How to Handle a Relationship With Someone Who Has It
People who live with borderline personality disorder (BPD) find it difficult to regulate their emotions, which can be very intense, and to deal with stress. This can cause them to prey on the people in their life. As a result, they often have turbulent relationships which are as difficult for the other people in them as the BPD is for the person living with it. If you are living with someone who has BPD, this is not news to you, but you may feel lost on how to do anything.
Daniel S. Lobel, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in supporting loved ones of people with BPD, has advice on how to help you, your partner, and your relationship reach a healthier place.
Learn more about borderline personality disorder
Living with borderline personality disorder – or living with someone who has it – can be isolating. People with BPD and those who live with them often feel totally alone. Education is essential, especially with regard to the behaviors that accompany the disease.
People with BPD tend to pick on the person who doesn’t, Lobel says. “So people who live with people with BPD end up feeling bad about themselves.”
Learning how BPD causes it helps people who don’t have it understand that it isn’t them. Lobel suggests these sites to learn more about borderline personality disorder and find support:
Take care of yourself first
Before you do anything, “you have to stop the person from harming you in order to move forward in the relationship,” Lobel says. Trying to help them when you are being treated badly – being yelled at, living with passive aggressive behavior – is not safe for you and likely won’t help your partner.
Instead, he says, the first step is to set a limit for your well-being. He suggests saying to your partner, “I can’t be with you until I’m okay, and in order for me to be okay, I have to keep you from hurting me.”
If your partner says he can’t stop, he’ll likely need professional help before you can make any progress. The point of this step, says Lobel, is to let your partner know, “you have to stop abusing me or we have nowhere to go.”
Define – and respect – limits
“People with BPD try to get other people to do for them what they should do for themselves,” Lobel says. And often they are successful, because the other person just wants to stop yelling, so they give in.
Instead, tell your partner, “I won’t participate in things that are unhealthy.” This may mean insisting that they not use drugs or alcohol at home, or not participating if they do. It could mean leaving if your partner yells at you or puts you down.
Apply emotional boundaries, too
People with borderline personality disorder often bring those close to them into their emotions.
“They think, ‘If I’m angry you have to be too,’ then they’ll create a situation that will make the other angry,” Lobel says.
If you can spot these trends, it will go a long way in stopping this cycle of codependency.
Lobel suggests telling your partner, “You are angry. I understand. I don’t have to be angry to understand that you are angry. We can talk about your anger, but you can’t yell at me or be violent.
If they can’t stop the behavior, you can tell them, “You have to deal with this on your own.”
Replace a bad connection with a healthy one
Fighting or defending yourself against a partner who treats you badly undermines your interest and your ability to do nice things with them. This makes the connection more difficult.
Lobel says making a change, like walking away when they treat you badly, frees up emotional time and space for you to have positive interactions, like watching a movie or going for a walk together. These are more positive ways of showing love.
To be coherent
“Consistency is so important,” Lobel says, “because people with BPD testing limits. If you set a limit, they can see in what ways they can push or encroach on the limit. “If the pattern between you has been to let boundaries stretch or break over a long period of time, that won’t change overnight.
“You can’t just change the border one day and expect them to comply,” he says. “In the short term, they will test it more.” This means things are likely to get worse before they get better.
“But if you can get past that part, and if you’re very consistent,” Lobel says, “they’ll start to accept your limits.” They won’t stop testing your limits, but they will do it less and less.
Support your partner’s treatment
There is no drug that specifically treats borderline personality disorder. But there are therapies, like Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which is the treatment of choice. “Trying to get them into a BPD program is very helpful,” says Lobel, as it teaches people with BPD healthier ways to respond and interact. You will want to find a therapist who has experience working with DBT and with people who have borderline personality disorder.
Let your loved one know that DBT can help everyone, not just people with BPD, because it “helps people communicate and increase their tolerance for stress.”
Offer recognition as they progress. “Compliment and comment on any positive changes and behaviors you notice,” Lobel says.
Know when to protect yourself
“The ultimate limit in a relationship with someone who has BPD is telling them, ‘I just can’t stay,’” says Lobel. How do you know when it’s time to draw that line? Here are a few things to watch out for.
- Physical violence. No one should stay in a relationship where physical abuse continues, Lobel says. “Someone is going to get hurt, the police will be involved, nothing good can come of it.”
- Too many borders. When there are so many topics or types of interactions that you need to avoid to keep your partner from going after you, you have removed most of the potential sources of communication, intimacy, and connection.
- Your partner refuses to make changes. “If the person insists, ‘there’s nothing wrong with me, it’s all you,’ that’s a red flag, and you probably need to pack your bags,” Lobel said.
- Your mood is still bad. “Do you walk around miserable all the time?” Lobel asks. “If you’ve been feeling shit about this relationship all day, every day, you have to go.
Know when to protect your partner
One of the symptoms of BPD is self-harm, such as cutting, or suicidal actions such as overdose. If you see your partner hurt, call 911.
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