How Borderline Personality Disorder Affects Relationships
Published on May 4th, 2017
Updated on January 2nd, 2024
Maintaining a relationship with a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is challenging. BPD causes a person to believe that they are not valued or worthy of love and affection. This belief creates an intense fear of abandonment.
The fear of abandonment causes the affected person act destructively. A person with BPD will have many destructive tendencies. These destructive tendencies will be triggered by personal insecurities. Their own insecurities and past experiences create unreasonable beliefs about relationships.
Such destructive tendencies that a person with BPD may exhibit in a relationship include:
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A person with borderline personality disorder will engage in unpredictable behavior. It is not uncommon for a person with BPD to have unexpected mood swings and behave aggressively.
Some days they will be over-the-moon happy with their relationship. Other days they will be suspicious and resentful of their partner. They will often leave their partner guessing what they did wrong to cause the mood swing.
Misunderstanding Sentiments From A Partner
People with BPD can misunderstand harmless sentiments, actions and words. They may take innocuous comments or gestures from their partner as insults. This causes them to feel personally attacked, and lash out through verbal abuse.
In any relationship, some messages can be misunderstood. In a healthy relationship, misunderstandings are resolved with a conversation, explanation and apology. A person with BPD will take something that their partner has said and twist it into the negative, even if that was not the intention of their partner. This causes a great deal of frustration and confusion for their partner. With enough incidents of being misunderstood and attacked, the partner will feel helpless. They will begin to feel like the relationship is hopeless.
BPD causes a person to act aggressively toward others, but that aggressive behavior is not always direct. It can often be passive-aggressive. This means the affected person may express anger or resentment through back-handed comments or indirect behaviors.
A person with BPD who is upset about their partner’s actions or words may respond with a verbal attack. This is accomplished by stating comments with alternate meanings, like “you just always have to be perfect, don’t you?”
Playing The Victim
A person with BPD will play the role of a victim when they feel wronged by their partner. A feature of BPD is not being able to see or accept their own responsibility in personal and relationship issues.
People with BPD tend to be overly sensitive, and will internalize things that are not about them. It is not uncommon for a person with BPD to perceive harmless words and actions of a person as a personal attack. They may also confuse signs of affection and appreciation, and fail to see effort from their partner to make the relationship work. This can feel defeating for the affected person’s partner.
No matter what their partner does, the affected person does not come around and let their partner in. They cannot recognize their partner’s efforts to make the relationship work. This leads to anxiety and feelings of hopelessness.
It will also cause resentment in the affected person’s partner. Their partner will feel resentful knowing that they are always made out to be the aggressor. It makes the partner feel unheard and undervalued to always be made out to be the problem.
Testing Their Partner
A person with borderline personality disorder may engage in behavior that is counter-intuitive. For example, a person with BPD will test their significant other’s limits. They will use aggressive or contentious behavior to push their partner away.
The logic is typically that “I know he/she will leave so I will beat them to the punch”. It can also be “I am going to do something hurtful or compromising and see if they stay with me / try to make it up to me”. When they engage in these behaviors, people with BPD are experiencing great distress of the thought of their partner leaving or “failing the test”.
If their partner does leave, the affected person will fall into emotional despair. This may be followed by extreme efforts to regain the sentiments of the person in question.
Counseling Options For Borderline Personality Disorder
All of these behaviors associated with BPD have a strong effect on relationships. It is difficult for a person with BPD to understand their own responsibility in relationship issues. A person with BPD does not realize the mental and emotional damage their behavior creates.
It is recommended that people with BPD seek individual and couple’s counseling. Counseling will help a person with BPD understand how their self-esteem issues affect them. Couple’s counseling will help both parties establish healthy boundaries and communication skills. It will also help the significant other understand the warning signs and core issue behind the destructive behavior.