How To Deal With Borderline Personality Disorder In A Relationship

Romantic relationships create unique challenges for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and their partners. Approaching the condition with patience and a proper understanding is key for a relationship to work out.

BPD is characterized by impulsivity and emotional instability. For instance, a person with BPD could be loving and affectionate one minute and cold and withdrawn the next. The partner needs to be very supportive and understanding for the relationship to withstand these rapid and unpredictable changes in mood.

With the right support and treatment, people with BPD can have normal and lasting romantic relationships. This article will explain borderline personality disorder, its impact on relationships, and how you can ensure BPD doesn't end your relationship.

Have you considered clinical trials for Borderline personality disorder?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Borderline personality disorder, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition that affects how someone deals with their emotions and everyday interactions with others.

They may go through episodes where they experience strong anger or depression, and these episodes can last several hours or even days until they return to an emotional baseline.

People with BPD typically experience emotions in a more intense way than others, and often for longer. This goes for positive as well as negative emotions.

People with the condition may find everyday life challenging, whether they are out and about, at work, or interacting with others. They may be more at risk of poor physical health, getting into fights, self-harming, or even suicide.

Signs and symptoms of BPD

People with BPD experience different symptoms, and some have more than others. Ordinary everyday events or interactions can trigger them.

Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of BPD:

  • Mood swings

  • Unstable sense of self

  • Extreme feelings

  • Fear of abandonment

  • Impulsive and dangerous behavior

  • Self-harming

  • Suicidal thoughts and threats

  • Feelings of emptiness

  • Angry outbursts

  • Obsession

  • Difficulty with trust

  • Dissociation (feeling cut off from yourself)

Causes of BPD

There is no single reason why someone might have BPD, but research shows that some factors can increase the risk of developing the condition. However, it’s important to note that some BPD sufferers have none of the risks listed below.

Family history

If a close family member (especially a parent) has BPD, you have a higher risk of developing the condition.

Neurological factors

Experiencing functional and structural changes in the brain, especially in areas that control emotions and impulses, can put you at risk of developing BPD. However, whether these neurological changes are a risk factor or caused by the disorder itself is still unclear.

A difficult background

People with an abusive, traumatic, violent, or unstable background are more likely to develop BPD.

The impact of borderline personality disorder on a relationship

The common behaviors and symptoms experienced by people with BPD can be detrimental to any relationship. However, while romantic relationships can be particularly challenging for both parties, this doesn't mean they are impossible.

You might find that not every aspect of BPD feels negative in your relationship. Partners with BPD can be especially caring, compassionate, and affectionate. The challenge is that you or your partner’s mood may be unstable and extreme, meaning things can rapidly shift from good to bad.

Fear of abandonment

One of the greatest challenges comes with fear of abandonment — a common symptom of BPD —as this is particularly relevant in a romantic relationship. People with BPD overthink even the slightest suggestion of rejection, both from actions and conversations, and they become hyper-focused on it.

These cues can be real or imagined, but a person with BPD may still have an intense reaction and withdraw from their partner.

Obsession

Obsession, another symptom of BPD, affects romantic relationships. The partner with BPD may want to spend all their time with their other half, regardless of whether or not this is practical or desirable.

When they are away from their partner, they may experience withdrawal and extreme loneliness. These feelings can escalate into self-harm or suicidal thoughts, making it challenging for a partner to request space. This obsessive behavior can become burdensome in a relationship.

Length of relationships

People with BPD tend to have multiple short-term relationships.¹ This is because they are easily hurt and angered. When they sense a shift in their partner's feelings, they might withdraw and break off the relationship for fear that their partner will do so first.

Despite these challenges, a person with BPD can enjoy long-lasting romantic relationships, and there are steps both they and their partner can take to make things smoother.

How to prevent borderline personality disorder ending a relationship

If you or your partner have been diagnosed with BPD, you know how challenging the symptoms and behaviors can be, especially in relationships. However, it is important to know that you can have a healthy and long-lasting relationship despite the challenges of BPD, and there are a number of strategies that can help you.

