Relationships and BDP: Understanding the Challenges

Alexis Dent
August 28, 2020

Borderline personality disorder, also known as BPD, is a psychiatric condition that can present challenges in day-to-day life, including in a person’s romantic relationships. In fact, difficulty maintaining relationships is one of the more commons signs.

Relationships with BDP

Other Symptoms Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder impacts the way you think about yourself as well as the way you think about the world around you. In addition to the aforementioned pattern of unstable relationships, people living with borderline personality disorder typically experience issues with self-image and emotion management. Additional symptoms of borderline personality disorder include:

  • Rapid and ever-changing self-identity and image
  • Stress-related paranoia
  • Loss of contact with reality, which could last anywhere from minutes to hours
  • Impulsive behavior (that is often risky). Such behaviors may include unsafe sex, excessive spending, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating, and/or self-sabotaging
  • Mood swings that vary widely from happiness to irritability to anxiety to shame
  • Persistent feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate and intense anger, ranging from sarcasm to full-out physical altercations
  • Intense fear of abandonment, and taking extreme measures to avoid separation or rejection (whether real or imagined)
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or self-harm in response to real or imagined separation or rejection

BDP and Romantic Relationships

Since borderline personality disorder affects not only how you feel about yourself but how you feel about others, dating with BPD — or dating someone who has BPD — can be a complex and nuanced process. This disorder most commonly begins in young adulthood, around the same time that one may begin exploring more serious romantic relationships.

The concurrence of this timeline can complicate matters, as it can take a lot of internal work and counseling for someone to effectively manage their symptoms. Although all of the previously mentioned symptoms of borderline personality disorder can wreak havoc on a relationship, there are ways to maintain a happy and healthy relationship while living with BPD.

If you have BPD, it’s important to identify real emotions versus perceived emotions with regard to your relationship. It’s easy to feel as if you’re being rejected by someone for whom you have romantic feelings — even when it’s not true. In fact, borderline personality disorder makes it tough to develop this level of discernment on your own. That’s where the help of a skilled professional comes in.

A counselor can teach you how to manage your symptoms, lessen your fears of rejection and separation, and mitigate wild mood swings that may interfere with the health and wellness of your relationship. There is no shame in having borderline personality disorder, and there is certainly no shame in seeking help.

If your partner is the person with BPD, it’s helpful to show compassion for the symptoms they are experiencing. At times, your partner’s symptoms may even feel out of their control. Therefore, acknowledging the hurdles they face daily will help you better relate to their struggles and decipher ways in which you can best support them.

Additionally, you may find it helpful to attend counseling sessions — both individually as well as with your partner. Individual counseling will empower you to be the best partner possible, especially in terms of how to best offer support. Individual counseling sessions also allow you to air any frustrations you may have in a safe space (as opposed to lashing out at your partner during a disagreement).

As for couples counseling, receiving therapy together can help you put yourself in each other’s shoes, discuss your relationship, and address any issues that may need to be remedied. Couples therapy can take place in person or online, so long as it’s conducted with a licensed, professional therapist. While it’s recommended to be proactive in dealing with issues that arise in any romantic relationship, it’s of particular importance when BDP is involved as it can cause extra stress on both partners.

When Borderline Personality Disorder is Left Untreated

Failing to address your borderline personality disorder can result in long-lasting damage, not just to your romantic relationship(s), but to all facets of your life. People with untreated BPD may repeatedly experience job loss, end up in legal trouble, self-harm, and experience conflict-filled relationships with friends, family members, and peers.

From the lens of romantic relationships, it’s incredibly easy to push people away when you’re living with borderline personality disorder. This is infinitely more true when the symptoms of borderline personality disorder fail to be addressed. The fear of separation or the occurrence of drastic mood swings don’t have to serve as a death sentence for your relationship. However, the symptoms of BPD could very well serve as such if the disorder isn’t treated.

How Can BPD Be Treated?

Treatment for borderline personality disorder is primarily therapy-based, and often includes one or more of the following:

  • Dialectical behavior therapy includes group and individual therapy that is specific to borderline personality disorder. Through dialectical behavior therapy people with BPD learn to manage their emotions, tolerate stress, and improve relationships.
  • Mentalization-based therapy is talk therapy that helps you identify your thoughts and feelings so that you can create alternative perspectives on any given situation. Mentalization-based therapy also teaches you how to think before you react.
  • Schema-focused therapy helps you identify the unmet needs that have led to negative patterns throughout your life. This therapy type helps you develop skills that create positive life patterns so you can meet your needs in a healthier manner going forward.
  • Systems training for emotional predictability and problem-solving, which is also known as STEPPS, is a 20-week treatment plan that incorporates group work so that people with BPD can be treated in settings that involve family members, friends, and/or significant others. This cooperative form of treatment is typically used alongside other forms of counseling.
  • Transference-focused psychotherapy, also known as psychodynamic therapy, helps people with BPD understand their emotions and interpersonal weaknesses through the lens of your relationship with your therapist. These insights can then be applied to other interpersonal relationships within the life of someone with borderline personality disorder.

Medication may also be used in tandem with counseling to treat BPD, however this is most typically the case when there are comorbidities alongside borderline personality disorder, like anxiety or depression.

Healthy Romantic Relationships Are Possible With BPD

It’s not all doom and gloom. With patience, empathy, and understanding it is possible to maintain a healthy romantic relationship despite one partner having borderline personality disorder.

Alexis Dent

Alexis Dent is an essayist, author, and entrepreneur. Her work is primarily focused on mental illness, relationships, and pop culture. You can find her writing in Washington Post, Greatist, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, and more.

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