When entering into a relationship with someone, you are hopeful and eager to see what the future awaits. Sometimes these relationships work out and other times they seem to fail miserably, leaving a trail of tears and broken hearts in their wake. Romantic relationships with someone who is suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can be more difficult to establish and maintain.
BPD sufferers experience a cycle of behavior in their romantic relationships. In many cases, the individual with BPD is aware of this cycle and of the actions that they engage in which leads to the demise of almost every romantic relationship they begin. However, much like other mental illnesses, awareness is not always enough to break the cycle.
For anyone, the right partner can become a source of support, encouragement, and aid in growth and development. Similarly, those with BPD can find supportive romantic partners which will help them to recognize their behavior and break the cycle of BPD typical relationships. In order to disarm this pattern of destructive behavior, it is important to understand the disorder and the cycle itself. Borderline Personality Disorder is a personality disorder characterized by:
- Fear of Abandonment
- Unhealthy or poor self-image
- Unstable relationships
- Extremist mentality
- Swift and constant mood swings
- Excessive emotional responses
- Feeling ‘empty’
- Suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors
The BPD Relationship Cycle
Stage 1 – The individual with BPD begins a relationship which seems to move with rapid intensity. A successful first date can lead the individual with BPD into a state of seeing their partner in a perfect and picturesque way. They begin believing that this person is “the one” and that their relationship and everything about their partner is perfection. It is likened to a sense of euphoria which is a direct result from the experiences of validation felt from having the affection and attention of someone they admire or desire.
Stage 2 – The relationship is progressing but the individual with BPD becomes hypersensitive to the smallest action or word which can be perceived negatively. Their partner may take longer to respond to messages or calls or make plans with friends before checking with their partner. These small actions become a source of fixation for the individual with BPD as their fear of abandonment and low self-esteem are beginning to whisper that their partner is no longer as interested. The relationship experiences a small fracture in the mind of the BPD sufferer which becomes a source of excessive worry.
Stage 3 – The individual with BPD resorts to a mentality of pushing their partner as a response to the separation they believe exists in the relationship. Their goal, in most cases, is to create a scenario where their partner “fights” for the relationship and demonstrates a level of concern and affection that removes any previous worry. The BPD sufferer may choose to wait for calls or texts in order to offer the partner an opportunity to prove their dedication and willingness to be in the relationship.
Stage 4 – A direct result of their purposeful distancing causes the relationship to spiral downward. While waiting on their partner for an overdramatic declaration of love and dedication that often does not come, they have convinced themselves that their partner is going to leave them. In their mind, the relationship is almost over and they begin visualizing that their relationship is falling apart due to their own actions. They will maintain the appearance of happiness when around their partner, seeking to give what they wish to receive in the relationship. However, in most cases this only furthers the realization that their own needs are not being met, thus driving the feelings of emptiness even further. In most cases, the individual with BPD will not communicate these feelings with their partner.
Stage 5 – The relationship ends and the partner walks away. In some instances, the individual with BPD will attempt to salvage a broken relationship by attempting to explain or justify why things became so strained. However, this last-minute communication of feelings and struggles rarely allows the relationship to recover as the BPD sufferer has created a distance between themselves and their partners which cannot be undone.
Stage 6 – Following the end of the relationship, the individual with BPD will experience extreme emotional mood swings, going from sobbing hysterically to being enraged that their former partner did not try hard enough in their relationship. The emptiness and validated fear of abandonment (which is in many ways self-validated by the individual) become a source of fuel for a burning fire of anger. The individual may lash out at friends or family without provocation. This anger and emotional instability may lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
How to break the cycle
For both the individual with BPD and their partner, it can be an exceedingly difficult cycle to break. The individual with BPD may be aware of their pattern of behaviors but feel powerless to stop themselves from perpetuating the cycle of negative behaviors. In many instances, the partner is completely unaware of the mental illness lurking behind the seemingly loving eyes and become confused by this shift in behavior. However, for the BPD sufferer, there are some ways to end this cycle of behavior.
Communication – Many problems in relationships can be resolved with the right form and timing in communication. If you are struggling with BPD and know you are prone to this pattern of behavior, begin your new relationship by explaining your fears, thoughts, and reactions to these emotional stimuli. Give your partner a chance to understand your own insecurities and allow them to help and reassure you in the relationship rather than setting up some test they are bound to fail.
Set Boundaries for yourself in your relationship – This is often the most difficult as the internal feelings of loneliness and emptiness almost force you to become overly critical of the smallest changes in behavior from your partner. Remind yourself that your partner cannot possibly devote 100% of their time and energy to appeasing you and that they may not even realize that their behaviors are affecting you this way. When you begin to feel worried or concerned, take a step back and evaluate what is causing you to worry and if it is truly something significant that can be discussed.
Seek Professional Assistance – Living with BPD is similar to living with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses. It is almost impossible for you to handle without assistance. Find a counselor or therapist who can help you to understand your behavior, identify your triggers, and build your self-confidence and self-worth.