Borderline Personality Disorder can make someone so difficult to love because they’ve likely learned, from childhood experiences, that it’s not safe to love. They’ve learned that they have to leave people so they don’t get left by the people they care about.
This is why you see so many behaviors that hurt and don’t make sense, whether it’s risk-taking behavior, impulsive behavior, or self-destructive behavior. The goal of this post is not to excuse BPD behaviors.
People still need to be held accountable for their actions regardless of their mental health condition. But, this does not mean you can’t develop a close relationship or romantic relationship with someone who has BPD.
By the end of this blog, you will have the tools to approach your relationship from a new, healthy perspective. Keep in mind that you can work to be a better partner for your loved one, but, without them doing the work too, you can’t build a healthy relationship together.
This post is all about borderline personality disorder in relationships.
TIPS FOR BPD:
1. You can only do so much to help your partner
If you’re researching how to be the best possible partner for someone with BPD, then you’re already doing the hard work. You’re committed to being in your partner’s life, diagnosis or no diagnosis.
As you learn more about what BPD means and what it means for you as the partner, you also have to keep in mind that there’s only so much you can do. You can love them and support them on their journey to get healthier, but they need to do the work on their own.
They need to have the motivation within themselves. This is the first tip because it’s the most important tip for you to care about your health and to realize that your relationship might become too taxing to be worth it if they don’t do the work on their end.
2. Remember that Borderline Personality Disorder is treatable
While it’s true that your partner needs to be on their work personal growth and improving their mental health, you have lots of reasons to be optimistic. A BPD diagnosis is treatable and your partner can learn healthier ways of relating to people.
The most effective treatments are talk therapy or psychotherapy and medication, though medication is used much less frequently than therapy.
In this case, individual therapy will help your partner unlearn some of the harmful beliefs that cause them to overreact to stressful situations and talk through the fears and motivations they have in the way they interact with people.
3. Never underestimate the power of someone’s personal choice
The further you dive into BPD research, the easier it will become to develop a codependent relationship in which you feel the need to care for your partner. There’s nothing wrong with caring for your partner.
They are dealing with a stressful, scary diagnosis that largely will change the way they identify with the world. However, this becomes problematic when you begin to adopt a “savior” attitude, in which you unintentionally start to believe that you know what’s best for your partner.
This usually comes from a combination of two factors: 1) you don’t have a diagnosis like they do and 2) they hesitate to do the mental health work you want them to do at the pace you’d like.
Understandably, you want your partner to become the best version of themselves as quickly as possible. But, you have to remember that they are their own person with their own choices, and that’s the person you love.
4. Keep an eye out for self-destructive behavior
Self-destructive behaviors can look like self-harm, reckless behavior, substance abuse, and more. BPD often will cause your partner to be extremely afraid of losing you to the point where they engage in behaviors that would cause them to lose you so it remains within their control.
In other words, your BPD partner will become self-destructive as a way to cope with the intense fear of being alone and being abandoned. If they cause you to abandon them, then they can’t be hurt the same way they can if they let themselves believe you’ll stay and you end up leaving.
5. Make space for open conversations and have them often
While there’s no way to ensure that your partner believes you when you tell them you love them and tell them you’ll stay, you can initiate conversations with them. Be open, even if they’re afraid to be, and model trust.
Communication is an effective way to contradict the thoughts they have that tell you’ll leave and that contribute to their emotional instability. Depending on their experiences with communication growing up, they might not respond well to you being vulnerable with them.
They may have experienced family members who weaponized communication by withdrawing love when someone was too honest.
Therefore, communication is crucial to a healthy relationship, but it may take time for your partner to trust that you have good intentions with your open communication attempts.
6. Consider couples therapy because you don’t have to do this alone
You and your partner are capable adults, who can work together within a BPD relationship. But, you two are not mental health professionals and, even if you are, you can’t help yourselves in your own life.
This is when a clinical psychologist or marriage and family therapist can help you to find new ways of relating to each other as a result of the diagnosis of BPD.
The core symptoms of BPD can make building interpersonal relationships difficult because of the extreme mood swings and deep-seated fear of abandonment. So, couples therapy might be the solution you need to get the help you need to do what’s best for you two.
7. Watch out for what you say in the heat of the moment
It’s natural to argue and conflict is an important part of all adult relationships. Furthermore, it’s natural for the two of you to say things you don’t mean. You both have to deal with the emotional roller coaster that is the BPD experience.
