Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a well-known personality disorder. BPD is most commonly known for its characteristic symptom of “splitting” but involves numerous other symptoms consistent with the diagnosis. Many of these symptoms can result in difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy relationships with friends, family, and partners. Awareness of these potential relationship pitfalls and how to prevent or minimize them is critical to managing this mental health disorder.
What Is BPD?
By its nature of being a personality disorder, BPD is a pervasive pattern of behavior that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts. BPD is primarily characterized by instability and impulsivity. This includes numerous aspects of the person’s life, including interpersonal relationships, self-image, and mood. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistic Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), a diagnosis of BPD involves the presence of five or more of the following symptoms:
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
- A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships. These typically alternate between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
- An unstable self-image that is significant and persistent.
- Impulsivity in two or more potentially self-damaging behaviors.
- Recurrent suicidal behaviors, gestures, threats, or self-mutilation.
- Unstable mood.
- Chronic feeling of emptiness.
- Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger.
- Transient, stress-related paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms.
Relationship Pitfalls of BPD
These symptoms can create significant difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships. Understanding the interplay between these symptoms and how that can birth issues within relationships can be a useful starting point.
The instability of BPD can create significant issues in developing and maintaining healthy relationships. One reason many people choose to be in a long-term relationship with another individual is for stability. In BPD, this stability is absent, which changes the relationship’s dynamic. A person with BPD might be terrified of abandonment one minute and then want to be isolated the next. This constant push and pull can be confusing and tiresome for a partner.
A persistent fear of abandonment can feed a tendency toward stress-related paranoia. One might closely monitor their partner’s every word or action, searching for a sign that they will leave or cheat on them. This can come across as severe, unwarranted jealousy and distrust, especially if the partner doesn’t understand this aspect of the disease process. In most instances, jealousy and distrust can set a relationship down a disastrous road.
While the fear of abandonment can cause paranoia about a partner’s loyalty, in many instances, the person with BPD is more likely to struggle with being faithful. The impulsivity of participating in potentially self-damaging behaviors can include a tendency toward sexual impulsivity. Beyond the betrayal trauma to a partner, sexual impulsivity can strain a relationship in numerous ways. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancies are two of the most significant risks of this behavior.
People with BPD tend to see things in black or white without shades of gray. This act of categorizing into extremes or “splitting” can be problematic for a relationship. While one might place the person they enter into a relationship with into a “good” category, it doesn’t typically last. By viewing this person as an ideal mate, they can set the relationship up for failure when their partner does something contradictory to this label. This can result in pushing their partner into the opposite category and abruptly ending or sabotaging the relationship.
Managing Relationships With BPD
Having a healthy relationship while managing your BPD is difficult, but it isn’t impossible. Two significant components critical to this include getting treatment and being open about this diagnosis.
A critical step to participating in a healthy and sustainable relationship is to seek treatment for BPD. Most people bring some baggage into a new relationship, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to minimize the amount. Seeking a new relationship while struggling with an untreated mental disorder like BPD can be a recipe for disaster. Conversely, when this condition is treated and managed, the relationship has better odds of success.
Treatment for BPD typically involves a combination of medication and psychotherapy. In particular, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a critical aspect of BPD treatment. DBT teaches skills to manage and cope with the intense emotions that often drive behaviors associated with this condition. The healthier a person is, the healthier the people they attract into their life, and the better poised the relationship will be to thrive.
Be Open About Your Diagnosis
People will have tough days regardless of how consistent they are with their therapy and medications. Sometimes BPD symptoms will be less controlled than is desired. On these days, it can be helpful to have friends, family, or a partner who understands the condition. Understanding can go a long way toward keeping a relationship strong during trying times.
One of the best ways to develop these types of relationships is to be honest and open about the condition from the start. This allows others to learn more about BPD and what to expect from its symptoms. Having time to prepare can make those situations more manageable, and honesty creates stronger relationships built on trust and vulnerability.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a complex personality disorder characterized by instability and impulsivity. These behaviors are especially prominent when it comes to relationships with others. Understanding how the symptoms of BPD interact and contribute to these interrelational struggles is a critical step in learning how to prevent and control these issues. At Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center, we know how difficult BPD can be for our clients and their loved ones. We aim to provide the understanding, treatment, and resources needed to manage your BPD and maintain functional, thriving relationships. If you or a loved one has BPD and feel it is affecting your relationships, call us at (714) 942-4143.