Dating someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be difficult at times, but it doesn’t have to be something that harms your relationship. BPD symptoms can include complex and unhealthy thought processes, anxiety, poor self-image, and dramatic mood swings. People with BPD are also more inclined to exhibit impulsive behavior or self-harm.
As challenging as these symptoms can be, they don’t mean you should give up on someone you care about just because they have a BPD diagnosis. It just means that both of your lives — and your relationship — will benefit if you educate yourself about the condition, symptoms, and what to expect.
“Dating someone with BPD may be challenging, but with the proper knowledge and guidance from a medical or mental health professional, it is possible.” – Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, LCSWCTalkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
Read on to learn helpful advice about dating someone with BPD.
What to Expect When Dating Someone with BPD
Borderline personality disorder usually manifests in the late teen years through early adulthood. We don’t fully understand what causes borderline personality disorder in teens or young adults, but it’s believed that it stems from multiple factors. What we do know is that it’s equally prevalent in both genders, and that family history, genetics, and some social risk factors can play a role in whether or not someone might develop this mental health condition.
The most important thing to take from the information here is that your partner’s symptoms are not a result of something you did, or didn’t do, in your relationship. Just like they can’t control their behavior as it relates to BPD, you have no control either. That said, you can learn to react and manage your role in the relationship for a healthier, happier partnership.
How does BPD affect romantic relationships?
Some of the more common symptoms of BPD — like self-worth issues, intimacy and trust difficulties, mood swings, and more — can be understandably damaging to a romantic relationship. You can mitigate some of this, though, by knowing what to expect and heading off instances when you see certain thought processes or behaviors your partner is engaging in.
Some of the key BPD symptoms that can have a negative impact on relationships might include:
Fear of abandonment
A fear of abandonment is central to BPD. That can present obvious problems in a relationship, especially when you’re just getting to know someone and have no idea where things are heading.
Unfortunately, intense fear can lead to your partner being clingy or making unreasonable demands on your time. They may also tend to show signs of (often unfounded) jealousy, convincing themself that you’re going to leave or betray them.
Instability is common in relationships where one person has BPD. Many people with BPD are afraid of intimacy, so instead of getting too close to someone they fear might leave or hurt them, they push them away or withdraw from the relationship.
People with BPD can look for signs (real or imagined) that their romantic partner is smothering them, which can also lead to them withdrawing emotionally and physically from the relationship.
Substantial research estimates that between 40% – 70% of adults with BPD survived some type of sexual abuse during their childhood. It’s not believed that childhood sexual abuse (CSA) is the sole cause of BPD. However, it is widely accepted that when combined with other risk factors, CSA is likely an important risk factor. Sexual abuse can cause life-long complications in relationships.
Intimacy issues can also stem from the opposite of a disconnect — sexual impulsiveness is often found in people with BPD. They might engage in sexual behavior that occurs very early in a relationship, and they can be very casual encounters commonly with multiple sexual partners.
Lying, of course, is damaging to any relationship since it erodes trust. When one partner has BPD, lies, and deception can be common. This might be because they view reality very differently from those around them. It’s not unusual if they don’t feel they’re lying at all, which can lead to unstable relationships.
Demands for attention followed by demands to be left alone
One of the key signs you’re dating someone with BPD is dramatic mood swings. One minute they’re demanding your attention, and the next they just want to be left alone. It can be difficult to know how to react, and it can feel impossible to not take these mood swings personally, but it will be an important coping skill for you to develop.
“Confrontations and arguments can be typical reactions seen in BPD relationships. The more you know about the condition, the easier it is to understand what triggers the person and how to help them.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
4 Ways to Support Your Partner if They Have BPD
Below are some tips for dating someone with BPD. Learning how to help someone with BPD can be the difference between maintaining a successful, healthy relationship, or not.
“Educating yourself about the condition can make a difference. Recognize your partner is separate from their BPD and the person you love. Find patterns so you can be aware of triggers and how both of you respond to each other.”Talkspace therapist Cynthia V. Catchings, LCSW-S
1. Learn as much as you can about BPD
Knowledge is always power, especially when it comes to this mental health condition. Learning as much as possible about borderline personality disorder is one of the best tips for dating someone with BPD that we can give.
By educating yourself, you’ll be able to recognize symptoms of BPD more easily. This is key, so you can learn to react appropriately and defuse potentially confrontational situations before they become a relationship-ending fight.
2. Be empathetic and patient
Empathy and patience go a long way in any relationship. That’s especially true when you’re dating someone with borderline personality disorder.
When you keep in mind that your partner is terrified of your relationship on many levels, you can offer them the affection and assurance they need to feel safe. Make sure they know that you’re in it for the long haul. The good news is that over time, most people with BPD will get healthier once they commit to a BPD treatment plan and are in a supportive, loving environment.
3. Be reassuring
When you care about someone with BPD, it’s essential that compassion is a big part of your relationship. Learning to recognize they’re often coming from a place of being hurt can help. Try to remember this even when they’re acting in ways you struggle to understand, or when their impulsive behavior seems unfounded. It’s the BPD at work, not their true feelings.
We’ve already mentioned that one of the signs you’re dating someone with BPD is an intense fear of abandonment. The best thing you can do to combat this fear is to reassure them that you care about them, you enjoy their company, and you want to spend time with them. Yes, this can be exhausting at times, but it’ll go a long way in preserving and protecting your relationship.
4. Work on your communication skills
Every relationship can benefit from working on communication skills. Communication is even more important when it comes to having a partner with BPD. It’s easy to get defensive, take things personally, and shut down when we’re hurt.
The intensity of emotions and reactions is more magnified when you’re involved with someone who has BPD. They can easily view your communication issues as a sign that you’re getting ready to break up with them, whether it’s justified or not. Keeping the lines of communication open will be incredibly important.
Getting Support in Your Relationship
The last thing to stress is that you really need to take care of yourself and your partner. You can find support by:
- Reaching out to BPD support groups, either in person or online
- Seeking online therapy for yourself
- Developing and nurturing healthy relationships outside your romantic partnership
Having a rewarding relationship with someone with BPD is possible; you just need to meet them where they are and understand where they’re coming from.