Most couples struggle with communication, and a bipolar relationship is no different.  How do you communicate with your loved one?  One word – LISTEN.


There are seven ways to effectively listen to your loved one, but the most important thing to remember is to listen not only to what they ARE saying, but to what they are NOT saying as well.


1.      One of the most important ways you can listen to your loved one is to tune out all other distractions.  In fact, you can show that you are actively listening to them by letting them see you turn off the television, CD player, or car radio and turn all your attention to them.    This is just one of the things I mention on this topic on my website devoted to bipolar disorder.


2.      It's natural to want to "fix" the situation or to offer your opinions and suggestions, but that is probably not a good idea.  Your loved one just needs you to listen to what they are saying.  They don't necessarily want an answer to their problems right now – they may just be sharing thoughts and feelings.  If you offer advice, they may just shut down and stop talking.


3.      Whenever possible, talk about things in person and not over the phone.  This will give you the opportunity for eye contact.  Maintaining eye contact is a very important part of showing your loved one that you are listening to them.  If they notice you being distracted, or looking away too often, they will get the feeling that you aren't interested in what they are saying.  On the other hand, if you can keep eye contact, they will feel as if they are the center of your attention.


4.      Listen more than talk.  Don't think about the next thing you are going to say while your loved one is talking.  Simply listen.  Then, if your loved one asks you a question, you can answer them.  If they ask for your opinion, offer it.  If they give you a chance to speak, you can stay on topic, because you have been listening to what they have been saying.


5.      Encourage your loved one to continue speaking when there are gaps in the conversation or in places where you think it is proper.  Use words or phrases such as "um hmm," or "go on," or "that's interesting."


6.      While you're listening, also note what your loved one is NOT directly saying.  Note their nonverbal cues.  These might include fidgeting or other body movements.  Other nonverbal cues might be their voice inflection, sighs, or facial gestures.  If anything seems out of sync with what they're saying, ask, "What are you feeling?"


7.      Don't always jump in just because there is a pause in the conversation.  Sometimes this can be a comfortable silence for your loved one.  You can communicate that you're listening by using nonverbal gestures as well, by nodding, taking your loved one's hand or patting their arm or shoulder as a way of telling them to continue.  After the pause, you could even encourage them to continue speaking.