Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) manifests itself in several ways but one of the most prevalent ways is through interpersonal relationships. This is why Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) which is the main treatment for people suffering from BPD, created an entire module on interpersonal effectiveness. Issues within relationships in people with BPD is as much of the disorder as self-harm or impulse control, but it’s often overlooked due to embarrassment or misunderstanding. Today, I’m going to discuss the best coping strategies I have personally found in regards to being in a relationship with someone diagnosed with BPD.
*I am in no way a doctor or professional. All views are from my own experience* Click here to learn more about me.
Suicide Rate in People with BPD
Total percent of all suicides attributed to BPD
BPD is formed through the Schizophrenic (1970’s) family and touches on Depression (1980’s), PTSD (1990’s), and BiPolar (2000’s). However, it is now its own diagnoses. As you can see through the other diagnoses it has ventured through, BPD is formed through environmental factors, genetics, trauma, and delusion. The most important thing to remember if you are dating someone with BPD or if you are someone with BPD is that the fear of abandonment is not only a part of the diagnoses but criteria. Telling someone with BPD that their delusional in regards to fear of abandonment is like telling a BiPolar patient to not have mood fluctuations…you can’t and shouldn’t. People with BPD are known as a manipulative bunch and I’m not going to sit here and say we’re not, but we are more than our disorder. You can look through the diagnoses criteria for BPD and think “who would ever want to date someone like this?” but the truth is, when you date someone with BPD you won’t only be dealing with the bad parts of the disorder, people with BPD are empathetic, passionate, loving, loyal, kind, and caring. Once you learn how to cope with the disorder within your relationship you can grow together and live a very happy life. People with BPD actually have a lower divorce rate than the general population.
The solution for the couple: If you are a couple struggling with BPD symptoms within interpersonal effectiveness I suggest going to a group in your community. Groups can include education for the partner, emotional support for the sufferer, or even couples therapy for the both of you. BPD is a type of disorder that cannot be ignored and should be actively receiving treatment.
If my partner is self-harming, can they still be happy in our relationship?
Yes. Many people with BPD suffer from co-occupant disorders such as eating disorders, self-harm/suicide, addiction, trichotillomania, etc. This doesn’t mean they are not satisfied in their relationship, sometimes it doesn’t even mean they’re unhappy in general. As I mentioned before, BPD has ventured through the BiPolar diagnoses area.
This is because people with BPD actually have stronger and more frequent mood fluctuations than people with BiPolar Disorder.
There are four modules in DBT and each one focusses on the major parts of BPD. Interpersonal effectiveness and distress tolerance are in two completely different categories. Unfortunately, if your partner is self-harming it may have to be something you just have to deal with.
The solution for the couple: As I said before, the person with BPD should be receiving active treatment. The best thing you can do if your partner is self-harming is to be there for them, go to appointments with them, and help them use coping strategies. Try not to make them feel guilty or get mad at them. It’s a survival technique.
Divorce rates in people with BPD are actually lower (35%) than the general population (50%)
Why is my partner pushing me away?
People with BPD push away loved ones due to avoid potential pain. If someone with BPD gets close to someone else, they will often start to create fictional situations or reasons why one of you should leave the relationship. They may abruptly cut off ties, block you on social media, or accuse you of cheating (if monogamous). They do not consciously do this, it’s automatic. It’s almost like muscle memory but with emotions. People with BPD think if they don’t get close to someone else, they can’t get hurt. As I said before, BPD was known to be in the Schizophrenic family in the 1970’s. One of these reasons was because the delusion of abandonment is so strong within the individual they are convinced it is factual no matter how ridiculous it sounds. Often people with BPD will “test” your relationship by creating fake situations, threatning self-harm, lying, acting out on impulses, or trying to manipulate the relationship. This is automatic but it is something that can 100% be coped with.
The solution for the Partner: The biggest thing to remember is that if your partner is pushing you away, they are actually begging you to hold them closer. I know it sounds silly but when people with BPD push you away, they want you there more than ever. They want to be comforted and secure in the relationship, they want to know you won’t leave.
The best thing you can do if your partner is pushing you away…is to stay.
The solution for the Sufferer: Stop yourself when you see yourself going down the path to testing or manipulation. Use coping strategies such as check the facts, DEARMAN, or STOP (click the link at the bottom of the page to learn more about DBT skills). Take some time away from your partner but let them know why and don’t make it very long. Take the time to cope and then go back with a concrete plan you’ve thought over instead of indulging in the impulse to leave.
Why does my partner think I’m cheating?
I decided to give this item it’s own heading because this is a major pattern in people with BPD. This is due to the fear of abandonment and past trauma of the sufferer. The biggest thing I want to highlight here is that
if you are not cheating in any way or form and your partner is still accusing you, stay calm and be patient.
Yup, it sucks. It sucks that it seems like they don’t know you well enough, that they are trying to push you away, and that they are making things up just to get a reaction. But, the truth is that this person is trying to survive. The brain automatically forms fictional situations to protect itself from abandonment, even if it’s just imaginary. It resembles a hallucination, however, the hallucination is invisible which can be incredibly frustrating to both partners. To get through this part of the relationship, which could be on and off for years, stay calm. Be there for your partner, but also
remember that you need to care for yourself as well. If your partner is becoming abusive in any way such as emotionally, physically, verbally, etc. then it is completely OK to end the relationship for both of your health and safety.
The solution for the Partner: Stay calm, be patient. Know that this is an automatic response that is almost like a hallucination and it isn’t a choice of the sufferer to think these things of you. This will eventually pass, but it may come back over and over again. Keep remembering who your partner really is, and be patient. They will always come around.
The solution for the Sufferer: Like I said, this is almost like a hallucination so I’m not going to tell you to “just stop.” But I am going to encourage you to pull out your best coping strategies and DBT booklet. The best solution for this problem is usually Check The Facts but if this doesn’t work for you look through the other strategies to help stay calm and ground you while dismissing potentially harmful thoughts.
Daily Coping Strategies for Couples
- Set a visual or verbal cue that you need time alone. This could be the literal version of a spoonie’s spoon, a sign to put on your door, a coloured piece of paper to give your partner, or physically removing yourself from the same room as your partner.
- Make a coping box!
- Take time apart but don’t go on a break. Turn off your phone, go for a walk, or signal some needed individual time (see #1).
- Take care of wounds, anxiety attacks, and BPD related symptoms.
- Encourage treatment, set medication reminders, be there for each other.
- Eat dinner together, play board games together, cuddle and have a movie night! Bond with your partner in your favourite way.
- Don’t base the relationship solely on sex.
- Make sure your partner has a daily routine and don’t leave them alone for days or weeks on end.
- Keep the house clean.
- Be honest, be patient, and stay.