Living with someone with borderline personality disorder
Borderline personality disorder facts.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) not only affects the person who has it, but also the people living with them. People with BPD have difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviour and that can cause a lot of problems for those around them. Fortunately, living with someone with borderline personality disorder
means you can help them (and yourself) by setting healthy boundaries, improving communication, and by stabilizing the relationship. By applying the tips and tricks on this page living with someone with borderline personality disorder
becomes much easier and less tiring.
At Barends Psychology Practice we offer (online) therapy for borderline personality disorder. Contact us to schedule a first, free of charge, online session. (Depending on your health insurance, treatment may be reimbursed).
Living with someone with borderline personality disorder – setting healthy boundaries.
In school, on the road, at work or in public spaces there are rules and guidelines. These rules and guidelines help us to behave in a certain way. This prevents people from getting confused, fuzzy, angry or upset. These rules and guidelines are healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries are also extremely important when it comes to living with someone with borderline personality disorder, because they make behaviour and expectations predictable within the relationship. At the same time these healthy boundaries in a relationship reduce the chance that people with BPD feel confused, annoyed, angry, upset or sad.
Introduce boundaries when the two of you are calm: Introducing boundaries won’t work when you two are emotional or in a fight. Wait until you are calm before you introduce healthy boundaries. Don’t introduce them all at once, because that can be quite overwhelming. By introducing boundaries gradually you give each other time to get used to the new boundary before moving to the next one. Make sure the both of you agree with the new boundaries.
Explain why you think boundaries are needed: It’s important to explain why you are introducing boundaries, because people with BPD may interpret it as a sign of rejection. A wrong way to do this is by blaming someone: ‘your behaviour causes us to fight all the time’. This will most likely come across as offensive and is counter-effective. In stead, try this method: ‘Every time we get into a fight I feel exhausted, sad and frustrated. I can imagine you feel the same way. I don’t like this feeling, so I want to change things to improve our relationship and to reduce the amount of fights we have’. This way you expose yourself (you are being vulnerable) and explain that these boundaries are not introduced because of the person with BPD. At the same time it’s clear for the person with BPD that you don’t reject him or her.
The boundaries should work both ways: If you set healthy boundaries, but you can’t stick to them yourself it’s very unlikely that someone with BPD will stick to them. Therefore it’s important to set boundaries as follows: “From now on, whenever we have a discussion we will not curse or use threats, because they do not add to the discussion. Whenever someone curses or uses threats the discussion is over. We may then continue when we are both calmed down. If one of us continues to curse or use threats, then the other person can walk away from the discussion”.
Enforce the consequences: If you don’t enforce the consequences your boundaries are meaningless and won’t be respected, and the negative behavior will continue. Therefor it’s important to introduce consequences you can actually follow up on. Be aware that those consequences should be a last resort. Someone with BPD will cross (by accident or deliberately) your boundaries a few times and it may be difficult to be strict, because you love your partner/friend/relative, but it’s for the best.
For example: if one of your boundaries is: “no contact during working hours”, then it will be easier for someone with BPD to accept that you won’t pick up the phone if he or she calls you. If you don’t have this healthy boundary, then someone with BPD may start to worry that you don’t want to pick up the phone if he/she calls you, whereas you may be in a meeting at that time.
Although setting boundaries can be quite challenging, in the end they will help build a sense of trust and respect between the two of you.
Setting healthy boundaries can be challenging because people with BPD may interpret setting boundaries as a sign of rejection (which is something they fear the most). A possible response may be that the one with BPD reacts out of proportion to the newly set boundaries (with rage, anger or abuse). By giving in (to keep the peace) you reinforce negative behaviour and you’ll find yourself in a downward spiral. Therefore it’s important to stick to the new healthy boundaries and respond the way you agreed upon. Here are a few steps to help you:
An example for a consequence could be: ¨If one of us continues to use ultimatums or continues to be verbally abusive, the other person should call in a time-out of a week in with absolute radio silence¨. In this example you can see that negative behaviour needs to continue for a while (you can set a limit of course) after which the consequence will be enforced.
Don’t tolerate abusive behaviour: Abusive behaviour: physical, verbal, and non-verbal are simply not healthy in a relationship and shouldn’t be accepted at all. The fact that your partner/friend/relative has a personality disorder doesn’t mean he or she can abuse you in any way. Your own safety is more important than someone else’s abusive behaviour. If the other can’t stop it, you have to consider leaving the person.
Living with someone with borderline personality disorder – improving communication.
Communication is important in every relationship. Communication with someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD), however, is the most important ingredient for a successful relationship. People with BPD have difficulty reading non-verbal signs and have problems regulating their emotions. This means that you need to be very clear about your intentions, thoughts, and emotions, and try to leave as little room as possible for their own interpretation of events. Below are a few tips and tricks that will improve your communication with someone with borderline personality disorder. For more general communication tips, please go to: communication in relationships.
