, if you'd like. My ex was also likely bipolar, and he was incredibly abusive - our situations were different, but it might help you to have someone to talk to.
posted by sockermom at 7:43 PM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

PS - here is one of the best comments I've seen on Metafilter about being in an abusive relationship. Here's the best part, but the whole comment - in fact, that whole thread - is really good:

So, here we are. You are in a bad situation with your boyfriend. Your boyfriend won't change; you won't change your situation. That leaves you begging us for advice on how to change you. But we won't give that. You deserve better than that. We are total strangers on the internet who only know a few paragraphs about you, but every one of us telling you that this relationship is bad for you know something that you are hiding from acknowledging: you deserve to be you. We won't help you contort yourself. We do not think your relationship is more important than you. We beg you to agree with us on this point: you matter.

In fact, I would suggest reading some of the other threads here about abuse; you might see a lot of your relationship reflected there, and that might be difficult, but I think it will be helpful, too.

You're going through a process right now, and it's a hard one. I am proud of you for posting this question. It's a really good and important first step. Keep asking hard questions and thinking about what you can do. I think that you will eventually realize that you have only one option, if she continues to refuse help, but coming to that realization is a process, it takes however long it takes, and don't beat yourself up for taking awhile to figure this out.
posted by sockermom at 7:48 PM on March 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

Perhaps she is bipolar. Or maybe she is just abusive. You can't diagnose her and if she refuses to get help then you must leave her. If she is bipolar then she needs to be on medication.

For your part in this- when she becomes abusive, do not react in any way, just get away from her. If she threatens to hurt herself to keep you from leaving, call the police immediately. Do not allow anyone, even someone with a mental illness, to abuse you. That isn't love.
posted by myselfasme at 7:52 PM on March 17, 2013

Look, just because she may or may not be bipolar does not give her license to be a jerk to you. Might make it EASIER for her to be jerky, but she still has some selfcontrol she could use, I promise.

I would flat out tell her that your relationship hinges on her getting help. This is for both your sakes. Because I promise if she does not you are going to wind up hating her. If she does, you still have potential for a good future.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:17 PM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you want to make an effort to stick with someone who is unlikely to change in any major way in a short period of time, I agree about giving her an ultimatum to seek help. I also think you should get therapy for yourself too regarding why you would want to subject yourself to such abuse.
posted by Dansaman at 8:43 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, first, you aren't a trained psychiatrist or analyst and don't really know what's up with her, and it could be lots of things. Maybe she has bipolar or bipolar 2. Maybe she suffers from any number of neuro/chemical or psychological problems. Maybe she has some other physical condition that erodes her mood. Maybe nothing is wrong with her, but she's just a mean person.

As far as what you can do next, your options are going to be limited. There's a long list of things you can't do.

You can't actually make her get evaluated by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other counselor. If she does suffer from bipolar, you can't make her take her meds. If she does suffer from bipolar, you can't love her so much she'll stop being bipolar. You can't be so kind and generous to her that she'll stop being bipolar. You can't be so committed to helping her that it actually helps her stop being bipolar.

So, what can you do?

Well, you can get therapy yourself. There are support groups for people whose schmoopies suffer from problems associated with abusive or otherwise objectionable behavior. That's pretty much it.

Beyond that, it's the ugly things you don't want to be told. The way that I'd look at it is like this:

She's behaving in ways you don't like and that are hurtful to you, and it doesn't really matter why she's doing that. If she's behaving in ways you don't like, you're free to just leave. This is what it means to be her boyfriend and not her husband; this is what not being married to her yet gives you. A critical purpose of being a boyfriend and not a husband is so that you can break up, for whatever reasons seem fit to you, and not be a scoundrel, cad, or other bad person. It's to intentionally not be committed to her.

So there's nothing wrong with you laying down the law and telling her that you're out unless she seeks evaluation and, as appropriate, treatment. And then, if she won't, there's nothing wrong with just walking away.

Likewise, there's nothing wrong with you deciding that you've had enough and breaking up without giving her an ultimatum first.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:45 PM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're going through this, it is really awful and so hard to know what to do when you're right in the middle of it.

If my own similar experience is anything to go by, you need to have some time and space to think about things clearly (or not think about it at all), because when you're emotionally and physically exhausted from dealing with her problems, with the abuse, with the way you feel, you won't be able to think terribly clearly about anything. There's different ways of doing that that don't involve ending the relationship, many people have suggested these already. Get professional help for yourself - it can help so much to talk to someone who is there to listen to you and does not have any kind of agenda. Spend less time with her - try having a night or two where you don't do things, don't hang out, have some time away. If that doesn't sound achievable, even doing something for yourself like a yoga class or martial arts class or drawing class - whatever might help you feel like you are doing something positive for yourself that you enjoy, which also gives you some space and time for you. Volunteering with something very practical and hands-on - working in a soup kitchen or teaching kids to read or something, so that it's something you know you have to offer. Because that kind of abuse wears you down, makes at least a little bit of you believe that it's your fault, that you're not good enough, that the abuse is deserved, and it isn't.

Ultimately, it is up to her to decide to change her behaviour, and continuing to bring up the issue of her seeking professional help, as others have suggested, is about all you can do apart from look after yourself. Make sure she knows how upset you are by her behaviour, and that it is not acceptable. Your love for her may mean that you forgive her much, but if she loved you wouldn't she also be ashamed and miserable to know that she made you feel that awful? She might feel like that, which might be exactly what prompts her to get the help she needs.

