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How to Support a Partner With BPD – and Enjoy a Fulfilling Relationship?

Loving someone with BPD might feel a roller coaster ride.

One moment you’re adored, the next you’re bashed.

In severe cases, you feel like walking on egg shells, afraid you might say or do something that provokes your partner.

The relationship is filled with accusations and anger, jealousy, control, and maybe even breakups due to the insecurity of the person with BPD.

In this article, you’re going to learn how to cope when you’re in a relationship with someone who suffers from BPD.

Ready? Let’s get started!

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What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder is a personality disorder that impacts the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life.

It includes self-image issues, an intense fear of abandonment and difficulty tolerating being alone, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, frequent mood swings, and a pattern of unstable relationships.

9 Symptoms and Features of BPD

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines nine criteria, five of which must be present for diagnosis:

1. Chronic feelings of emptiness.

2. Emotional instability in reaction to day-to-day events (e.g., intense episodic sadness, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)

3. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

4. Identity disturbance with markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self

5. Impulsive behavior in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)

6. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger.

7. Pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by extremes between idealization and devaluation (also known as “splitting”)

8. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-harming behavior

9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.

Read More: Living With Borderline Personality Disorder: How To Lead A Satisfying, Fulfilling Life

Borderline Identity: Unstable and Fragile

Those who suffer from BPD lack a sense of who they are and what they believe in. This leads to high anxiety and a lack of purpose and direction.

Identity is a concept that someone creates to capture the core elements that make them who they are and judgments they make about themselves. Identity evolves over time as it takes on varying areas of emphasis, such as gender identity, social identity, career identity, etc.

Terms that many psychologists consider similar to identity include self-concept, self-esteem, self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-satisfaction. All these terms capture a similar idea — who you are.

Personality, on the other hand, includes broad character traits that other people can see.

In this sense, identity is more personal in nature than personality.

For example, wealth might not have a strong direct effect on their personality, but if they attach their identity to wealth, these people would feel like their identities— who they are and their worth — are wrapped around their possessions.

People with BPD have identities that show less stability and less coherence than other people.

In addition, people with BPD often overreact to minor threats to their frail identities. When this happens, one of two situations likely occurs:

1. They desperately attempt to hold onto their fragile sense of self-worth by striking out in rage.

2. Their identity and self-worth crumble, and they fall into a cycle of despair.

How People With BPD Described Themselves? The Sharon Glick Miller Study

In 1994, Sharon Glick Miller, a psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Florida, published a study of ten patients with borderline disorder where she analyzed life-history narratives of these patients.

She found that while these self-reports were highly consistent with one another, they differed in certain important respects from typical clinical descriptions.

1. A sense of being impaired rather than having an identity problem

While clinicians describe people with BPD as having an identity problem, the patients in this study seemed to have a sense of themselves as being impaired.

Strategies, such as changes in appearance described as being use in an attempt to feel better about themselves.

They also reported not revealing themselves easily to therapists or to others to avoid disapproval. They would rather appear to be lacking in identity than having their perceptions of themselves as flawed confirmed.

2. Living a life in which they constantly struggled against feelings of despair

These patients didn’t see themselves as having an illness, rather they saw their lives as a constant battle against feelings of despair – a central theme of how they perceived their lives.

The sense of despair and emotional pain they reported was overwhelming.

How to Support Your Partner?

Relationships are the most affected areas of the life of an individual with BPD, mainly because of their:

  • Violent and stormy connections,
  • Brutally disparaging attitude toward those nearest to them, even though they’re intensely sensitive to being dismissed and abandoned,
  • View of other people as being either “great” or “awful”. A partner or a family partner might be romanticized one day, and seen as horrible the next day over minor things.

Loving someone with BPD isn’t simple – it requires a lot of preparation and understanding.

Watching a loved one battle with profound inward distress can be agonizing. Moreover, even ordinary communications can be weighed down with the potential danger of an outburst in case the person with BPD misread your tone or accepted what you say as an indication of dismissal.

#1. Recognize the Realness of BPD

Individuals with BPD aren’t just being troublesome or intentionally trying to hurt you.

Their profound mental pain is being aggravated by their lack of tools to adapt to overpowering feelings.

You might feel as though your words and acts are not enlisting in the way you expect, which is actually what’s going on. This is why you need to figure out how to adapt to this distinction between real factors.

The right approach to do that isn’t to try to persuade them that they are incorrect – doing so will probably cause them to feel attacked, and they will probably react by pushing you away. Rather, approve their emotions and recognize the realness of their experiences.

#2. Provide Emotional Validation

Emotional is essential in loving someone with BPD.

If your loved one is vexed because they think you are dismissing them, state, “I can see how hurt you feel because you thought I was dismissing you. That must feel horrible.”