Focus on emotions, not on words: unlike in a normal relationship, communicating with someone with BPD means you have to focus more on their emotions than on their words. When they are emotional they may say things that make little sense (it’s difficult for everyone to stay rational when they are emotional). Therefore, it can be very confusing to listen to their story. In some cases it could upset you which could lead to an altercation or fight. And that’s what you want to avoid, so I recommend you to focus on their emotions and try to calm them down. The moment you realize your approach isn’t working, it may be better to leave the situation until the both of you are calmed down. Remember to explain this to your partner.
Try to stay calm: your partner needs someone who remains calm, even when he/she is very emotional and unreasonable. By staying calm, someone with BPD calms down more easily as well. Of course, this is easier said than done. In case you notice you’re getting upset or angry as well, it’s better to leave the situation rather than continuing with the discussion. Please, make sure you partner knows you will leave when you get upset.
Listen actively and be sympathetic: Someone with BPD often feels like no-one is listening to them. This can be extremely frustrating to them. Therefore, it’s important for you to listen to them and make them feel heard. That means: do not interrupt them (unless they become abusive), focus on them (not on the computer, cell phone or television), withhold blame and criticism, and try to redirect the conversation to the initial point in a calm way. This way it’s more likely that their emotions won’t rise.
Use distraction as a strategy: It’s difficult for people to think rationally when they are very emotional. The moment people calm down they can think more clearly. Therefore, it’s important to distract someone who is high in their emotions by bringing up different topics or by doing something with that person. Ask your partner which activities sooth her and use them whenever you feel like your partner needs them. A few examples: going for a hike, listening to music, doing home chores, paint/draw, cook/bake something, and playing with your pet.
Focus on the good things in the relationship: A relationship is much more than just your partner’s mental disorder. In fact, their borderline personality disorder is just a part of your relationship. There are probably a lot of shared interests. Talk about these things, talk about the things that make you happy. This could be used an a strategy after a tough discussion or argument: you partner will most likely calm down already.
Living with someone with borderline personality disorder means you have to be aware of the way you communicate, the things you do to calm down your partner and to focus on the good things in the relationship. It’s a constant effort that will pay off in the end. Patience and persistence is key to make a relationship with someonewith BPD successful.
Living with someone with borderline personality disorder – putting things in perspective.
Living with someone with borderline personality disorder can’t be compared to living with someone without any mental disorder. As mentioned in the pages on this website dedicated to borderline personality disorder (BPD), people with BPD have a fear of (potential) abandonment/rejection and experience difficulty regulating their emotions. Therefore, I recommend you to put the relationship in perspective. Can you expect the same from someone with BPD as from someone without? Is it reasonable to assume that your BPD partner understands your motives and behaviour as well as others do? These are just a few questions that may help you to put your relationship with someone with BPD in perspective. Here are a few things you need to take into consideration:
Giving your opinion: giving your opinion on a delicate topic may backfire eventually. A delicate topic could be: looks, appearance, opinions on certain political situations, skills someone has or lacks, having an argument with someone, and so on. Example: your partner with BPD has an argument with someone else and asks for your opinion on this matter. If you disagree with your partner with BPD, he or she may perceive it as a rejection. This may lead to insecurity and an argument. If you agree with your partner he/she may start including you in the whole argument and that may become awkward.
A better strategy would be to stay neutral and to highlight possible explanations, arguments And how his/her feelings/emotions may affect his/her judgment. This way someone with BPD will not feel rejected by you. At the same time your partner with BPD will get more insight in the way his/her feelings and emotions could affect her judgment regarding the situation.
Assumptions and clarity: people with BPD have difficulty reading non-verbal behaviour, and even more importantly whenever they lack information they start assuming things. Living with someone with borderline personality disorder means you have to be very clear when it comes to communication. Don’t assume your partner reads your body language well, don’t assume your partner will understand the fact that you are three hours late (without notifying him/her), and so on. In stead, be clear about your feelings and emotions when you and your partner are communicating and notify your partner in time when you expect to be delayed. Also when it comes to arguments: let your partner know how his/her actions make you feel at certain moments, and explain why you want to/will leave the situation when things get out of hand. Another important point to keep in mind: don’t assume that arguments will blow over. For you they may, but for someone with BPD this leaves open a lot of questions, feelings, and emotions and that could lead to false assumptions from her side.
Take care of yourself: a relationship with someone with borderline personality disorder can be exhausting, tiring and it sometimes feels like it’s not rewarding. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have a life of your own and you have fun. It’s not selfish to go out, exercise or meet with friends without your partner. In fact, it will make you feel better about yourself and gives you new energy. Don’t forget to eat and sleep regularly and healthy. Especially when the relationship is very turbulent it’s easy for people to forget about their healthy habits… please, don’t! It will make you feel worse about yourself if you forget about them.
Living with someone with borderline personality disorder isn’t like any other relationship. These relationships require more attention and effort than the average relationship. On the other hand, a relationship with someone with BPD can be very rewarding and a lot of fun, if you apply the above mentioned steps. In case you have questions regarding certain points, please contact me.