Seeing mental health professionals can feel like an admission of defeat, that you are not good enough to look after yourself mentally/emotionally. It isn't, the brain is a complex system and the mental health professionals don't have all the answers either. But they have access to a lot more strategies than the rest of us do. I say this for both you and her. It may take a little while to find the right one - if her previous experiences with head doctors didn't do much for her, maybe the problem was with them and she just needs to find someone who gets her, or can get through to her.

Good luck and feel free to mefi mail me.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:58 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another thing you can talk to her about is birth control. I used to tolerate it fine but since my mid 20s I have become extremely moody on ANY kind of hormonal birth control. For about a year there I thought I was losing my mind and had an absolutely uncontrollable temper at times. This is a very common experience for women and might be something to discuss with your girlfriend.

It does not excuse her being horrible to you at all but it might explain her blowing up over trivial things and having uncontrollable anxiety, insomnia, sadness etc. I took a course of steroids for an injury last year and it was like being back on the pill.
posted by fshgrl at 9:06 PM on March 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Reasons your girlfriend in her might have erratic mood swings:

- Your GF has a history of past abuse or trauma and suffers from PTSD.

- Your GF is having an adverse reaction to hormonal birth control, as mentioned above by another poster.

- Your GF has endometriosis (common for women), thyroid issues (common these days), or some other physical ailment (even vitamin deficiency can do it, like low level persistent anemia) which effects her chemical homeostasis, possibly makes her fatigued, and certainly adversly effects her emotional ability to cope.

- Your GF may have learned poor coping skills and habits, and she might need to address this and do better than she was taught.

- Your GF might have allergies, or be experiencing the symptoms of some sort of environmental contamination - mold sensitivity, toxic substances in her home (I heard a story on the podcast Stuff You Should Know about someone who went momentarily crazy after living in a house that turned out to be a former meth lab...)

- Your GF might have exacerbating issues I have not covered.

- Your GF is bipolar.


It would be REALLY SAD if your GF was put on bipolar meds, when what she really needs is to get thyroid medication, get off birth control pills, get therapy for PTSD, etc., etc., etc.......

You are not a doctor. One doctor might not detect what another one will. It may be a long haul.

Is your GF willing to discuss options? Because I'm concerned she thinks she might be "broken" when really, the answer could be totally simple and fixable.

Memail if you want ways to explore options. It really depends on a health professional to do a comprehensive evaluation. If you tell me where you are, I can ask around and maybe get some recommendations.

Thank you for writing this question.

My best to you both!
posted by jbenben at 9:38 PM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I recommend you look into borderline personality disorder; bipolar is often giving as an incomplete diagnosis for it, and they can share similar traits. The abusive rages are a classic symptom, same with the transference of the locus of her negative emotions from an external source to you. There are a few good support forums on the internet; is probably the best, and least judgmental. They can give you tools for coping with your partner's emotional dysregulation.

That said, without a proper diagnosis for your partner and a commitment to intensive skills-based therapy on her part (DBT seems like it has the best evidence for efficacy), your relationship is doomed. A common presentation in BPD sufferers is an inability to take responsibility for their actions; coupled with her abuse of you, this will destroy your self-esteem. You may even be blamed for your own abuse, that you somehow deserve it or brought it upon yourself. You can't fix this on your own. It's highly unlikely that your partner will take the necessary steps to start fixing it herself. Cut and run.

Mefimail if you want to talk more.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 9:52 PM on March 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

The most important thing that you should be doing above all while you are in this relationship is to take responsibiility for birth control. If mental illness (particularly bipolar) is in the picture, I would not trust her to be reliable about birth control unless she has a long-term contraception in place. Right now, she is not healthy enough to be raising a child. I certainly would not want her raising any child of mine until she has mastered her health problem (whether it is physical or mental or both it needs to be under control first). If she does get pregnant with your child, it will not be your choice what happens next so make sure it doesn't happen until you know that you are both really ready.
posted by metahawk at 11:21 PM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd actually step back if I were you to a bit more of a questioning stance. This might be helpful for you and it also might be helpful for your girlfriend. Your certainty that has Bipolar Disorder is probably misplaced*. She may have the disorder, and I don't diagnose people over the internet, but nothing you've described makes me particularly think she has Bipolar. ("Mood swings" are far to general a description to warrant any certainty about a diagnosis.)

So, what do we know: 1) she is acting poorly; 2) neither of you are comfortable with how she is acting; 3) she is not treating your appropriately.

Were I in your position I would raise these three things with her and invite her to have a conversation about how to change them. This needn't be a conversation attached to an ultimatum, but you should at least have a sense of what you absolutely want to see change as a result of the conversation (or series of conversations). There are a bunch of different ways she might be able to change those things, and certainly one of them would be to get evaluated by a psychiatrist, but it is not the only one. It may be, however, that she tries other methods of addressing the issues you lay out, and they do not work. This may, in turn, make a more directed conversation about a psychiatric evaluation more fruitful.

*This is not a comment on whether or not she has the Disorder, I have no idea, but I good diagnosis of mental illness is usually hard for folks unfamiliar with the process to pull off.
posted by OmieWise at 6:54 AM on March 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

What omiewise said.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:00 AM on March 18, 2013

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