Resist the urge to persuade them that you weren’t dismissing them. Instead focus on comprehending what they have just felt and communicating your understanding to them.

By allowing them to feel their emotions and showing them that you understand their agony without judgment, you are giving them love and helping them build trust, while keeping away from a pointless outrage.

Recognize the full humankind of your loved one. Just because someone has BPD doesn’t imply that their emotions are constantly determined by brokenness.

Related: The Art of Validation: How to Comfort and Support Someone Without Giving Advice?

#3. Establish Healthy Boundaries

Often, the individual with BPD becomes the focal point of the relationship. You might feel like there is little room left for you.

Make sure that you are a functioning member in the relationship. Express your own thoughts, feelings and needs. Permit yourself and your loved one to make a significant social bond.

At the same time, make sure you define limits and boundaries and convey them in a calm manner. Even though boundaries and limits may be taken, at first, as an indication of dismissal by your loved ones, they’re actually basic to guaranteeing your relationship stays healthy.

Typically, your loved one might test your limits in order to see how much you love them. Eventually, your loved one will be able to understand that limits and love can exist together and that setting limits doesn’t mean that you’re abandoning them.

#4. Remain Calm

When your partner is experiencing intense emotions, try to remain calm but also involved.

Remind yourself that even though their reaction is out of proportion to the situation, it’s overwhelmingly painful to them.

This isn’t to say that you have to agree with their reaction or think that it’s justified.

This is about helping them feel listened and acknowledging the difficulty they are having in dealing with this pain.

Encourage them to take a little time alone to collect themselves and reasonably discuss the relevant issues when they feel calmer.

#5. Express Your Feelings Openly

Taking a disinterested approach will only intensify your partner’s emotions.

The more openly you express your feelings, the fewer misunderstandings you’ll have in your relationship.

#6. Plan Ahead For Destructive Behaviors

Help your partner develop a clear understanding of the consequences of destructive behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse, self harm, excessive spending, etc.

Make a plan of healthy alternative coping strategies and encourage and support consistent follow-through with the plan.

#7. Quit Rescuing

There’s a misconception that individuals with BPD are nonfunctioning people. The reality is, individuals with BPD are exceptionally intelligent and extremely advanced.

However, most people fall into rescuer-rescuee elements when they’re in a relationship with someone with BPD.

The individual with BPD might simply accept that they need saving and consider your rescuing as verification of your affection while at the same time becoming increasingly dependent on you.

At the same time, you might start picking up your feelings of wroth from the job of the rescuer. Being needed can feel great, but it might not be healthy for you, especially if your self-esteem doesn’t come from within yourself.

Related: Raising low self-esteem: 18 Ways to Build High Self-Esteem

Resist the temptation to rescue your loved one or treat him in a way that might fuel defenselessness and lead to resentment on the two sides. Assist your loved one with understanding their own potential, tell them that you trust in them and help them find a way to become progressively independent.

#8. Support High-Quality Treatment

Your way to love someone with BPD is understanding and not fixing them. You can support can be a priceless help, but you can’t mend their sickness. What you can do is assist them with their choice of treatment.

Treatment choices usually involve psychotherapy, medications and group and family support.

Momentary hospitalization has not been proven more powerful than network care for helping individuals with BPD avoid self-destructive conduct.

1. Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy helps calm a few side effects of BPD and lessen the individual’s desire to self-harm.

Psychotherapy for BPD includes dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic psychotherapy.

2. Medication

Although many individuals with BPD take medication, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not affirmed any meds specifically for the treatment of BPD.

This doesn’t mean that medication isn’t useful, but medicine isn’t a remedy for BPD.


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#9. Take Good Care of Yourself

Finally, remind yourself that you cannot pour from an empty cup.

Take time for yourself to meet your own needs.

#10. Things to Keep In Mind

1. Try not to take BPD behaviors personally – People with BPD struggle to control emotions. However, not taking things personally doesn’t mean that you allow yourself to be abused — whether emotionally or physically.

Related: 30 Signs You Were Emotionally Abused and How to Overcome Emotional Abuse

2. Reach out for support group or therapist to help maintain your physical and mental health.

3. Don’t try to be a therapist – Trying to solve the problems that your loved one is experiencing can make matters worse.

Borderline Personality Disorder BPD Free Resources

How to Support a Partner with BPD

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Resources

  • Portions of this article were adapted from the book Borderline Personality Disorder: Effect, Suggestions and Solution, © 2020 by Albert Piaget. All rights reserved.
  • Portions of this article were adapted from the book Borderline Personality Disorder for Dummies, © 2009 by Charles H. Elliott and Laura L. Smith. All rights reserved.

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