What to Know About Dating Someone with BPD
A look at how borderline personality disorder can impact relationships and tips for being a more supportive and understanding partner.
Dating someone with BPD
One of the thrills of dating someone is discovering everything about them: their passions, their preferences, their plans in life. This also means learning about any mental or physical health conditions. Learning that someone you’re in a relationship with has borderline personality disorder can be a heavy realization. Whether it’s a long-time partner who just received the diagnosis or someone new who’s sharing the information before things get serious, it’s understandable to have questions and concerns about what this means for your partner and your future together.
What to expect when dating someone with BPD
Let’s start by reviewing what it means to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). BPD is a personality disorder that severely affects a person's ability to manage their emotions. This means it impacts how a person feels, views themself, and relates to other people.
Other symptoms of borderline personality disorder include:
- Intense emotions
- Unstable mood or mood swings
- Difficulties with interpersonal relationships
- Intense fear of abandonment or rejection
- Chronic feelings of emptiness
- Suicidal behavior or self-harming behaviors
- Lacking a strong sense of self or self-image
- Being overly self-critical
Once you're familiar with the BPD diagnosis, you might wonder how exactly it will impact your relationship with your partner. Below we review how several common BPD symptoms may affect romantic relationships.
1. Fear of abandonment
No one wants to think about their boyfriend or girlfriend leaving them, but people living with BPD often have an irrational and excessive fear of rejection or abandonment. And because of that fear, people with BPD often have trouble trusting their partner. One study found that women with BPD who shared their personal fears and relationship concerns with their spouses experienced a lower perception of trustworthiness in their spouses compared with women without BPD.
Instability is another issue that sometimes affects people in BPD relationships. People with BPD are prone to mood swings, which can make the relationship go from great to grueling and back again. They may also have issues with intimacy which can lead to trouble maintaining a partnership.
3. Favorite person
Some people with borderline personality disorder have something called a BPD favorite person. Their “favorite person” is someone they rely on for comfort, happiness, and validation. This can be anyone they have an intense emotional connection to or dependence on, but it’s often a person’s romantic partner.
Here are several signs that you might be a favorite person in a BPD relationship:
- You're their first point of contact for good news, bad news, and everything in between
- They’re jealous of your other relationships or activities that don't include them
- They have a constant fear that you’ll abandon them
- You feel responsible for their mood
Tips for a healthier relationship with your BPD partner
Dating someone with BPD can be incredibly rewarding, but it also comes with unique challenges for both people in the relationship. Here, we offer six pieces of advice for supporting your partner and creating a healthier relationship.
1. Do your research
A good place to start is by learning more about borderline personality disorder. By familiarizing yourself with the condition, you’re better prepared to spot symptoms of BPD, recognize when your partner is struggling, and know how to de-escalate conflict.
Here are a few resources to get you started:
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Effective communication is the key to any successful relationship, but it's especially true when one partner has a mental health condition such as BPD. By improving your communication skills, you and your partner may be able to avoid miscommunications, minimize arguments, and create a more meaningful relationship.
If you’re still working on improving your communication skills, here are a few tips to get started:
- Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements to avoid sounding accusatory. For example, you can say, “I feel upset when you…” versus “You made me feel upset.”
- Focus on one problem at a time instead of creating a mountain of issues.
- In the heat of the moment, it's easy to say something you don't mean or use disrespectful language. Instead, take a deep breath or even step away from the conversation.
- If you or your partner find it difficult to verbalize your thoughts, then turn to paper. Write down what you want to say and ask your partner to do the same
- Encourage your partner to always share their fears, insecurities, and triggers.
3. Show empathy
People with BPD have high emotional empathy but low cognitive empathy — suggesting that they’re extremely emotional, but they may not always understand other peoples' perspectives. They’re prone to emotional flare-ups — ranging from jealousy to loneliness to anger — which can stem from their fear of abandonment.
In these situations, a little empathy can go a long way. Instead of taking your partner’s emotions personally or growing frustrated by their actions, choose to remind them of your true feelings and commitment to them. Another way to show empathy is to ask your partner how they’re doing on a regular basis; this shows that their feelings matter to you.
4. Remember that a person is not their diagnosis
One in three adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder, and major depression affects nearly 17% of U.S. teens. We know that mental health conditions are becoming more prevalent, yet they’re still often stigmatized. The same goes for BPD which is estimated to affect up to 3% of adolescents. When dating someone with BPD, try to remember to focus on the person you love and not the diagnosis.
5. Take care of yourself
When you spend enough time thinking about your partner, it can be easy to forget about your own mental and physical needs. Prioritize your well-being by experimenting with different forms of self-care, such as practicing mindfulness, moving your body, eating well, and getting enough sleep.
Taking care of yourself may also mean setting physical and emotional boundaries. This is one of the best ways to avoid a codependent dynamic and maintain a more balanced relationship — especially when you’re a BPD favorite person.
6. Be respectful
If you decide that the relationship is no longer right for you, always be respectful when breaking the news to your partner. Keep it simple and be honest about your reasons for moving on from the partnership. Consider a gentle yet firm approach, and be mindful of not blaming them for your decision.
How else do you help someone with BPD feel loved?
- Recognize your partner for who they are and not their BPD diagnosis
- Avoid blaming them for their condition or behaviors that are out of their control
- Offer your partner space to process their emotions on their own, and refrain from showing judgment or criticism
- Remember that you cannot control anyone’s thoughts, actions, or reactions
Talk therapy for BPD
There’s no cure for BPD, but it is possible for symptoms to decrease or go into remission with therapy. More than half of all people diagnosed with BPD recover interpersonally, and 60% of those who met the criteria for BPD when they were younger will no longer meet the criteria later in life.
One type of cognitive behavioral therapy that’s effective for people with BPD is dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). DBT teaches skills in four main areas: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. It’s used to help people develop coping strategies, identify triggers and negative patterns, and improve communication skills.
Treat BPD with Charlie Health
If you’re currently dating someone with borderline personality disorder and think that your relationship might benefit from professional support, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) provides high-quality, comprehensive mental health treatment that includes group, family, and individual therapy. Our compassionate, experienced team of clinicians is here to listen to their needs, answer their questions, and help start the healing process.
Contact Charlie Health today.
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