First let me say that boundaries don't only apply if you have a loved one with bipolar disorder! Boundaries apply in all relationships because you will only be treated as well as you expect, or as badly as you allow, yourself to be treated. When you set boundaries you are communicating that you know who you are and what you are, and are not, willing to tolerate for yourself and those you love. Boundaries are your personal "non-negotiable" issues, not threats or a means of control.

When considering the boundaries you want to set you must decide and accept that bipolar disorder will not be allowed to rule the household!

To effectively set boundaries you must be able to communicate with confidence and conviction and without reservation. Evidence shows that if you communicate your expectations without emotion your bipolar loved one will hear you, even in the midst of the illness. Setting and maintaining boundaries provides a sense of security and stability as much for them as everyone else, even if they appear to dislike them. The boundaries you set will help to maintain the health and wellness of all members of the family.

Following are some of the key areas that must have clear & concrete boundaries:

Safety: Everyone deserves to live in a safe environment. If there is anything about your loved ones behavior that jeopardizes the safety of the family, in the home or otherwise, those issues must be addressed as the number one priority. First and foremost physical abuse absolutely cannot be tolerated. Verbal abuse should not be tolerated, as well, and must either be stopped or at the very least controlled in some fashion.

Values: Values are the principles people live by and you are entitled to your value system. Do you know what your values are or what they used to be? Have you ever shared your values? A common mistake that we all make is assuming that others know what our values are. Values such as loyalty, fidelity, honesty & respect deserve to be recognized and appreciated. If your bipolar partner continuously violates your values it's almost certain that the relationship will fail.

Treatment & Support: In order for you to provide the best support you can you must be an active participant in your loved ones treatment. Who knows better than you when something isn't right or medications aren't being taken? This is an area where, most likely, you will need to be very assertive with both your loved one and the doctors & therapists to be able to give and get the necessary information regarding their actions and treatment. It's true that the professionals must honor the patients' privacy and privilege but that doesn't mean that you can't be involved in their treatment.

Practical Living: There are the fundamentals of life such as a place to live, bills to pay, raising children, maintenance of the home & autos, etc. that all need to be taken care of. Who will do what and when do those responsibilities shift? These are things that must be determined PRIOR TO an episode.

Live Your Life: You, as the spouse or family member, DO NOT HAVE BIPOLAR DISORDER, although at times you might wonder if that's true. You need and deserve to have a life separate and apart from the disease and the responsibilities that become part of your daily life. Don't completely give up your friends, hobbies or outside interests. Do whatever is necessary to maintain your sanity and connection to the outside world. It's your lifeline!

Four steps to setting boundaries:

  1. Prior to any discussion with your loved one you must decide what your non-negotiable issues are and what consequences you are willing to commit to if those issues are not honored.
  2. Choose a time (most favorably a non-episode period) to sit down with your loved one and clearly describe the behaviors/actions that are unacceptable to you.
  3. Clearly describe the action you will take in the event that the boundary is violated.
  4. Be prepared to follow through with the consequences, otherwise setting boundaries will only compromise your credibility and complicate the situation.

As with anything, if setting boundaries is new to you, it will take time, effort and practice to feel comfortable, and guilt-free, and the reward of more balanced & manageable life is well worth the effort. Remember - your strength has brought you this far!

Author's Bio: 

Kathleen Hennessey-Buchanan
Certified Professional Coach; Energy Leadership - Master Practitioner; Author and Public Speaker

As a Professional Life Coach and owner of Gently Shifting Sands Coaching Kathleen's passion is in coaching the partners, family members & caregivers, of loved ones afflicted with Mood Disorders, who have lost themselves in their loved ones disease. Through the use of various coping techniques she helps them discover how to move beyond the fear of the unknown to achieve a more manageable and balanced life.

Do you know what your values are? Are you in touch with your "non-negotiable" issues? Vist Kathleen's website at to learn more about how coaching will help to uncover your values; find your non-negotiable issues and build the self-confidence you need to establish boundaries in your life