Your partner is giving you the silent treatment and you’re stuck feeling sad, hurt, and angry. You’re wondering how to respond to BPD silent treatment and you’re at a loss.
While there’s no quick and easy fix, these 15 tools can educate you on BPD, put you in the right mindset for a healthy resolution, and give you the tools to start the conversation.
This post is all about how to respond to BPD silent treatment.
RESPONDING TO BPD SILENT TREATMENT:
1. Stick to a factual statement when you start talking to your partner
When you initiate a conversation with your BPD partner, start with the facts. It’s easy to get wrapped up in your emotions and explain to them how they’ve hurt you. Unfortunately, if your partner is still triggered, they may even be experiencing BPD splitting.
This means that they aren’t capable of empathizing with you in the moment. Instead, sharing your emotions will likely lead to them feeling attacked and your conversation will escalate into an argument.
So, to avoid getting the silent treatment any longer, stick to the facts of the situation. This could mean that you say you’re sorry and you love them.
One of the most important lessons you can learn about dating someone with a mental illness or Borderline Personality Disorder is that their brains don’t think the same way that yours do. This might start to feel unfair because you’re apologizing when, rationally, you did nothing wrong.
But, when you love your partner and they have different needs than you’re used to, you learn to understand those needs and acknowledge the times when you don’t meet them.
Ultimately, you and your partner are on the same team and they don’t choose their mental illness. It causes them as much pain, if not more, than it causes you.
2. Leave space for a healthy distance between you and your partner
Dealing with BPD symptoms means giving your partner the silent treatment because you’re feeling triggered while also needing reassurance. So, in this situation, it’s natural to wonder how you respond to that.
They could be experiencing emotional distress because they’re terrified of losing you or maybe they’re experiencing the process of splitting and you disgust them. You can’t know because they’re not in the place to communicate their feelings to you.
If they are splitting, some part of them knows those feelings are not real and not representative of the loving relationship they have with you. So, if the idea that your partner experiences splitting is terrifying to you, remember that it’s more terrifying to them.
The person they love suddenly feels inferior to them and this anger they feel, which they probably don’t fully understand, is controlling them. There’s no right answer to this situation and there’s no perfect solution. But, it’s a good idea to give your partner space.
Yes, they may freak out that you’re leaving them because of their BPD. In that moment, reassure them that you both need some space to calm down from the anger you’re feeling, so two you can come together as a loving couple when you’re ready.
3. Remember that this silent treatment doesn’t mean either of you is a terrible person
You’re reading this blog and researching ways to handle the silent treatment when it feels more like silent treatment manipulation. That means that you believe in your partner and your relationship, and you should.
Borderline Personality Disorder does not make it impossible for someone to be in a healthy, loving relationship complete with communication and fairness. It does mean that your partner has to do a lot of work on their end for that to happen.
On your end, you need to approach them with compassion and understanding. Part of that understanding is researching BPD and reading about what your role in their mental illness can be to make their life easier. BPD does not make someone a bad, unlovable person.
But, it feels like it when you’re on the receiving end of their symptoms like the silent treatment. It sucks to feel anger from your partner and to be ignored as a result of that. It also sucks to recognize that, even if it seems like they choose to hurt you, they’re not.
BPD doesn’t make them a bad person and it doesn’t make you a bad person when you experience the pain that it causes. The best way to work through the cold shoulder is by starting with the understanding that they are not hurting you for any reason other than their mental illness.
This does mean that they need to do the work to keep from hurting you continuously, but they’re not a bad person because of their BPD.
4. Facilitate open conversations with your partner when they’re ready to talk
It can be understandably difficult to have an open conversation with someone when you’re afraid they’ll revert to the silent treatment. You may be angry or you may be scared. Regardless, the last thing you want to do is be open. However, that’s exactly what you need to do.
Open communication is essential to happy, fulfilling relationships. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or that it will even end well. That does mean that it’s worth it.
You might find that, when you try to engage in an open conversation with your partner, they are not ready for that and they never will be. It’s one thing for them to say that they need a couple of hours or they’re not ready to talk yet.
It’s another for them to shut down and cut off the conversation because it makes them uncomfortable or angry. The best way to start an open conversation is by getting vulnerable with your partner. Let them know that you’re feeling insecure and hurt.
Avoid blaming them because that isn’t what vulnerability looks like. Instead, focus on yourself and tell them the stuff you’re afraid to say out loud.
Focus on your personal truths and avoid telling your partner how they feel or the mistakes you think they’ve made. Remember that vulnerability is all about telling the truth about yourself for your sake. It’s not about trying to change or guilt someone.
5. No matter what, remember that you don’t deserve to experience any form of abuse
It’s hard to date something with a mental illness. This is especially true if they have a difficult time managing their symptoms.
