Nine things to know about dating someone with BPD
Medically reviewed by Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC Counsel The Mind, LLC
Have you started dating someone with Borderline Personality Disorder? Was your partner recently diagnosed with BPD? Do you think your significant other may have a disorder — BPD or maybe even something else?
People with BPD often struggle with their romantic relationships. Both partners in the relationship tend to face a unique set of challenges stemming from a personality disorder. Many symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder can trigger sudden changes in emotions and reactions. This may end up straining the relationship between the two partners. Turmoil and dysfunction can also arise in the relationship. But with consistent treatment and education, it is possible to have a strong, lasting relationship with a person with BPD.
Staying educated and aware of how Borderline Personality Disorder can affect relationships is critical. That’s why it is important to keep these things in mind when dating a person with BPD.
What is borderline personality disorder?
Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental health disorder that is often marked with symptoms of an intense fear of abandonment, impulsive behavior, and unstable but intense relationships. A person with BPD may struggle with pushing others away with unpredictable mood swings and rapid changes in temperament. People with Borderline Personality Disorder may also experience intense episodes of anger, anxiety, and depression.
The mechanics and risk factors of a disorder: BPD edition
Most mental health professionals believe that genetics, brain structure and function, and environmental factors can increase an individual’s risk of developing Borderline Personality Disorder.
Genetics and family history: Individuals with a parent or sibling with Borderline Personality Disorder may face a higher risk of developing BPD than others.
Brain structure and function: As researchers continue to untangle the complexities of the BPD brain, it is important to learn what they have found. People with BPD tend to have a brain that is on high alert. As a result, their “fight or flight” instinct is easily switched on, causing people to act in a manner that is not always appropriate to the situation. This malfunction may result from structural and functional changes in areas of the brain that control impulses and emotional regulation.
Environmental, cultural, and social factors: Having a traumatic childhood filled with instability and abuse is common among people with BPD.
Borderline personality disorder symptoms
People with Borderline Personality Disorder can experience a variety of symptoms. For instance, many of them deal with mood swings. Their opinions of themselves and others can also change quickly.
There are a total of nine categories of symptoms that mental health professionals look for when diagnosing BPD. To be officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, you must display at least five of these symptoms.
The complete list of BPD symptoms includes:
Fear of abandonment: Something as innocent as arriving late from work may trigger this fear in someone with BPD. They may attempt to cling to you or track your movements to prevent you from leaving.
Unstable relationships: People with BPD tend to have short, intense relationships. They may believe that each new person they date is “the one.” On the other side, they may switch to thinking that this person is horrible — there is usually no middle ground for them.
Unclear or shifting self-Image: An unstable sense of self is another symptom of BPD. Sometimes a person with BPD may switch between hating themselves and holding themselves in high esteem. They might also lack a clear direction in life, constantly changing careers, friends, partners, and goals.
Impulsive behaviors: People with BPD may engage in impulsive behaviors such as driving recklessly, engaging in unsafe sex, or binging alcohol.
Self-harm or suicidal behavior: Self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicidal threats are a common symptom in people with BPD.
Extreme emotional swings: Intense mood swings can last from several minutes to several hours.
Chronic feelings of emptiness: People with BPD sometimes describe feeling empty. They may try to fill this emptiness with drugs or sex — though this usually does not satisfy their feeling.
Explosive anger: A short temper and anger management problems can also be observed in patients with Borderline Personality Disorder.
Feeling suspicious or out of touch with reality: Paranoia and dissociation may occur in BPD patients. Some report feeling foggy or spaced out when they dissociate or lose touch with reality.
Diagnosis and treatments
A physician or mental health provider will usually make a BPD diagnosis based on psychological evaluations, interviews with the patient, and a review of the patient’s medical history.
Several treatments are available to those diagnosed with BPD, including:
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Prescription medications or psychotherapy can also help patients cope with co-occurring problems such as alcoholism or depression.
9 things to remember when dating a person with BPD
While a relationship with someone with BPD can become stormy, it can also be filled with love and compassion. Both psychiatric treatment and a strong support network are essential for helping your partner cope with the disorder and its symptoms. When dating someone with BPD, it is essential to remember these nine pieces of advice.
