It is challenging to have a relationship with a person that has borderline personality disorder (BPD), especially since one of the hallmarks of the disorder is unstable relationships. Yet, if your partner or spouse has the disorder, you probably want to do everything you can to maintain the relationship.
Ten Tips for a More Stable Relationship
While a relationship with someone who has BPD may seem nearly impossible at times, there are ways you can facilitate the relationship with that person without having to go on the rollercoaster ride with them as they oscillate between extremes in behavior and mood.
1. Make a Plan and Stick to It
Having a relationship with a loved one with BPD means that you will have to find a way to manage your behaviors so you can manage their behaviors. Coming up with strategies for dealing with your partner's extreme behaviors will help you keep your sanity.
- Think about your partner's behaviors and the effects those behaviors have on you.
- Make a list of all the behaviors your partner has that upset or frustrate you, including cases where your partner harms you.
- Devise a plan that will help you manage the behaviors so you can avoid imploding situations once they start and protect yourself so you are physically and emotionally safe.
For example, if your partner accuses you of not caring about him, you can walk away rather than crying. Creating a plan on how to deal with the behaviors ensures that you are not feeding the symptoms of the disorder by ensuring you stay calm in the midst of an issue. You will also be able to reinforce better, productive behaviors.
2. Set Limits
People with BPD display extreme behavior patterns. They yell, threaten suicide (and are sometimes serious), accuse, blame, and are highly defensive. This might increase if you do not emotionally respond to them; that is, if you do not hop on their emotional rollercoaster and get upset as well.
One way to help control their extreme behavior is to learn your own boundaries. This might be easy because the person with BPD may push the limits of your boundaries. Once you learn your boundaries, you can set limits:
State what your partner is doing to push your limits, and note a consequence if they don't stop the behavior. For instance, if your partner threatens suicide, you could say, "Okay, I'm calling the police." Hopefully, this will be enough to have them settle down, and if your significant other does not settle down, at least you will have the help you need to handle the situation.
Suicide attempts are a common feature of the disorder. Even if you hear it a lot, all threats of suicide need to be taken seriously.
3. Protect Yourself
Another unfortunate aspect of BPD is that people with BPD act in a manner that lacks empathy for those around them. In their minds, their needs and wants surpass the needs and wants of others. They often abuse, control, and manipulate their loved ones, playing on guilt and a sense of obligation to control the people around them.
To protect yourself from this behavior, think about what your loved one often asks for, guilts you into, or abuses you until you provide it. Then be clear about what you will and will not do to protect yourself.
You have the right to protect your body, belongings, and financial situation. For example, if your loved one controls or manipulates you into handing over your entire paycheck so he can use it to buy a new car, you can say, "I am no longer going to give you money. You need to earn money so you can buy the things you want."
4. Be Realistic
A person with BPD does not have the same understanding about emotions, and he lacks coping mechanisms to manage them efficiently. You need to have a realistic understanding of your partner's behavior and your role in his life as "caretaker."
Also, you also need to keep in mind that your partner may never learn to meet your emotional needs. You cannot "heal" your loved one. Your loved one has to be committed to healing himself with the help of therapy.
Also, you need to know that the dysfunction BPD creates in a person's life cripples their emotional capability and understanding, so it's likely that you will not be able to have an emotionally mature relationship.
5. Use Compliments
People with BPD are not accustomed to receiving compliments. To establish trust and influence in your partner's life, complimenting your partner for even little things they do that are noteworthy may surprise you and go a long way.
You can also use compliments to reward good behavior, such as "I know you were stressed out yesterday, but you handled it really well," or "I noticed the way you have stopped yelling at me."
However, note that you need to assess what mood your partner is in. Stating the compliment at the wrong time could solicit an extreme reaction. Then deliver the compliment.
You may never get a response verbally or an expression of gratitude, or even an insult in response. However, it could work for some people with BPD, especially if they seek compliments. Try as long as you are willing. Since a person with BPD has low self-esteem, you could be doing some good.
6. Realize Your Partner May Have Been Abused
People who have been abused or neglected as children are at higher risk for developing BPD.
Because the behaviors of a person with BPD are so outrageous at times, it's very easy to call it quits or blame the person with BPD. It would be like faulting a person for getting cancer.
However, this is not a reason to allow the person you love with BPD to manipulate or abuse you. Still set your limits and stick to them, but in a loving and nonjudgmental way. Also, don't take their outrageous behaviors personally. These are the emotional issues of your loved one.
7. Learn About BPD
One of the ways you can maintain a relationship with your loved one is to educate yourself about the disorder so you can understand your loved one's behaviors. People with BPD will often attack you aggressively or get highly defensive, and people often feel like they are dragged to extremes as they are manipulated and guilted into different emotional states and actions they don't feel comfortable doing.
Learning about the disorder will help you understand how your loved one experiences things. Realizing that your loved one has a completely different emotional perspective will help you protect yourself and stick to boundaries.
8. Understand Misdiagnosis Is Common
With BPD, knowledge is power, and if the person doesn't know that he has the disorder, and the people around him don't know it, they don't know why their loved one is acting that way.
BPD is known as a misunderstood disorder because it often co-occurs with other disorders, such as "depression, bi-polar disorder, substance abuse, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders."
If your partner is already being treated for another disorder and the disorder does not fully explain the parameters of her behavior, have the doctor explore the possibility that she could have BPD.
9. Realize That Extreme Behaviors Are Symptoms
Having a relationship with a person with BPD is often characterized as a "love-hate" relationship, where one minute your loved one is needy, and the next moment she is pushing you away.
People who have this disorder have an intense need to feel loved, but their extreme behaviors always keep them in a state of losing that love. That loss of love supports their intense fear of being abandoned. These are symptoms of the disorder, and not displays of callousness or an effort to hurt you.
10. Practice the Four D's
If the situation seems to be in the middle of escalation, practice the Four D's: "Delay, Distract, Depersonalize, and Detach."
- Delay: "I want some time to consider what you are saying. Let's talk about it later."
- Distract: "How about we go for a walk?"
- Depersonalize and Detach: Realize that attacks, no matter how personal they seem, are part of the disorder, so don't take them personally or get upset.
You cannot force your partner into therapy. However, you can get help for yourself, and with long-term effort, you could convince your partner to get help over time, with increased trust, consistency, and a genuine show for concern.
For instance, you could say, "I'm still here. I wouldn't be if I didn't care."
If you are not strong in yourself, having a person in your life with BPD can make you feel like your life and identity are disappearing as you are trying to meet all the needs and demands of your partner. You will most likely have a difficult time maintaining your health if you have issues going on, such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or substance abuse.
Self-care is essential. Being able to maintain strong, definitive, consistent boundaries is important, and getting the support of a mental health counselor or clinical psychologist will help you maintain your health so you can be there for your loved one in the most productive manner possible.