Therapy

Psychotherapy is a first-line treatment you can seek if you have BPD. Therapy can be one-on-one, or it can take place in a group setting. Another option that may be particularly helpful for your relationship is couples therapy.

There are two types of psychotherapy recommended for BPD:

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

This is the most common therapy for people with BPD. The therapist will help you or your partner to respond to emotional situations with good judgment and reason. DBT also provides the tools needed to reduce self-destructive behavior, which can improve your relationship.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is useful for helping a person with BPD to change the core beliefs and behaviors that influence how they perceive themselves and other people.² This type of therapy aims to make interactions with other people and relationships much easier.

Medication

Medications are rarely used as a first-line treatment for BPD. However, a doctor or psychiatrist may prescribe you or your partner medication to regulate depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Medication can help to reduce the intensity of mood swings, making other interventions, like therapy, more effective.

In-hospital treatment

In extreme cases of self-harm or suicidal thoughts, it might be necessary to get hospitalized or encourage your partner with BPD to do so. Hospitalization can provide access to intense therapy and observation, which may help with gaining important coping mechanisms and developing a treatment plan.

Ways to be a supportive partner of someone with borderline personality disorder

If you are dating a person with BPD, there are several things you can do to help your partner and maintain a healthy relationship.

Seek information

Find out as much as you can about BPD so you can feel sympathetic towards your partner. Coming to understand that when your partner has an episode or an extreme reaction, they are doing so out of anger, fear, shame, or a lack of self-worth. These outbursts do not define them. When you realize and understand that, your relationship will be more solid.

Education will also equip you with the skills and tools you need to help your partner cope with BPD and prevent them from harming themselves or others.

Practice healthy communication

If you’re in a relationship with someone with BPD, it’s best to avoid words that provoke their anger or insecurities. Healthy, effective communication is important, so listen carefully to what your partner is saying and respond with as much love and understanding as possible.

You might find it difficult to hold your tongue when you feel like you are being attacked, but learning how to navigate these interactions will benefit you both.

Get help

Seeking help from a psychiatrist or therapist (as a couple or separately) can help people with BPD communicate more openly, strengthen their relationships, and resolve conflicts. Make sure you and your partner are prepared for these sessions, perhaps by keeping notes about changes in mood and any new behaviors you have noticed.

Offer support

A partner with BPD requires unwavering support, both emotionally and psychologically. Tell your partner you understand they are going through a rough time and that you will be there to hold their hand throughout. While it is not your job to “fix” things, simply reminding your partner that you are there for them can be incredibly comforting.

Talk only when your partner is calm

When your partner is experiencing a severe episode of BPD, bringing up anything that will make them feel worse would be unwise. Let them calm down first before you have a challenging conversation. To do this, you will need to hold back your own emotions and perhaps remove yourself from the situation altogether.

Avoid blaming or labeling

Try not to blame your partner’s actions and reactions on their disorder, as they will feel blamed and labeled. Doing so may escalate their symptoms and run the risk of them hurting themselves.

Remember to look after yourself

Helping your partner manage their condition and live a normal, healthy life as much as possible is important. However, it is equally as important to prioritize yourself. Seek your own support system (consider speaking to your own therapist), practice mindfulness and self-care, eat healthily, and socialize with other people. Remember that it is okay to take a break when you need one.

The lowdown

It can be devastating for both parties when borderline personality disorder ends a relationship, but it doesn’t need to be that way.

If you or your partner have BPD, know that it is possible to have a healthy, long-lasting relationship. Your relationship will be challenging and unique, but you can take steps to make it easier and prepare yourself for tackling tough situations.

Seeking effective treatment is crucial for anyone with BPD, while partners should make an effort to understand the condition and provide sympathy, support, and comfort.

Have you considered clinical trials for Borderline personality disorder?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Borderline personality disorder, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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