A manic or depressive episode may not be a helpful time to have a difficult discussion, but that doesn’t mean you must completely avoid conflict with a loved one with bipolar disorder.

Conflict can be a usual part of relationships with others — and to some degree, a little arguing from time to time may even be healthy in a relationship. But for someone with bipolar disorder, the highs of mania and the lows of depression can sometimes lead to increased conflict and arguments with loved ones.

If you have a loved one with bipolar disorder, expressing your thoughts and feelings during conflicts can be natural. But many times, arguing with a bipolar person may worsen the situation.

So, this article covers several strategies below that you can use to communicate in a healthy way with a friend, family member, or partner with bipolar disorder.

Living with bipolar disorder may often mean experiencing a lot of ups and downs for the person with the mental health condition and those close to them.

During a manic episode, a person might experience:

  • extreme emotional highs
  • racing thoughts and speech
  • sensations of grandiosity and invincibility
  • a lack of a need for sleep
  • a desire to engage in behaviors that may have harmful effects

And during a depressive episode, they may experience:

  • sensations of sadness or hopelessness
  • increased social withdrawal
  • a loss of interest in activities
  • changes in sleep or appetite
  • difficulty with memory or concentration
  • thoughts of death or suicide

From the outside, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors someone experiences during a manic or depressive episode can be difficult to understand. When a family member or friend with bipolar disorder engages in behaviors you don’t agree with or says hurtful words, for example, it can cause conflict.

However, arguing with someone having a manic or depressive episode isn’t usually a healthy way to communicate with them.

When someone’s in a manic episode, it can cause them to feel irritable or angry or even twist their sense of reality. Arguing with a loved one experiencing mania may not help them see your point of view, and it can even worsen the situation.

And during a depressive episode, it’s common for people with bipolar disorder to find communication difficult. Depressive episodes may often leave people feeling sad, hopeless, and indifferent, and an argument with a loved one can worsen those feelings.

Just because someone close to you has bipolar disorder doesn’t mean you have to avoid conflict with them. But there are healthier ways to approach conflicts when they arise — and here are some tips on how to do that.

Avoid judgment

When you’re in a heated argument with someone in a manic or depressive episode, you may find judgment seeping in.

But instead of judging them or the situation, stick to the facts: Here’s how this behavior made me feel and why it’s unacceptable. This approach can foster a nonjudgmental environment for your friend or loved one while holding them accountable for their actions.

Communicate effectively

It can be difficult to communicate your thoughts and feelings when you’re angry, but it may be easier to solve conflicts if you can approach the situation calmly.

If you have difficulty expressing yourself without raising your voice, clenching your fists, or pointing your finger, consider taking a step back. By removing yourself from the situation and giving yourself a chance to calm down, you can communicate your feelings better.

Practice compassion

Compassion is usually important in our relationships with others, and it can be an especially helpful trait to practice during conflicts or arguments.

When someone has bipolar disorder, it can be hard to remember that some of their words or actions result from their condition. But you can still hold them accountable for their actions while also making space for compassion toward what they experience.

Set boundaries

Boundaries can be essential to a healthy relationship, but it can sometimes be difficult to set boundaries with someone with bipolar disorder.

If you want to improve your communication with a friend or family member with bipolar disorder, consider sharing your boundaries with them. Give them the space to respect them, but let them know there are consequences if they don’t — including possibly leaving the relationship.

Offer encouragement

Bipolar disorder recovery can be a long journey that involves trying different therapies, medications, and approaches to find what might work.

As your loved one navigates recovery, it may take time to recognize and change the behaviors that bipolar disorder can cause. Whenever possible, try to offer grace, encouragement, and support during conflicts, especially if your loved one actively takes steps to communicate better.

During a manic or depressive episode, someone with bipolar disorder may lash out by saying hurtful words or performing hurtful actions. And even if you know that these behaviors result from a mental health condition, it can be hard not to take them to heart.

One way to look after your mental health during these times is to contact a trained mental health professional. A therapist can offer a safe space to express your feelings and share tools and advice for communicating in a healthy and effective way.

It’s also important to recognize the difference between healthy arguments and abuse. Even if your loved one has a mental health condition like bipolar disorder, abuse ― whether verbal, physical, or otherwise ― is never OK.

If you experience any abuse, consider contacting 800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788 for more resources and support.

While conflict can be natural in almost any relationship, getting into heated arguments with someone with bipolar disorder can sometimes worsen the situation.

If you frequently find yourself arguing with a friend, partner, or a loved one with this mental health condition, it can be beneficial to practice healthy communication techniques instead. If you think you’d benefit from professional help, a relationship counselor or couples therapist can offer even more support.