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The 'Key' to a Relationship When You Live With Borderline Personality Disorder

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Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is rife with stigma, but the most prevalent misconception of them all might be that those living with BPD are unlovable, toxic and controlling in relationships. We’re told to “never trust a borderline,” that they are only capable of loving themselves, that those living with the disorder are monsters…

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yes, those living with BPD often experience heightened emotions and fears of abandonment, but that certainly doesn’t make them unlovable, let alone monstrous. A relationship with someone who lives with BPD is just like any other; it depends on many of the same factors such as trust, understanding and communication. That said, there are a few added things that might help both those with and without the disorder make their relationship more stable.

That’s why we asked our BPD community for the “key” to making a relationship work when at least one of those people has this disorder. We hope the answers below will help and, most importantly, show you that the stigma surrounding borderline personality disorder is unfair. Those with BPD feel their emotions deeply and completely, including when they fall in love.

Here’s what our community had to say.

1. Open Communication

“Communication — 100 percent open communication and honesty. I always let them know if I’m on the brink of an outburst, or I tell them I’m very close to losing control to my anger, or I express how overwhelmed I’m feeling in any moment with all the impulses and emotions I’m dealing with. And because I tell them, they are able to act accordingly. I don’t mean to say they ‘have to change their whole mannerisms’ or ‘have to accommodate me, me, me’ at all, but what I mean is they aren’t caught off-guard by my actions. They know to expect what happens next, and they are always able to bring me back down from a 10 to a five, or even just to a seven.” — Chris M.

“My boyfriend and I have been together for almost seven years, and he told me this: ‘Being able to talk about any issue that might emerge as soon as it does. Being able to forgive and love each other. And most importantly, respect at all costs.’ Loving someone with BPD may not be easy because of what involves, but I know once people with BPD love, they love intensely and honestly.” — Genkidama K.

“Communication and emotional support. We both have mental health diagnoses — her diagnosis is bipolar disorder and mine is borderline, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. We have been through therapy and understand the importance of communication. Even if it takes a few days or weeks, we are patient with each other and work to understand that we each have needs and sometimes we can (individually) be difficult to deal with. We give space when space is needed, spend quality time together, and do our best to uphold promises/plans.” — Paula P.

2. Understanding

“He lets me ‘get it all out of my system.’ All the empty convictions of how I swear I won’t do Christmas with his family, all the crying and yelling about how something so small has set me off. And when I’m done, we move on. He doesn’t make a show about me getting ready for that dinner I promised I was going to veto. He doesn’t laugh or ever bring up that small incident that really shouldn’t have set me off. He understands that sometimes, I just need to get those ‘BPD quirks’ out of my system.” — Nat C.

“Don’t take most things personally. When I have an episode, sometimes I can’t stop myself from shouting, getting upset or angry, even if it’s not toward my partner. He’s learned my anger isn’t toward him, even if it seems like it is — which helps a lot! Just letting me run out of steam is an important factor for us, so that when I’m tired out, he can just hold me and get me a cup of tea or a blanket. Otherwise, we would argue while I would try to explain what I’m going through! Not all of my emotions are toward anyone in particular and I think that’s something people need to realize.” — Abby A.

“My partner and I have been together for a year and a half and it’s the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in. She holds me accountable while still understanding why I’m behaving the way I do. She doesn’t judge the things I may say or do, and she’s always open to talk about things.” — Tucker S.

3. Patience

“Patience. A whole lot of it. I tend to withdraw into myself, and have a really hard time opening up again. He always respects my space and gives me the amount of time I need to ‘unleash.’ I also sometimes need to ask really difficult questions that may be considered controlling or mistrusting, but they aren’t that at all. They help me get rid of all the paranoia and demons I’ve created about him or our relationship.” — Filipa G.

4. Knowledge

“Knowledge. If I’m living with something, you need to understand it. Someone who loves you will learn about you and stand by your side. It’s not going to be easy, but if you’re informed, you can ease the emotional roller coaster. You cannot fix someone with BPD, but you can hold them through the dark and encourage their therapy goals. If you don’t understand it in the slightest, how can you understand that person?” — Rudi S.

“As someone with BPD — explaining to my spouse how BPD affects me personally, and letting them know what I need when I’m not doing well. I’m also avoidant and I get overwhelmed easily when I’m upset. I’m not someone who can be ‘cuddled’ to happiness. I need space.” — Sarah C.

“Knowledge. If your partner doesn’t understand how your brain works, your relationship will never work either. They have to be able to put themselves in your shoes and look at things the way you see them. If not, it will cause fighting because you both won’t see eye-to-eye. Communicate and set boundaries once they understand the disorder so you two can work stuff out and help each other.” — Paige L.

Need to talk about your experience with BPD in relationships? Download our app here and connect with others using the hashtag #BorderlinePersonalityDisorder.

5. Validation

“Stability and validation. I have major abandonment issues and always need to know where I stand in relationships. I do not believe my husband will ever leave me, but sometimes I prod him just to hear it from him.” — Jeneane M.

6. Boundaries

“Boundaries. I own what’s mine (feelings, behavior etc.) and he owns what’s his, and we respect each others’ boundaries within that. I make a point to apply my dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills on a daily (more like hourly) basis. Also, honest (not passive-aggressive) communication about fears and general emotional wellness. We’re happily married and intend to stay that way.” — Mel E.

“We set boundaries and expectations as often as possible, and we work to respect each other’s boundaries. If we make a mistake and overstep our boundaries, we apologize. We put in the work and that’s the only reason we’re still together after 10 years.” — Stephani N.

7. Self-Care

“Self-care. I encourage my significant other to pay attention to how they’re feeling and take care of themselves, and set healthy boundaries to protect their own mental health. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so taking care of themselves enables them to help support me.” — Amy C.

8. Self-Awareness and Self-Regulation

“I have BPD. I need to be self-aware and regulating so that way I do not slip up and forget to communicate, etc. I need to communicate (and not think he will think I am crazy or will leave) how I feel so it doesn’t all build up. He needs to be understanding (so he doesn’t think I am a monster) and not take my behavior to heart if I do slip up. I also need to be understanding when he has had enough and slips up as well, so that way I am not hurt. Seems complicated, but it is more uncomfortable than complicated.” — Taylor L.

9. Physical Closeness

“I fall apart, he listens and cuddles me while I cry.” — Takira L.

What would you add? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo by Ryan Holloway on Unsplash

Originally published: January 14, 2019
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