What to Do If You Think Your Partner Has Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a mental disorder that affects how you perceive yourself and others. People with BPD may have difficulty regulating their emotions, face self-esteem issues, and experience unstable relationships. At the heart of the disorder is a strong fear of abandonment, which can make romantic relationships especially difficult . An estimated 1.6% of the general population suffers from BPD, and if you’re in a relationship with someone who has – or suspects they have – BPD, it’s important to learn about the disorder for the good of your relationship. But don’t get ahead of yourself…

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First, you need a diagnosis

You can recognize some aspects of BPD from their portrayal in the popular media, and in recent years the benefits of the diagnosis have even been publicly played out in the headlines. Actor Pete Davidson has been vocal about his struggle with BPD and said he fears his diagnosis will prevent him from having a healthy relationship with his ex-fiancee Ariana Grande. Ultimately, however, what he called his experience helped him: “I was diagnosed with BPD a few years ago,” Davidson later said in an interview published in Variety , “and I was always so confused, all the time, and just thought something was wrong and didn’t know how to deal with it…then when someone finally tells you, the weight of the world falls off your shoulders. You feel much better.”

While a diagnosis can certainly be helpful to a person suffering from BPD, it is important not to try to diagnose someone on your own. Dr. Lawrence Tucker , a Newport Beach therapist, recommends approaching people carefully when they are in a stable mood and suggesting they see a professional, but without specifically mentioning BPD. “Just tell them that their behavior bothers you because you love them and want them to be happy,” Tucker advises. “Offer your support every step of the way.”

It is critical to recognize that many people may attach great importance to the stigma of mental health issues. Some may not yet be ready to admit they have a problem. Everyone’s mental health moves at their own pace, and it’s important to keep that in mind. The most important thing you can do for your partner is to be patient and aware of the fact that it may take time for them to be ready to accept help.

When a loved one is ready to ask for help

There is no “cure” for BPD, but the disorder is treatable—lifestyle changes, such as therapy and medication, can help relieve symptoms. The road looks different for each person, but with the right treatment and support, many people with BPD can and do find better ways to function, and their relationships can become more stable and rewarding as a result. Keep in mind that your partner’s decision to seek treatment will affect you, and that you should support their efforts. If you think you can’t do it, it might be time to reevaluate your relationship.

A therapist who specializes in helping those with borderline personality disorder is essential. The most effective therapy for BPD is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), so look for a therapist who can support it. (Our guide on how to find a therapist is here .)

Kat, a 24-year-old who was diagnosed with BPD in 2020, recalls, “I was always emotionally unstable and I reacted to things much more intensely than my co-workers… that’s what motivated me to go and try to get a diagnosis.” After diagnosis and treatment it got better. “I’m very self-aware and I know on a rational level that I’m overreacting to things,” Kat said. “I just can’t always control the emotional part of my brain. The things that help me cope are being with [my partner]… or taking deep breaths to relieve my anxiety.”

Encourage, understand and appreciate your loved one with BPD

According to Kat, “The best way to show support is to show understanding and empathy, and offer reassurance and approval when [they] express their feelings in a certain way, no matter how strange it may seem to a neurotypical person.” A person with BPD can often feel unappreciated in a relationship. The best way to deal with this is to show your partner that you love and appreciate them in the way that they will best accept it.

Learn the signs and symptoms of BPD and be prepared to support your partner, no matter how they present. A person with borderline personality disorder typically experiences “black-and-white thinking,” which means they can think in absolute terms—going from adoring you to moments of rage at you. However, even when someone with BPD claims to “hate” you, they are also likely to have a real fear that you will leave them. This imbalance can make a relationship quite unstable, so it’s important to offer as much comfort and confidence as possible. In moments of conflict, it can be helpful to remind your partner that you understand that he is feeling overwhelmed and that you will not leave him and will continue to support him. Realize that it’s not your partner’s fault. No one wants to give in to their emotions, and dealing with symptoms can be tricky, especially at first. When they experience an outburst, remember that they are not really in control of their actions. Neuropsychiatric research has found evidence of common structural brain abnormalities in people with BPD, which means there are biological factors that influence their behavior. You wouldn’t blame a loved one for having cancer, so you shouldn’t blame your loved one for having a mental illness.

Find a support group

BPD is a lifelong condition, but the right treatment and support can help people with this disorder form more stable and rewarding relationships. For your part, remember that in order to best support others, your health is also important. Take care. There are many support groups for those who have difficulty relating to people with BPD. To start looking for family support groups , contact your local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) office.

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