NOTE: I wrote this before I had been diagnosed with BPD. My partner has since been informed he is now in the ‘normal’ range of symptoms thanks to lots of therapy!
I have been with my boyfriend for a year now, we’ve just moved in together and are very happy. Our relationship didn’t start in a conventional way… I was in an episode of mania due to a screw up with medication dosage and he was off his medication. So it was a bit of a whirlwind. But it settled and although our relationship is not perfect, we’re very much in love and happy. I’m not just writing this to make all you singletons feel bad! I’m writing this because my boyfriend also has Borderline Personality Disorder and this is often said to make relationships difficult. I want to give an example of someone with BPD who is in a healthy relationship to show that if someone you like has this illness, it can work!
What exactly is BPD? Well, it’s a mental illness with a wide range of symptoms. It’s a mood disorder which also affects how someone interacts with others. Some symptoms include feelings of anxiety, depression and anger. Those with BPD often abuse drugs or alcohol or use self harm to manage their feelings. BPD sufferers can also experience hallucinations and hearing voices. It often results in impulsive behaviour such as self harm or binge drinking. So it’s a lot of horrible stuff that those dealing with BPD have to cope with. I am going to focus on relationships here though.
BPD can often make it difficult for a person to maintain a relationship. Those diagnosed sometimes have a deep fear of abandonment so they will appear to be very clingy, perhaps they will constantly phone you or not want to leave your side. Those with BPD tend to experience moments of ‘leave me alone’ towards their partner followed by ‘please don’t leave me.’ People with BPD have very black and white thinking, there is no grey area to them. Either a relationship is wonderful and perfect or it is terrible and will fall apart.
All of this unfortunately can lead to break ups and there are many comments across the internet warning people not to start relationships with someone who has BPD. However, relationships with a BPD sufferer can still be great! How is this? Well, it takes a lot of work but here’s some advice:
1. Understand the condition.
Learn to identify the symptoms in your partner. Know everything you can about BPD, its causes and treatments. The internet is full of information and if in doubt, talk to your partner about it. But, do not constantly remind them of their problems. They are aware of them and think about them every day. Do not point out every time they act in a way that reflects their BPD.
2. Encourage your partner to get treatment.
If they are not already, treatment will be necessary for them to live a fulfilled life. Go with them to the doctor, be there every step of the way. Medication or therapy, just reassure them that you will be there to help. With treatment, their condition will be easier to manage and so will your relationship.
3. Tell them you love them every day.
People with BPD often need a lot of reassurance. Something as simple as ‘I love you’ could calm their fears that you are going to leave them.
4. Know that sometimes they do not mean what they do/say.
This is the case with many mental illnesses. A person is more than their mental illness, much more. But sometimes their illness might take over and someone with BPD could, for example, be quite aggressive when shouting at you. They will feel terrible afterwards. Accept that it is not their fault, talk through it and move on.
5. Talk to them and be honest.
Communication is so important with BPD. Letting a partner know how you are, that you care about them etc is important in any relationship but particularly those with BPD. They may often feel worried and anxious that the relationship is going badly, talk things through with them no matter how difficult it might be to understand. If they have done something to upset you, do not just tell them it’s okay because they have mental health issues. Be honest with them about it. That will help them learn what others see as right/wrong.
6. Keep your promises.
If you tell them you will do something or be somewhere then do it! If you don’t, that person will find if difficult to trust you in the future. A lot of mentally unwell people are like this but it is more extreme for those with BPD.
7. Let them be an adult.
Many symptoms of BPD like anger fits and acting impulsively may seem quite child like. However, you should not make the mistake of treating them like a child. They are still responsible for their actions even if it was their BPD symptoms taking over. If they smash a door, they sort it out. If you always fix things like a parent/child then they will not see a reason to change.
Also, there are some great things about having a partner with BPD:
- They can love fiercely and completely
- They are passionate
- They have been through difficulties so will understand yours
Basically, it is possible for someone with BPD to have a good relationship! Do not think that because the internet is full of horror stories that your experience will be the same. It could be amazing. We should not be teaching people to avoid relationships or friendships with those suffering from mental health problems. Relationships are something which both people have to work on together. This is just advice for anyone who is in a relationship with a BPD sufferer to let you know it does not always have to be bad. Mentally ill or not, those in relationships of any kind deserve mutual love, care and respect.