"I will not engage; I will not engage; I will not engage. No matter what mean, cruel or hurtful things he says, does or accuses me of, I will not engage."
I can't tell you how many times that verse has gone through my head, since my husband was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II, superimposed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
I know what you're saying "sure, easier said then done". I agree, it's not easy, but it is one of the best coping skills I've developed to take the air out of the hot air balloon (a/k/a bipolar disorder) before it rises too high in the sky. I understand that when he's pushing your buttons and being completely irrational, of course, you want to defend yourself. You just have to tell him that what he's saying is wrong! You just have to tell him that you don't deserve what he's doing to you! You just have to tell him how much it hurts when he says these things! You just have to tell him he's being a jerk! But saying any of these things in the midst of an episode will accomplish nothing except to fuel the propane tank that blasts that hot air into the balloon. Think about it and be honest with yourself, without that blast, how far can the balloon go?
Prior to finding out that he was suffering from Bipolar disorder, and quite frequently I must add, he would get extremely angry for seemingly ridiculous reasons and start saying mean and terrible things to me. Being the tough, independent woman that I am, I would fight back, defend myself or tell him how insane he was. The result: more rage, crueler comments, more accusations and more volume until eventually one of us would walk out or walk away with doors slamming, tears flowing, and threats of divorce or worse lingering in the air. I was always devastated by what he said or the things he said he was going to do. Sometimes he'd leave for an hour or for an entire day. Either way he'd usually come back and act as if nothing ever happened. "Hey sweetie what's up" followed by "what's your problem" when I didn't happily respond to his return. Did he not remember what he said? Did he not remember what he did?
As I came to find out later the answer to that question is NO, or at least not very much of it. Through many hours of research, supported by my conversations with various therapists and psychologists, I determined that he probably only remembered about 25% or less of what was said or done.
That fact brings me to the most important reason why not to engage - you are not fighting with your partner - you are fighting with the disease, you are fighting with bipolar disorder.
Yes it's frustrating, it's stressful and it's demeaning. When you first start using this technique it will take practice and it might appear that your silence is infuriating him even more but stick with it because somewhere deep inside in the memory banks it will start to register that this behavior serves no purpose, reaps no rewards and that you are no longer going to allow this disease to control you or your relationship.
I can honestly say that we haven't had one of "those" fights in a very long time. I'm not saying that there are no longer episodes or that we don't have disagreements but by using this technique, and others, we've accepted the responsibility to either fight fair or walk away when we start heading in the wrong direction.
We are constantly adding tools to our arsenal of skills and techniques to prevent the symptoms of bipolar from destroying our relationship. In future articles I will share some of the other successful coping techniques that we use to control the affects of bipolar disorder on our relationship.