By Larry Shushansky, LICSW
Imagine you’re on a boat and the seas are calm. The wind picks up a little and you’re having a great time. One of the best days sailing you’ve ever had. Suddenly, a storm begins to brew. Even if you’re a good sailor, the wind, rain and high seas dictate what’s happening, making it difficult to use what you know. If you can imagine this scenario, then you can imagine what it’s like being in a relationship with someone who experiences Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), both from their perspective and yours.
This condition causes a person to experience certain symptoms that are bound to impact the loved ones in their life. Two of the condition’s main symptoms are unstable relationships and an unstable sense of self.
A person with BPD may behave in a way that’s hard to understand. When symptoms flare, you may feel as though your relationship is falling apart. You may feel as though your relationship won’t be healthy for either of you unless serious changes are made. You may even feel personally attacked and extremely confused. If you are feeling lost at sea, here are a few suggestions to follow.
If you’re a “solver”—meaning you’re always looking for a way to fix problems—stop doing that right now. Borderline personality disorder is not a “problem;” it is a legitimate, clinical medical condition that needs proper treatment and time for recovery. So, if you find yourself buzzing around your loved one, trying to “fix” them or how they’re functioning in the relationship, stop now.
Instead, focus on the things you need to develop about yourself, such as learning how to stay “whole” and not give up on yourself regardless of what your loved one is doing or saying. Stay in touch with your friends, make sure you have healthy activities outside of your relationship and keep practices in your life that allow for growth.
Stay in touch with what’s going on for you. Are you overwhelmed at times because of what you think the other person is doing? Do you often feel tense and anxious, like you’re walking on eggshells? Do you often think that no matter what you do, the same drama continues? Do you feel like you’re always defending yourself? If any of these are applicable to you, take a huge step back psychologically from the other person. If possible, quiet the “noise” (all the thoughts and feelings) you have about them, so you can think more clearly.
Once your mind is quiet and focused, you can assess what changes will be helpful to make for you to become healthier and happier. This may mean a change as simple as going to yoga a few times a week or a change as drastic as moving out of a shared apartment or home—and many other options in between. But be aware: As you make healthy changes, you may feel worse before you feel better.
Once you’ve decided what changes you need to make, consider setting boundaries for yourself to make sure you don’t give up the parts of your life that are important to you while still maintaining your relationship. This will require a commitment to yourself to be strong about your boundaries. Others may accuse you of not caring when you make these decisions, but remain firm. You are making these changes to benefit yourself and the relationship.
You might be wondering if it’s okay if the only “healthy change” you can see is removing yourself from the relationship entirely. And I get that. A relationship with a person living with untreated borderline personality disorder can be a very toxic, painful thing. But the key word in that sentence is untreated.
Is your loved one untreated? If so, it would be difficult for your relationship to grow in a healthy way. You’re making all of these healthy decisions that benefit you and your relationship. They need to match that growth. Treatment for someone living with BPD is that match. If they aren't willing to enter treatment, then continue to grow on your own, and through that growth you will learn whether this relationship is a good fit for you.
“It is important to remember that despite intense and disruptive symptoms, people with BPD are frequently good, kind and caring individuals” writes Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault Ph.D. And they can have healthy and functional relationships. All it takes on your end is ensuring that you are developing healthy habits, meeting your own needs, supporting yourself and honestly communicating with your partner. Having BPD does add an extra challenge to a relationship, but it’s a challenge you can get through if you are willing to do the work together.
Larry Shushansky has seen thousands of individuals, couples and families over 35 years as a counselor. Through this and the process he used to get clean from his alcohol and drug addiction, Larry has developed the concept of Independent Enough. Follow him on Facebook here. You can also access his blog through his website at Independentenough.com
We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.
Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741
Find Your Local NAMI