Loving someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can be a difficult challenge that can often leave you hurting, angry, and confused. It has been almost 9 years since I met my wife. Loving her and living with her has been both the most rewarding and the most challenging of my life. I certainly was not prepared to live with and love someone with BPD. My natural reactions to the effects of her BPD were defensive. Something would trigger her and I would act in defense and often react back with the same emotions and actions she was projecting toward me. It took me a lot of research and learning, coupled with a few years of therapy to really understand the BPD that my wife has. I now know much better ways of communicating with my wife and much better how to react (or not react) when faced with the BPD.
What is BPD? From Wikipedia:
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a personality disorder described as a prolonged disturbance of personality function in a person (generally over the age of eighteen years, although it is also found in adolescents), characterized by depth and variability of moods.[n 1] The disorder typically involves unusual levels of instability in mood; black-and-white thinking, or splitting; the disorder often manifests itself in idealization and devaluation episodes, as well as chaotic and unstable interpersonal relationships, self-image, identity, and behavior; as well as a disturbance in the individual’s sense of self. In extreme cases, this disturbance in the sense of self can lead to periods of dissociation.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fourth edition, DSM IV-TR, a widely used manual for diagnosing mental disorders, defines borderline personality disorder (in Axis II Cluster B) as:
- A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image and affects, as well as marked impulsivity, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-injuring behavior covered in Criterion 5
- A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
- Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
- Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-injuring behavior covered in Criterion 5
- Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars (excoriation) or picking at oneself.
- Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
- Chronic feelings of emptiness
- Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
- Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation, delusions or severe dissociative symptoms
It is a requirement of DSM-IV that a diagnosis of any specific personality disorder also satisfies a set of general personality disorder criteria.
Everyone has all or most of the defined traits to an extent. People with BPD have these traits persistently and more intensely. What is it like to love someone with these characteristics? Well, the black and white thinking, splitting, can be difficult to comprehend sometimes. There is so much in life that has gray area or middle ground and isn’t necessarily a yes or no, positive or negative. My wife can say she loves me and within minutes be yelling that she hates me. Things are good or bad, but there isn’t really an “okay.” To my wife, I have been the greatest person in the world and the lowliest jackass on earth.
The pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships has been a very difficult one for me. When living with my wife, she would leave me about every 6 to 9 months. An argument would lead to a big fight and she would run away somewhere for a while. Sometimes it would be a day or a few days. Other times it would be weeks or months. You can imagine how very difficult it was to watch her leave and not know when I would be seeing her or hearing from her again. A lot of my therapy had to do with this. It was so difficult for me to want to discuss and resolve conflicts, forgive, forget, move on, and not have her communicating with me to work it out together. It has been very frustrating and I have worked very hard to learn to react appropriately to this characteristic and not react badly and make things worse.
The inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger was also something I had to learn to not instinctively react to. The mood swings can also be unpredictable. In my experience, the BPD anger is lightning quick. It almost always took me by surprise because it would escalate so rapidly. I am very regretful that I used to react badly when my wife would get angry. I am once again thankful that my therapists helped me to learn to cope with this anger and react (or not react) appropriately. I am also thankful for the many great resources out there to learn about BPD that helped me to understand it and how to cope with it.
The most difficult part of loving my wife with BPD has always been my empathy for her. To know that she has these feelings and instabilities that make it difficult to live in the world makes my heart hurt. Whenever she has left me, I am haunted by thoughts of her jumping from relationship to relationship due to the “pattern of chaotic and unstable interpersonal relationships”, the “efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment”, as well as most people not being prepared for a relationship with someone with BPD. I have witnessed this in her friendships and have seen friends come and go as she first adapts herself to being like them, then after a time, moving on to other friends, possibly as efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. It also saddens and hurts me greatly that my wife seems to match the BPD trait of potentially self-damaging impulsivity. Whenever my wife has ran away from our relationship, she has always started smoking, drinking much more, and bragging about driving recklessly. That all worries me so much and has really given me a lot of anxiety. My love for her makes it sometimes difficult to think about the things she does that lessen her quality of life and health.
So, to say the least, my experience has been difficult loving someone with BPD. Of course, people are all different and my experience loving someone with BPD may be very different than others. The people with BPD all vary in many different degrees and aspects. The people loving someone with BPD vary too and some may not find it as difficult as someone else. These are all just my opinions and experiences, not a guide on how it is to love someone with BPD, just how it could possibly be similar. It is commonly suggested that bringing up the topic of BPD with the one you love be done in a gradual manner with a therapist that is trained and willing to treat someone with BPD. I really agree with this suggestion. It takes more than a self-help book and Wikipedia to properly cope with BPD and loving someone with BPD. I would definitely suggest researching Psychologists and finding one to go with your loved one with BPD to. I suggest to go together first as normal, non-BPD therapy to work on some issues, but let the therapist decide if and when a right time is to start working addressing the BPD. Some people with BPD may be resistant to therapy because they don’t accept or understand that they can benefit from therapy. Someone with BPD may see that their reality is that the people that love them are frequently doing wrong or irrational. I would also suggest that you do not tell your loved one with BPD that you want them to go to therapy with you because you think they have BPD. If you have dealt with the aspects of loving someone with BPD, more than likely you have legitimate reasons to tell them you want to go to therapy together without telling them that you think they may have BPD. If your loved one with BPD will not go to therapy with you or by themselves, I highly suggest going yourself anyway with the intention of working on yourself to love and communicate with your BPD loved one better.
I wish that my wife would have joined me in therapy, or even go by herself. Either together or by herself, I feel that it would help her understand her feelings and be much happier overall. I wish that her family and friends were open enough to be able to see the whole truth. My wife is quite masterful at manipulation and masking what she doesn’t want others to see. Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one that will ever take the time to try to really understand my wife and love her unconditionally. Sometimes it has felt as though I am the one with BPD because I have tried so hard to empathize and get inside of my wife’s head to attempt understanding of what she is thinking or feeling. I really wish she knew and understood how much of my heart, mind, and soul that I have put into loving her and trying to better myself to be a good husband. My wife is an amazing, caring person that people like instantly and whom I love.