So, if you’re in an intimate relationship with someone who deals with a mental illness and they are not doing the relationship work to get healthier, you may need to start setting some firm boundaries.
Maybe you tell them that you need space while you re-evaluate if this relationship is healthy for you or if you can’t be around them when they’re in a BPD episode. To be clear, this will hurt them and it will likely cause a BPD episode.
But, you need to take steps to care for yourself and recognize when your relationship no longer feels good to you. That means that you can never accept any type of abuse, even if your partner has BPD.
You deserve a BPD relationship that feels good and adds to your everyday life rather than scaring you and giving you anxiety.
It’s normal to experience some anxiety from time to time that can be resolved with open conversation. However, when this is not the case, you need to recognize that as a form of emotional abuse. Anytime you experience borderline silent treatment and you can intense, uncontrollable anxiety from it, notice that and recognize that needs to change one way or another.
6. Accept that you and your partner can rely on professional help
Everyone needs to attend therapy, even if it’s like a gym membership. You don’t plan on ending your gym membership once you reach your fitness goals. Instead, you continue going to the gym to maintain your fitness.
Most of the time, therapy is relatively short-term and designed to end because of insurance issues. Regardless, everyone should attend therapy at some point in their lives because it helps you work through the issues you didn’t know were issues.
Therapy is never a sign of weakness or giving up. Think of it as a temperature check to see how you’re feeling or a doctor’s visit to assess how healthy you are. You can also go to therapy with a specific target in mind. You may bring in a presenting problem that you’d like to fix.
Different therapists will work with you differently according to the type of psychotherapist they are and the theories they base their practice on. So, no matter where you come from or what therapy can do for you, recognize that you’re not alone.
You can ask for help from a mental health professional like a marriage and family therapist so that you and your partner can work on your relationship with professional help and expertise.
7. Work on creating a safe space for your partner
Borderline Personality Disorder is often caused by childhood trauma. That means that your partner developed signs of BPD as a coping mechanism when it was the safest way to interact with the world and take care of themselves.
Now that they’re hopefully in a safer place where they don’t experience chronic trauma, it’s hard to transition from the child who needed to protect themselves to the adult in a relationship who can trust their partner.
To make this transition, your partner has to recognize their symptoms and get a diagnosis for BPD so they can find the right tools. Then, they have to unpack their BPD and break the hurtful habits they developed as a defense against the chronic trauma they experienced.
You can make this transition easier by working to create a safe space. The term “safe space” is kind of vague and amorphous. But, it can be as simple as you asking yourself what makes you feel safe.
You can also ask yourself the ways that your partner has needed to feel safe in the past. Maybe they need reassurance a lot and you can start letting them know you love them and value them without them asking. You could even ask them questions about their experience living with BPD.
When you talk to your partner about their feelings and their experience, you let them know that you are a safe person to talk to and they can rely on you. Be curious, be kind, and practice active listening as they speak.
8. Remind yourself why you’re taking the high road
As you navigate how to respond to BPD silent treatment, you’ll probably end up wondering if it’s worth the effort. That’s a fair question because you’ve probably dealt with a lot of mood swings, antagonistic behavior, and angry outbursts.
At a certain point, you have to ask yourself why you’re doing it. Since you’re in the process of researching how to respond to BPD silent treatment, you’re probably prepared to do the hard work that is required to help some manage their BPD symptoms.
So, ask yourself why. What makes you willing to do the work that you know will be painful and scary? The odds are you’ll answer something along the lines of “Because I love my partner as a person aside from their BPD.”
There’s no right answer to that question, but you do need to remember your answer when things get tough.
Instead of yelling back at your partner or refusing to initiate an open conversation because they are, remind yourself that you love them. In other words, you’re willing to do the work they can’t always do for themselves and love them regardless of their mental illness.
9. Listen for any sign of suicidal thoughts from your partner
From time to time, you may hear your partner say things that make you think they choose to hurt you or lash out or stay silent. But, that’s not true. They may be too scared to work through their BPD and develop tools to manage it.
But, they never choose to hurt the people that give them a real sense of safety. So, it can be very distressing to your romantic partner when they experience splitting and black and white thinking about the person they care about so deeply.
They may not understand why they feel the way they feel, which can be terrifying and frustrating. Imagine hurting your partner over and over without wanting to and never understanding why you’re doing it or how to stop.
This is why it’s so important to watch for signs of suicidal ideation. Self-injurious behaviors, reckless behavior, and abuse of drugs or alcohol can all be lesser-known signs that your partner is struggling.
You can also listen for talk of wanting to die, shame, or feeling like a burden to the people around them. If you notice any of these signs, consult a mental health professional and start a conversation about what you’ve noticed with your partner.