You need to set limits and boundaries with your partner
Setting — and sticking to — boundaries can give your relationship a much-needed sense of structure. Open communication is a must when forming boundaries for the relationship. Be clear when communicating your preferences, values, limits, and general desires as a person to your partner. Setting boundaries can encourage your partner to take responsibility for their actions, prevent you from putting up with unhealthy behavior, and strengthen your relationship.
When setting these limits and boundaries, it is essential to remain calm and level-headed. Your partner may initially take your attempts as rejection. But if you manage to stick it out, these boundaries can encourage a healthy and strong relationship in the long run.
The three C’s
It can be tempting to blame yourself for your partners’ erratic actions and symptoms. Maybe you think you did something to make them angry. Or you feel responsible for any relapse they may have. That’s why it is important to remember the three C’s: cause, cure, and control.
You didn’t cause it.
You can’t cure it.
You can’t control it.
Your partner’s sensitivity often stems from their BPD. Forgetting this and blaming yourself for your partner’s behavior can be detrimental to both your mental health and their treatment. You can’t control another person’s behavior or actions.
Some people with BPD have a painful past — but not all of them
While this is not the case for all BPD patients, many people with BPD are dealing with the effects of an abusive and traumatic childhood. If this is the case for your partner, they may struggle with trusting others and forming intimate relationships. Many child abuse victims believe that they are not worthy of being loved and will never find real love.
It’s easy for people with borderline personality disorder to feel insecure about themselves
Jealousy and anger can easily flare in people with Borderline Personality Disorder. This tendency sometimes stems from their fear of abandonment, which can cause them to overreact to a situation no matter how small it might actually be. They may continuously require the reassurance of your love and commitment to them too.
You can enroll In couples counseling
If you believe your partner has BPD, but they refuse to seek help, you may find couples counseling helpful. Couples counseling can help teach you how to communicate more effectively with your partner and manage your relationship. This may encourage your partner to pursue treatment for BPD if they initially refused to.
Alternatively, couples counseling could be a great addition to regular counseling and treatment for BPD. Through many of these support options, you can learn healthy ways to handle stress with meditation, yoga, and deep breathing.
It is important to take care of yourself
When you are caught up in relationship drama, it can be easy to forget to take care of your mental and physical health. Exercising, resting, and eating healthy can help you handle your stress and emotions better.
Whether you need to reach out to family members for help or enroll in a support group for people with spouses who are diagnosed with BPD, there is always someone you can lean on. Both in-person and online counseling services are available for people in your position.
Encourage responsibility rather than becoming their caretaker
Remember — you are not their parent or their hero. It can be easy for people to fall into a caretaking role for their partners with BPD. They may see them as fragile creatures that need to be taken care of. Succumbing to these instincts can create an unhealthy dynamic between you and your partner.
A firm partner that encourages responsibility might be what they need instead of a doting caretaker. You can still offer support, but that doesn’t mean that you need to rescue them from their consequences whenever they get into hot water.
People with BPD often need to feel validated
When your partner attempts to communicate their feelings to you, make sure you listen actively and validate their feelings. While your partner’s reactions or emotions may seem irrational to you, they are still real and painful. Dismissing these emotions may cause pain to your partner and strain your relationship.
Remember that validating your partner’s emotions and thoughts don’t mean that you agree with them. Listening, mirroring back their words, and showing compassion validates your partner’s feelings and makes them feel like they are being heard.
Managing one’s BPD can be a slow process
Remaining patient and setting realistic goals play essential parts in your partner’s treatment. While change can — and certainly does — happen, the process does not occur overnight. Remember that taking baby steps can help raise your partner’s chance of success in managing their BPD.
Common misconceptions about people with BPD
BPD Is untreatable: While there is no seamless, automatic cure for BPD, it is possible to treat the condition. With hard work and treatment, people can reduce the severity of their symptoms.
Only women have BPD: While mental health professionals previously thought that more women were diagnosed with BPD than men, recent studies have found that the two genders’ rates were comparable.
People with BPD are violent: It is important to avoid stigmatizing people based on stereotypes or exaggerations. People with BPD deserve compassion and help, like any other human being.
People with BPD tend to be misunderstood, whether from bias or a lack of education on the disorder. As a partner to someone with BPD, you might find your relationship with them to improve after educating yourself on BPD and how to improve communication and set boundaries.
If you or someone you know is considering therapy for BPD, the licensed mental health professionals at BetterHelp can help you work through your challenges and obstacles.**