Living with a partner who has a borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be very difficult. No matter how much you love your partner, it’s hard to endure their manipulative and sometimes abusive behavior, their erratic mood swings, and the constant “walking on eggshells” routine. Of course, no marriage or long-term partnership is easy, but living with a partner who has a mental illness makes it just that more difficult. If you’re living with a BPD partner, here are some tips to help you beat the odds and maintain a healthy and long-lasting relationship.
Living with a BPD Partner Tip #1: Educate Yourself
Learn as much as you can about borderline personality disorder, including how to distinguish BPD traits from personality traits and recognizing triggers so you can help your partner avoid them or better prepare. Most importantly, learn ways to cope with a BPD partner. The more you know about your partner’s disorder, the better equipped you’ll be to help your partner and keep things in perspective.
Living with a BPD Partner Tip #2: Take Care of Yourself
Living with a BPD partner is very difficult. People with BPD can be verbally abusive and manipulative, leaving you constantly walking on eggshells to avoid conflict. Don’t let your partner’s illness consume you. The only way to cope with the stress of living with a BPD partner is to take care of yourself emotionally and physically. First, seek support through therapy or a support group. Second, don’t lose focus on your own life or give up friendships or activities that bring you joy. Finally, keep your stress under control by living a healthy lifestyle and getting plenty of sleep.
Living with a BPD Partner Tip #3: Suggest Counseling
Living with a partner with BPD can feel like your life is being lived on an emotional roller coaster. It’s like that for them, too! They also may feel that there is no way for them to feel better. It’s never easy to suggest psychotherapy, but people with BPD need it and can truly benefit from it.
Does it always work? No; some people with BPD use their sessions to vent about other people more than to understand and master their own emotions. But that’s in large part because the BPD treatment process isn’t a quick fix; it takes time. If they really want to feel better, they will stick with it.
Living with a BPD Partner Tip #4: Be Honest
Your partner might be 100 percent convinced that people are treating them unfairly but resist the temptation to take the easy road here. Do not reinforce those beliefs unless you really agree and think the unfair treatment theory is true.
Honest feedback is something that can really help your partner because people with BPD can be naïve or even clueless about how they are affecting others with their behavior. So, even when it’s not easy, be honest. For example, “I know it hurts when you’re not invited to an event like that,” or, “I understand how stressful losing a job is, I’m sorry.”
However, don’t just go along when they suggest that they weren’t included in the event because everyone hates them, or that they lost the job because people are bearing grudges. If you have other ideas, share them. Remind them, for example, that at the last event they got very drunk and made a scene, and they’ve never talked it through with them. Gently explore the idea that they didn’t seem to be getting along with co-workers before they were fired. Whatever seems to be true to you, share it.
Living with a BPD Partner Tip #5: Be Predictable and Consistent
Instability is one of the hallmark signs of BPD. However, stability is healthy for everyone, and people with BPD can learn to work with structure as they cope with their mental illness. If you say you’re going to do something—or that you won’t—follow through. Learn to think for a moment before you say what you’re going to do, so you can always keep your word.
This isn’t always easy when your partner has BPD. They might be melting down, screaming, or accusing you of abandoning them. However, one of the worst things you can do at that point is feed that emotional storm that’s brewing.
Living with a BPD Partner Tip #6: Encourage and Reward Responsible Behavior
That myth you might have grown up with about rescuing someone in distress and then galloping away to live happily ever after? It’s just a myth. If your partner is acting irresponsibly, don’t become that gallant rescuer. If you do, you’re taking responsibility in their place, and in the long run it doesn’t work.
Resist feeling manipulated into saving your partner every time they act out. If your spouse runs out of money after a shopping spree, let them wait until payday. If they blow a project at work, don’t be sitting up at 3:00am finishing it for them. Every rescue is a bent symbol of devotion in the eyes of someone with BPD, and a step away from wanting and needing to change for the better.
Now think about the other side of this. When your partner does come through, and acts responsibly—especially in an area that’s been hard for them in the past—reward them. Let them know how much you appreciate their hard work, and how close it makes you feel. Show them that their self-care work is, in your eyes, working on your relationship, which you value and care about.
Living with a BPD Partner Tip #7: Get a Reality Check When You Need It
It’s easy to get sucked into an alternative universe with your partner, no matter who you are. However, if your partner has BPD, that universe is going to be filled with spies, enemies, and betrayal—and you’ll never know who’s who. Take time to talk to friends and family, and get a reality check whenever you start feeling lost.
Living with a BPD Partner Tip #8: Set Boundaries
Part of being supportive is being consistent and firm. That means setting boundaries. Think about it from a parenting perspective for a moment. A parent who sets fair rules and sticks to them tells their child: I’m telling you the truth. When I say something, I mean it, and I promise I will do it. You can rely on me.
A partner who sets fair yet firm boundaries gives this gift to a partner with BPD. If you let your partner know that if they scream, you will need to be in the other room until they are calm—and then you do exactly that, and return when they have calmed down, you’re telling them a lot. First, when you say something, you really mean it. Second, you will do what you say you will. And third, you will not accept abuse.
No matter how empathetic and supportive you are, your loved can still become emotionally or verbally abusive. There’s only so much one person can do, so be realistic about what you’re willing and able to endure without feeling overwhelmed, guilty or resentful. If you can’t tolerate your BPD partner’s behavior, even after taking the steps above, then it may be time to get out of the relationship.