Ask them about their suicidal thoughts and listen for a plan. Ask if they’ve been experiencing suicidal thoughts more than usual lately. Keep in mind that, as scary and awkward as it can be, talking about suicide is one of the best ways to make a suicidal person feel seen and loved.
10. Ask yourself if this response could be a defense mechanism
Most of the time, when you get the BPD silent treatment, it’s because your partner feels threatened. They’re scared and they feel unsafe, so they use the silent treatment as a defense mechanism. This doesn’t change the fact that they’re not talking to you and they’re hurting you.
It does, however, mean that you can develop a better understanding of where it’s coming from. Ask yourself why they’re shutting you out and what triggered them to act like this.
Even if you can’t identify why they’re responding to you like this, you might be able to approach the situation with more compassion. Think of the silent treatment as a defense mechanism because they were triggered instead of a personal attack.
Then, you may be able to forgive them for the emotional pain they’re causing you and think rationally about the situation. Plus, when you approach them with compassion, the two of you can come together for a much more productive conversation after the silent treatment is over.
Instead of sitting with your pain and anger, you can identify solid conversation starters that will help both of you work through this and think of ways to avoid it happening again.
11. Acknowledge that the silent treatment hurts
The first step to responding to BPD silent treatment is to admit that it hurts. It may not be the most fun option because you’re accepting that your partner hurt you and you’re still not sure how to move forward.
However, it’s also one of the most important steps for the long-term survival of your relationship. You can’t help yourself, your partner, or your relationship if you repress all of your feelings and focus on solutions.
It’s okay to want to improve your relationship from the start and be willing to do just about anything to get there. But, you can’t do that at the expense of your present feelings. In other words, your feelings will come out in one way or another.
You’ll either acknowledge them now and share them with your partner at some point when they’re ready to hear it. Or you’ll bottle them up and refuse to acknowledge them, much less talk about them, and wait for them to come out in a blow-out argument when everyone will get hurt.
12. Set boundaries with your partner
You’ve probably heard of boundaries before. So, when you hear them in the context of romantic relationships, you’re freaking out a little. It’s understandable because we mostly see boundaries, especially on social media, in the context of your overbearing mother or frustrating in-laws.
In reality, boundaries are so much more loving than getting your father-in-law out of your business. Boundaries tell the people in your life how to love you better. Examples of boundaries include letting your mom know that you’ll hang up if she starts complaining about your dad.
Or letting your sister know that she has to call before she comes to your house or you won’t let her in. Lastly, a boundary can look like telling your partner that you’re not okay with arguing when either of you had drugs or alcohol, so you’ll leave the room if that happens.
These are all perfectly healthy and important. The key to a useful, loving boundary is to identify someone’s else behavior that hurts you or makes you feel bad and let them know what actions you’ll take to avoid that same hurt or negative feeling in the future.
13. Identify your emotional needs and your partner’s emotional needs
Think about what you need in a relationship and from your partner. Regardless of how capable your partner is of fulfilling your needs, you need to know what they are. Ask yourself what makes you feel safe and loved in a relationship.
Consider any moments recently where you’ve felt lonely or insecure and you just needed your partner to do “X” or “Y.” That’s an emotional need and it’s to learn what they are.
It’s also normal for you to never have considered what your emotional needs are because that type of conversation was never modeled for you. Give yourself time and compassion as you learn what that looks like to you. At the same time, ask your partner about their emotional needs.
Separate your needs from theirs so that they don’t blend together and either of your needs get lost. But, you can also think of this process as something you two do together and enjoy.
14. Recognize your partner’s intense fear of abandonment
Anytime people experience trauma as children, especially if their parents were responsible, it messes with attachment. In other words, when a child deals with chronic neglect of their physical or emotional needs, it affects their adulthood.
It makes sense because our childhoods prepare us for the world as adults. We look to the adults in our lives as examples of how we will grow up to be and interact with the world.
This means that both rely heavily on adults in our childhood and they are supposed to teach us how to be happy, loving people when we grow up.
So, when the adult who raised you didn’t meet your needs, you learn defense mechanisms to constantly reliving the same pain of being neglected. This is why your partner is so afraid of being abandoned to the point that they will leave you so that you don’t leave them first.
15. Take a deep breath because it always helps
Breathe and fill up your whole chest. Place a hand on your stomach to make sure that you take the deepest breath you can take. It won’t fix everything and it won’t make your partner start speaking to you again.
But, it is a form of self-care and a reminder to prioritize your well-being. You are taking the right step by researching how to work with your partner instead of against them.
You and your partner are on the same team and, as long as both of you remember that, you’re going to get through this as a happier couple than before.