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Doctor E
Doctor E, Social Worker
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 50
Experience:  I am a Ph.D-level therapist and college professor with a specialty in couples counseling.
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My boyfriend and I are having a "are we breaking up" fight

Resolved Question:

My boyfriend and I are having a "are we breaking up" fight and it's my fault. I realize how I messed up, and I don't want it to be over. But we have a history of this same problem and though I've thought it was getting better, we're in the same position we're always in. We're long-distance, I have bipolar disorder, and my emotions still get the better of me. I say unintentionally cruel things and I'm not sure what else to do. I love this person, but I do have doubts, only they aren't as bad when we're with each other... only most of our relationship takes place over a phone. How do I move us forward in a way that can keep these fights from happening? I am already in therapy. Thanks.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Relationship
Expert:  Doctor E replied 1 year ago.

Doctor E :

Hi there. I'm so sorry that you're going through this right now. It can be really difficult balancing relationship communication and personal needs, and with a mental illness like bipolar, there is always a sense of a loss of control. My first question is, how familiar is your boyfriend with bipolar disorder? Does he understand the symptoms and what happens to you when you're in a manic or depressed state? It's very important that he be educated about this, because this will help him understand your behavior and your needs. One difficulty of the situation is that you guys are long-distance. So it can be very hard to read facial expressions over the phone!

Doctor E :

Long distance is extremely challenging for anyone because of that reason. When you're together, you have the reassurance of physical touch, reinforcement from the person smiling at you, and it's easier to connect. The distance can be very challenging.

Doctor E :

I'm also wondering about the content of your fights. Are they about "new" things, or do you keep going over things that happened in the past?

Customer:

I know. He knows I have bipolar and he is finishing his masters in clinical psychology, so I assume he understands the symptoms

Customer:

they're about "new" problems, but they always seem to be repeats of past fights

Customer:

not that we bring up the past, but he often says "I'm tired of this"

Customer:

which gives me the impression that we haven't made any progress, we're just going in circles

Doctor E :

OK--assumption is different than knowing for sure, though--have you directly asked him about this? I know it can be hard to bring up. But there's also a big difference between academic learning and applying it to your real life situation.

Doctor E :

I can understand why you feel that way. So what we need to do is figure out a way to break the circles. When you guys are fighting, how in control do you feel of yourself? One thing that's helpful, if he's willing to do it, is to actually analyze the fights with him and how you guys communicate. Do you address one issue at a time, or do they all tumble forward?

Doctor E :

It can be helpful to make a commitment to just addressing each individual issue as it arises. Like sometimes, you start fighting about one thing and then all of a sudden it's issue after issue coming forward. This can make it very challenging for the person you're fighting with to follow or address.

Doctor E :

So it could be helpful for you guys to agree to focus on one thing at a time when you're fighting, and to really try to avoid the spiral of other topics that you can fight about.

Customer:

That's what we do, one thing after another

Customer:

Sorry, I got disconnected

Doctor E :

A lot of reflective listening is involved in this. You saying, "What I hear you say is X...is that right? Can I address your point and tell you how I feel about it?"

Doctor E :

No problem!

Doctor E :

Yeah, things kind of start to spiral out of control. Can I ask if you're female? Because part of the issue is a communication difference between men and women. Women use many different parts of their brain and can address multiple issues at the same time, while men are linear and that means they can have a hard time following a woman's train of thought.

Customer:

thank you for your help. Is there anyway I can make up for the old mistakes?

Customer:

yes, I am female

Doctor E :

I'm glad to help you, I really empathize with how tough that can be.

Doctor E :

As for the old mistakes:

Doctor E :

that's a tricky one. A lot of that actually depends on HIM. Is he willing to move forward and not bring up the past? I think if he sees you actively trying to change things, work on addressing issues one by one and as they arise, he might be more willing to let the past go

Doctor E :

A little bit of effort goes a long way (cheesy but true).

Doctor E :

Sometimes, when you feel yourself emotionally reacting to what he's saying and you feel yourself spiraling, you can t ry to stop yourself by literally picturing a big red stop sign telling you to STOP!

Customer:

OK. I'm going to see him tomorrow, so I will try watch you suggested. I will talk to him about bipolar disorder and try not to flood him with issues. Is there anything else you recommend?

Doctor E :

Good for you. I think that's a great start. Just empathizing with his situation---whoever we are and whatever we are going through in our lives, our tendency is to focus on ourselves and our own reactions. When we reach out to our partner and give them affirmations, it can be really helpful. Just for example you saying, "I know this can be really tough for you and I appreciate the effort you're putting in. I'm looking for ways to make this easier on both of us. Thank you for continuing to try to work on this thing" could make him feel valued. And of course, also reminding him how much you enjoy the time you spend together in person, and how you know long distance can be so hard. Personally, I think you have a lot of good insight and so don't be shy to use that with him.

Doctor E :

Just turning yourself outward toward him, validating his needs and frustration, can really mean a lot to a partner.

Doctor E, Social Worker
Category: Relationship
Satisfied Customers: 50
Experience: I am a Ph.D-level therapist and college professor with a specialty in couples counseling.
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I am a Ph.D-level therapist and college professor with a specialty in couples counseling.