29th Mar 2023
Dating someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) might be intense, chaotic, and conflictive, due to their emotional instability, impulsive behaviour, or fear of abandonment. However, people with BPD can have successful and long-lasting relationships. It all falls down to education and learning, empathy, support, communication, and professional help.
Dating someone with borderline personality disorder can be challenging, as it brings an extra set of stressors into the relationship. On the other hand, people with BPD are often emotionally intense, deeply sensitive, empathetic, and loving.
BPD is a mental health condition characterized by emotional instability, extreme mood swings, impulsive behaviour and an intense fear of abandonment, among other symptoms. BPD can also be accompanied by other mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.
People with BPD tend to have intense and stormy relationships, with chaotic ups and downs and conflict-laden episodes, turmoil and relationship dysfunction.
They have a frail sense of self and a chronic fear of abandonment, which might make them clingy, demanding and jealous, convinced you will betray or abandon them. This will obviously prove challenging, especially if the relationship is fairly new.
On the other hand, they are prone to dramatic mood swings, where you might be their favorite person at one point, to be pushed away due to their emotional instability or avoidance of rejection.
Other symptoms, such as their impulsive sexuality, lying and deception, aggression and anger outbursts, self-harm or suicidality or dissociative behaviour, can strongly impact relationships and family life.
If you are dating someone with untreated BPD, their symptoms can take a toll on you and your relationship. You might find yourself tiptoeing around every situation in fear of saying or doing something that might set your partner off. Even when things are going well, you might constantly be wondering when the next episode will happen, how to deal with it, and whether your partner might break up with you in a fit of rage.
You might feel responsible for your partner's mood swings and behaviour, leading to feelings of guilt, self-doubt and blame. You must understand, though, that your partner’s symptoms are often not a consequence of something you have or haven’t done or said.
You cannot control their behaviour, and they must learn about their disorder first to have a better handle on how to manage their intense emotions. However, there are certain coping mechanisms and steps to take to deal with your emotions and reactions which can help you build a healthy relationship.
With this said, partners with BPD can and do have successful and long-lasting relationships. They might have great qualities to bring to a relationship and can bring fun, passion and excitement due to their intense emotions, sexuality and desire for intimacy.
If you are about to start a relationship with someone who has BPD, you need to learn as much as you can about the disorder to understand the effects it might have on your relationship and what to expect. With therapy, however, BPD can be managed and they can be successful partners.
On the other hand, if you have BPD, it’s important that you think about your previous relationships and how these have been affected by your symptoms. This might help you to understand how to navigate your relationship and for you both to support each other at the same time.
Learning how to support your partner with BPD is key to maintaining a healthy relationship.
Educate yourself on BPD and learn how to recognize BPD symptoms. This way, you’ll be able to recognize patterns and behaviours. You will be able to react accordingly and manage confrontational situations which are at risk of becoming full-blown fights.
There are different types of BPD, with different symptoms, and understanding this will also reassure you that your partner’s reactions and behaviours are a consequence of mental health issues. It will help you become a more compassionate partner.
You must also learn to recognise BPD cycles, with idealization and devaluation phases. Like all relationships, you will probably first go through a “honeymoon” phase. A person with BPD will live this more intensely, putting their partner on a pedestal and seeing them as their perfect match, their soulmate.
When reality sets in and they realize their partner is only human and can also make mistakes, they might lose interest and walk away, leaving the other party confused and hurt, the devaluation phase. This pattern tends to happen in cycles, and questions arise about the stability of the relationship.
On the other hand, one must also understand that people with BPD have different perceptions and expectations towards relationships, for example, questioning the other person’s intentions and believing they will soon be rejected or abandoned.
Understanding these cycles and perceptions will help you and your partner implement coping mechanisms and will encourage you to develop a stronger bond.
Be affectionate and reassuring, and make your partner feel safe. They are probably terrified of this relationship and being abandoned, so make sure you let them regularly know that you are committed to making it work.
A supportive and stable relationship, and an emotionally sensitive partner, will help a person with BPD thrive and improve, as opposed to a chaotic relationship.
It is also important to offer validation, acknowledging their strengths and positive behaviours, as well as their struggles and efforts. Your partner has the potential to learn how to regulate their emotions and reactions, so encourage them to seek support and work on getting better.
BPD treatment plans take time to make an impact and can require a lifelong commitment. Make sure you also have a support network to help you cope.
Make sure you are not overly consumed by your partner’s needs. If you forget to take care of yourself and what YOU need, feelings of anger or resentment towards your partner might appear, due to the emotional exhaustion of feeling responsible and guilty of their well-being.
Analyse how your relationship has affected your life, how have things changed for you since you began this relationship? Has your social or work life been affected? Are you engaging in any self-destructive behaviour? Taking care of yourself is vital to keeping you and your relationship healthy:
Set boundaries to protect yourself and your partner’s emotional well-being. They will help you respond to behaviour you are not comfortable with and will also allow your partner to see what is acceptable and what is not. Setting boundaries is not easy, but with patience and commitment, they will allow you to establish a healthier relationship of mutual respect and trust.
People with BPD tend to have deficiencies in their communication skills, which can lead to misunderstandings and build up to full-blown fights. Try to understand how your partner processes your messages and work on your communications skills together. Make sure the lines of communication are always open, exercise active listening and validate each other’s feelings.
As mentioned above, people with BPD have a chronic fear of abandonment, intense and unstable emotions, including feelings of worthlessness, and heightened suicidality and self-harm behaviours. When fearing a break-up, people with BPD will try everything to avoid the loss of the significant other, ranging from more typical but embarrassing behaviours such as begging and pleading to extreme behaviours such as threats of suicide or self-harm.
Therefore, even if the relationship isn’t working out, people with BPD will have difficulty in letting it go, and it might leave them completely desperate, especially after long-term relationships. Therefore, it is important that a support network for both parties is set in palace, including mental health specialists that can guide you both.
Even though BPD cannot be cured, professional care and treatment can go a long way and have great results.
Couple therapy will help you have structure in your relationship and help you feel you are not alone in this. Find a counselor whom you both can connect to and trust.
However, bear in mind that couples therapy should be additional to clinical therapy and a treatment plan set by a health professional.