Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that causes a person to have two distinctly different personalities or approaches to life. In some cases, the disorder can lead to destructive and irresponsible behaviors. If you live with and love someone with bipolar, it is important to have a thorough understanding of the disorder and communicate with him effectively.

Recognize and understand the symptoms of bipolar disorder. The clearest sign is drastic, frequent mood swings. The person can be on top of the world one hour (called mania) and low down in the dumps the next (depression). These mood swings last for long periods of time—sometimes for months.

Be patient when attempting to communicate with a bipolar person. Do not rush or pressure the person to answer your questions and talk with you. This could cause the person to withdraw from you.

Tell the bipolar person that you are there for her if she needs you. Let her know that you are on her side and want to help. Do not tell the person "I know how you feel" when you don't—be authentic and realistic. Tell her that she is important and loved.

Reassure the person that everything will be OK in the midst of a depressive phase. Even if it just sounds like lip service, this can help give him a little bit of hope.

Suggest alternative courses of action for the person if she is going through a period of "mania." When manic bipolar people tend to make rash decisions, like breaking up with a boyfriend or quitting a job. Suggest a more reasonable alternative solution when she tells you of these plans, such as taking a few days away from the boyfriend or a vacation from work.

Ask the person about how he is feeling. Allow him to vent a little, and just listen. Do not tell the person that his feelings are wrong or silly—avoid judging the person and do not give him negative feedback.

Answer the person's questions honestly, but avoid having a debate with him. Simply state your answer in a non-confrontational, neutral manner and move on.

Encourage the person to see a counselor regularly. Let the person know that what she is going through is part of the illness--only if he has already been officially diagnosed with bipolar.