Interpersonal relationships are connections that we form as human beings and are imperative to growing, learning and loving and being loved. We spend our lives striving to form connections of all kinds, but especially that one that will possibly fulfill us for the rest of our lives. However, not all interpersonal relationships are healthy, and it is the unhealthy relationships that can cause us the most pain. Loving someone with emotional difficulties are often the hardest interpersonal relationships to navigate.
One of the most unstable interpersonal relationships is borderline personality disorder. Caring about someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is like being on a roller coaster ride. One can go from being loved and adored to abandoned and bashed in the same conversation. Being a borderline (having BPD) is no picnic, either. Living with the inability to regulate your emotions most of the time and viewing the world in “all or nothing” terms is no walk in the park. The illness distorts perceptions, causing antagonistic behavior and having an “all or nothing” outlook can make the world seem like a threatening place.
The pain and terror of abandonment and feeling unwanted can be so great that suicide feels like a better choice.
Being on the receiving end of the emotional experience can be very hard to navigate. It can feel great when the emotion is a good one, like being in love. At the same time, if it happens to be a bad feeling, such as anger, the effects are also felt. Add on the complexity of thinking in extremes of something being all good or all bad, with rarely an in between, you can probably imagine how devastating the situation can be.
Conflict and misunderstandings are difficult enough for people who do not have borderline personality disorder. Arguments can be awkward, hurtful, and it can take time to navigate through all of the hurt feelings. Now, imagine how that would be for someone with BPD. When they get into a disagreement with their partner, that partner who was once their favorite person and the one who does no wrong may find themselves at the receiving end of an angry storm from the person who has BPD.
Often, the person with borderline personality disorder can become the central focal point in a relationship and it can feel as if there is little room left for the other partner. Making sure that the partner without BPD is an active participant in the relationship is so important. Expressing their own feelings, needs, and thoughts must be allowed. Being able to share their stories, struggles, and joys is good for both people: after all, while their loved one may struggle with BPD, they also love, value, and want to know them. An authentic relationship only happens when both participants contribute to create a meaningful relational bond. In order to achieve this, the partner without BPD cannot be afraid to set boundaries and communicate those boundaries calmly and clearly. Boundaries may initially be taken as a sign of rejection and can trigger the partner with BPD’s fear of abandonment, but they are essential to ensure that the relationship remains healthy and gives both people guidelines for what is appropriate and what isn’t. Don’t be surprised if the partner with BPD tests those boundaries in an effort to reassure themselves of their partner’s affection; this is normal and is driven by deep feelings of fear. Over time, however, chances are that the partner with BPD will realize that boundaries and love can co-exist and that having limits doesn’t mean they have been abandoned.
If you are in a relationship with someone who suffers from BPD, you are invited to be a part of a support group that meets via Zoom on Tuesday nights at 7 pm. I would love to have a conversation with you if you are interested in being part of this group. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org