That can be a lot to manage without harboring any resentment that comes out during arguments. However, this likely means you two need to have more open conversations with each other.
You can’t be afraid of hurting your partner, even though their BPD symptoms might exacerbate what you say and put them into a heightened emotional state. This emotional volatility will be worse if you introduce major issues in the heat of the moment.
8. Your partner may misread your facial expressions and body language
You and your partner will likely get into many arguments that appear to come from nowhere. They result from a collection of symptoms that set up people with BPD to fail in relationships. Luckily, that’s not how it has to be.
But, it does mean that you need to be aware of the moments when they’re arguing with you as a result of their borderline personality disorder symptoms instead of their issues with the relationship.
This can look like them misreading your body language and thinking you’re upset with them. This will then trigger their fear of abandonment and self-destructive behaviors, like causing conflict so they cause you to leave rather than you leaving on your own.
9. Prepare yourself for a tumultuous relationship
There’s no denying that being in a relationship with someone who has BPD will require work. Your relationship will be unstable at times, and that’s part of dating someone who struggles to believe people will stay in their life.
However, it’s possible to love someone with BPD and get that love returned when you both stay to do the work for the long term. Some parts of your relationship will be so difficult that you’ll ask yourself if people with borderline personality disorder feel love.
But, you’ll also experience moments of beautiful, deep emotions if you both stay and do the work. This means that they learn how to manage their symptoms with talk therapy or dialectical behavior therapy and you take care of yourself and work on compassion towards your partner.
10. Enlist the help of your support system when you need it
Never underestimate the power of family. This can also include chosen family, friends, and loved ones who all want to see your partner succeed in developing a healthy lifestyle. Plus, it’s a good idea for you to have a support system all on your own.
As rewarding as it can be to love someone with big emotions, it can also be challenging to love someone who constantly needs validation and can withdraw their love as a coping mechanism.
The good news is that you’re more likely to handle it if you have people to lean on outside of your relationship.
Your partner’s harmful behaviors will never be okay just because they have BPD. But, knowing their diagnosis and having other people to comfort you will ease the pain and make the healing process manageable.
11. Accept your own emotions and validate them
Take of yourself as you help your partner work through their emotions and develop healthier habits of relating to others. Listen to your body and notice the emotions that arise for you.
It won’t feel fair every time you withhold your anger and pain from your partner because you recognize the BPD symptoms in action. It’s okay to be angry and hurt because the person you love said hurtful things that made you feel unloved.
Feel those uncomfortable emotions and process them. When you and your partner can have a calm conversation, bring those emotions up to them and let them know they hurt you.
It might lead your partner into a volatile state, but that’s an essential part of the healing process. They need to remember their actions hurt the people they’re so afraid of getting hurt by.
12. Beware of angry outbursts from your partner
The moment your partner gets angry at you seemingly out of nowhere, acknowledge that this might be the result of their mental illness. While it doesn’t change the facts of the situation, it can help you recognize when you need to give them space to cool off.
In those moments where something triggered them unexpectedly, they won’t be able to reason or talk through their emotions. So, as much as you might be hurt, you have to abstain from responding to them.
Say you do respond to them while they’re angry for some unknown reason, you will either say harmful things to them or continue getting hurt by trying to stay calm when they cannot be calm for you.
13. Create healthy boundaries to safeguard your safety and health
“Boundaries” has become a buzzword in social media recently. It’s so common that people often don’t understand what boundaries actually look like. Boundaries are ways to tell people that you value them in your life, so you need to create rules for how to interact with them.
This can look like telling your mom that you’ll hang up the phone when she starts complaining about Dad.
Another example is you telling your friend that she can’t confide in you about her boyfriend abusing her anymore because you don’t want to support her staying in that relationship.
Boundaries exist to keep someone in your life while taking care of you and making sure that relationship doesn’t take a toll on your mental health.
This is why it’s important to set boundaries in your relationship with someone with BPD. You may tell them that if they lash out at you, you’ll walk away and come back when you have self-regulated.
14. Consider joining a support group to meet people who understand
As you navigate your partner’s symptoms, it might be useful to talk to other people who understand what you’re going through. A support group is a great way to get targeted support in the area you need.
You’ll find people who are experiencing the same struggles you are, even if they haven’t figured it out completely.
When your family can’t fully understand and your partner can’t support you because they are doing their work, a support group is a great way to add to your support system and practice self-care.
