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Couple with borderline personality disorder

Managing Borderline Personality Disorder in Relationships

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) impacts relationships severely because it is linked with extreme fear of abandonment with a complexity of inability to regulate emotions. In both romantic and platonic relationships, people with BPD often experience cyclical relationships, creating an often harmful imbalance that breeds feelings of chaos for everyone involved.

These cycles consist of six stages, characterised by a continuation of highs and lows of unescapable emotional storms. Recognising these patterns is helpful in navigating the cycles of emotional storms in these relationships.

The Six Stages of BPD Relationships:

  1. Idealisation:

During the early stages of a relationship, a person with BPD may be charming, excited, and a little bit obsessed. Borderline personality disorder relationships tend to move more quickly than others, as the person idealises their new friend or romantic interest.

  1. Insecurity:

After the honeymoon phase wears off, the person with BPD may become hyper-vigilant which translates as any potentially negative behaviours. For example, responding to a message (even just a few minutes) too late can send alarm bells ringing as the fear of abandonment kicks in.

  1. Testing:

The certainty that they will be hurt leads the BPD sufferer to ‘test’ the strength of the relationship. They might pick fights over nothing or completely withdraw from the situation, hoping they will receive the reassurance they yearn for in the relationship.

  1. Instability:

Imbalance in the relationship, and confusion in the mind of the non-BPD person, cause the bond to break down. Friction arises from the continual conflict which increases abandonment anxieties in the person with BPD. Distance begins to grow.

  1. Eruption:

By this point, tensions in BPD relationships have usually reached their peak. The friend or partner without BPD might finally throw in the towel, frustrated by the constant conflict, or the BPD sufferer’s anxieties grow so overwhelming that they decide to leave.

  1. Depression:

This stage of the BPD relationship cycle is marked by mood swings, irritability, depressive episodes, and the threats and risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts. BPD sabotaging relationships fulfils the fear of abandonment.

What can you do

  • Understand your BPD and how it impacts your relationships: Gaining an understanding of your emotional storm that leads to your core fear is important.
  • Learn your calming and grounding strategies. Recognising what helps when you are in an emotional turmoil for you is key to taking charge of your mood.
  • Practice meditation and mindfulness. Meditating daily has benefited 85% of my patients as it allows you to create a space to respond rather than react, and recognise if you are really in danger or its the alarm system that’s going off in your mind that you can reset.

What can friends and partners do?

  • Boundaries Boundaries and Boundaries. Setting healthy realistic boundaries that you maintain is most important for self-preservation and its good for your partner and relationship in the long term.
  • Work on the relationship. Couples therapy can offer invaluable insights to recognise the relationship dance that you and your partner engage in and then to be able to change that in positive way.
  • Patience is a strength. Identifying the stages in the relationship cycle can help you stay calm, patient, and supportive when your relationship and partner need you most.

Navigating BPD relationship stages can be turbulent, but with the right help, people with BPD can grow to understand their triggers and develop healthy ways of coping.

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