Have you started dating someone with borderline personality disorder? Was your partner recently diagnosed? The extreme shifting emotions that accompany the condition can often lead to intensity and instability. This article can help you learn more about this disorder and offers recommendations for navigating your relationship while also providing emotional support to your partner.
What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a highly prevalent mental health disorder characterized by mood instability and difficulty regulating emotion. Approximately 2% of the United States population has BPD. While the causes of BPD are still not well understood, psychologists believe that it may be linked to genetics, brain abnormalities and environmental factors.
Someone with BPD may experience intense anger, depression and anxiety and find it more challenging to return to an emotional baseline. When something bad happens, it can be challenging for someone with BPD to process everyday emotions and bounce back from an emotional setback.
Symptoms of BPD
BPD impacts the way you feel and think about yourself and others. Some notable symptoms of BPD include the following:
- Suicidal threats, suicidal behavior or self-injury
- Intense fear of abandonment or rejection
- Periods of stress-related paranoia and irrational thoughts
- Highly reactive and extended mood swings
- Ongoing feelings of isolation, boredom and emptiness
- Inappropriate or intense anger
- Feelings of dissociation
- Impulsive and risky behavior such as gambling, reckless driving, unsafe sex, substance abuse, binge eating or spending sprees
If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm, seek help right away by calling the confidential and toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In an emergency, dial 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Is It Bipolar Disorder?
BPD is often accompanied by other mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse. However, many people believe they have bipolar disorder when they have BPD or vice versa due to their similarities. Symptoms of both BPD and bipolar disorder include mood swings and impulsiveness. However, unlike BPD, the mood swings of bipolar disorder can last for weeks or months and are not triggered by external conflicts or upsetting life events.
While BPD causes people to experience abrupt swings in mood, self-image, behavior and relationships from moment to moment, bipolar disorder is defined by alternating periods of depression and mania. These two disorders also require vastly different treatment plans.
Treatments for BPD
For the best prognosis, you should encourage your partner living with BPD to seek and stick to a treatment that will help them make healthier lifestyle choices and develop better coping mechanisms. Two popular and effective forms of psychotherapy used to treat BPD symptoms include:
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) can help people with BPD be more mindful of their emotional states and irrational thoughts. DBT can help someone learn how to control their intense emotions and reduce self-destructive behaviors.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people identify and change problematic core beliefs and behaviors and better manage their symptoms.
Exploring options for therapy can be a substantial first step in taking charge of your and your loved one’s mental health together.
How Can BPD Affect Romantic Relationships?
People with BPD tend to have intense and highly reactive moods. They often have intense, unstable and conflicted relationships with others marked by turmoil and dysfunction from constant emotional ups and downs.
So what are some tips you can keep in mind when facing these potential challenges?
1. Set Firm Limits and Boundaries
By learning to communicate your limits and thoughts to your partner, you will protect yourself from having to handle potential unhealthy behavior in the future. Remain calm and level-headed when establishing what you will and will not do and tolerate.
2. Practice Self-Care
People with BPD may move quickly from feelings of idealization to devaluation regarding their partner and are more likely to terminate relationships than people without BPD. If you are dating someone with BPD, you may find it easy to blame yourself for your partner’s erratic actions and symptoms.
During emotional crises, it’s important to remember to rest, eat healthily, exercise and reach out to others to maintain your own well-being. A strong support network and in-person or online professional counseling services will also benefit both you and your partner during times of conflict or high stress.
3. Understand Your Partner May Have Been Abused
Many people with BPD were exposed to stressful childhood experiences, such as abandonment, adversity, abuse and neglect. Other people with BPD may have also been exposed to unstable, invalidating and hostile relationships. While people who have been abused or neglected have a higher risk of developing BPD, not all people living with BPD have experienced abuse.
4. Learn Better Communication Skills
Practicing open communication is crucial for a healthy relationship. To prevent miscommunications and your partner from getting defensive, you and your partner must develop trust and insight into each other’s feelings and experiences. Rather than accusing your partner of overreacting, make sure you listen actively and try to understand where your partner is coming from.
5. Be Prepared to Offer Validation
It’s easy for people with BPD to feel insecure about themselves and their relationships. They often experience abandonment sensitivity as well as a tendency to withdraw from relationships due to a fear of intimacy.
If your partner has BPD, they may constantly watch for signs that you might leave them, experience intense periods of jealousy and interpret even a minor event as a sign that abandonment is imminent. When your partner communicates their feelings, make them feel heard and show compassion for what they are experiencing regardless of whether you agree or disagree.
6. Encourage Responsibility
Rather than filling the role of caretaker for your partner, you should encourage them to take responsibility and accountability for themselves and their actions. Encouraging responsibility can even strengthen a relationship. Your partner needs to be committed to healing and improving themselves. Doting on your partner can instill an unhealthy dynamic into the relationship. Furthermore, you need to remember that you cannot change, control or cure your partner.
7. Remember That Managing BPD Takes Time
Anyone living with BPD can still lead satisfying lives and take pleasure in long-term relationships and even life partnerships. With the proper treatment and support, people with BPD can and do have healthy and happy relationships. Setting realistic and practical goals for improvement is central to making your relationship work. You can educate yourself about BPD, seek professional help for yourself and your partner and offer unconditional emotional support, understanding, patience and encouragement.
Find Supportive BPD Treatment Today
If you are struggling to manage your romantic relationship with someone with BPD, consider professional counseling. Taylor Counseling Group can provide you and your partner with the couples counseling you need to grow together and cope with relationship complications safely and productively.
You can choose any of our nine Central Texas locations to meet in person with a counselor, and we also provide an option for remote telehealth. Schedule an appointment for counseling with Taylor Counseling Group today for affordable, reliable and accessible care for you and your partner.