15. Work on your communication skills to strengthen your relationship
One of the hardest parts about dating someone with a mental illness is that you have to do your own work in addition to the work you have to do as their partner. You may have grown up with parents who didn’t communicate with each other and certainly didn’t model it for you.
So, when you are told to be open with your partner, you may feel uncomfortable and confused. This is where the personal growth work comes in.
Not only is developing strong communication skills healthy for all romantic relationships, but it’s especially useful when your partner constantly struggles to believe you want to stay with them.
You can never be sure if your partner believes you when you tell them you love them, but you can work on your communication skills to effectively communicate to them that you do.
16. Educate yourself about the suicidal thoughts your partner might experience
Suicide is a hard subject to think about, much less to consider concerning someone you love. But, when we’re addressing abandonment issues and self-destructive behaviors, we need to talk about suicidal ideation.
You are never alone in helping your partner through their suicidal thoughts. Resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help educate yourself as well as provide much-needed help when your partner is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
As you learn about suicidal thoughts, remember that the best way to help your partner is by talking about it and listening to them. It’ll be uncomfortable and scary, but you’re doing the right thing by bringing it out into the open.
17. Understand your partner’s fear of abandonment
We’ve mentioned fear of abandonment a few times already because it’s one of the core symptoms that causes BPD to be so painful.
The fear of abandonment changes the way that people interact with romantic partners and it makes it almost impossible to believe anyone will stay with you and love you.
Everyone with BPD experiences it in different ways, so you need to ask your partner how they experience it to better understand their emotional needs.
For some people, BPD is so extreme that they believe they are deeply unlovable. For others, they don’t have this belief, but they still struggle with believing anyone will stay because this fear is so overwhelming and consuming.
18. Your partner’s recovery will be nonlinear
Your partner has a long way to go in unlearning the beliefs that have contributed to their BPD, among factors like genetics and brain chemicals. They will struggle to change the way they approach relationships and they will likely still have largely unstable relationships.
Their growth and recovery will take a lot of time and a lot of practice. Once your partner gets their diagnosis, they now have to do the painful work of rewiring their brain.
So, remind yourself that the diagnosis is the start of more pain than your partner has ever experienced as they confront the fears and motivations that hurt them the most. Be happy for them to receive answers, but also remember this is the start of a long road to feeling better.
19. Take care of yourself and respect your self-care as necessary in its own right
You’re juggling a lot as the partner of someone with BPD. Unfortunately, you are probably subjected to a lot of anger and unstable emotions from your partner. Your partner deserves love and you two deserve a healthy, fulfilling relationship.
But, we can’t ignore the fact that you probably go through a lot of pain by being in a relationship with someone who thinks you could leave at any moment.
So, take care of yourself. Set boundaries, take time away from your partner, and get professional support when you need it. You need to respect every aspect of your own experience the way you believe in your partner and love them.
20. Do your best to be open about your thoughts and actions
Practice openness with your partner. Let them know what your motivations are behind your actions. While you can’t guarantee that you will be consistent in how you act daily, you can guarantee that you’ll explain yourself.
The more information you give your partner, the less room they have to create motivations out of thin air. They will still find ways to devalue themselves, but this is one of the easiest ways to prevent them from defining your motivations for you.
21. Be aware that your partner’s view of you may change unexpectedly
When they’re angry or activated, your partner will think in black and white. They will see you as all good or all bad and there won’t be much you can do. This is called splitting, and it helps your partner to handle their difficult emotions without feeling or processing them.
Instead of accepting that you can make a mistake and be a good person or vice versa, they prefer to see people in black and white because they are overwhelmed with emotion. The best way to apply this tip to your life is by noticing when this might be influencing the way they treat you.
22. Reassure your partner as often as you can
Tell your partner you love them. Let them know when you appreciate something they’ve done for you. Communicate to them how much you value them in your life.
In other words, reassure your partner that you choose them and their mental illness is misleading to them as often as you feel comfortable. Trying to convince your partner you love them will get frustrating, so reassure your parent as frequently as you can manage.
23. Ask yourself what role social media plays in their life
As you and your partner grow individually and in your relationship, think about how they use social media. Ask yourself if they use it more often than you, or less often, and how it affects their mental health.
Social media use ultimately can negatively impact everyone regardless of mental illness. However, when someone struggles with BPD, they might rely on social media to get that extra validation and reassurance that would otherwise come from the people they love.
Take note of any pattern you recognize between their use of social media and how they treat you or feel afterward.