How to deal with a relationship with a borderline partner   

It can be very difficult to love someone with borderline personality disorder  (BPD) and know exactly how to deal with a relationship with a borderline lover. They can tell you to go away, when they actually want you there. So, the partner leaves and then all of a sudden they feel abandoned, again. They can love you one minute and leave the next. They can say you never loved them, when you did. They can get jealous or insecure when you talk to another woman at work. They can feel you do not want to be with them when you work away. They can feel replaced by your friends. Sometimes they want you all to themselves or they feel unwanted by you. Many with BPD get referred for anger management counselling, when they act out in anger when they perceive abandonment, feel jealous or feel that they are mistreated or abused. Often their reactions seems disproportionate to the real situation or taken the wrong way. Often, loved ones feel unsure of how to deal with them, when they take everything personally.

Having a relationship with a BPD person is not easy. Often they become triggered to bad feelings within themselves and can accuse their partner for putting them down or rejecting them, by projecting these feelings onto them. Therefore, the partner can be seen as bad and anger can be directed towards them. It is very difficult for a person who is borderline to know exactly what feelings exist within them or caused by their partner. It can be very frustrating for the spouse who can feel blamed for how they feel. They often believe that the partner is responsible for causing them to feel worthless when they get triggered. The person who is borderline often reacts to their feelings, letting their past cloud their judgement and distort how they see others and themselves.

relationship with a borderline

When dealing with a relationship with a borderline, it is crucial to understand what is behind their behavior, rather than react. Often their behavior is a way to express  feelings. The partner can feel attacked or blamed for things that they have not done.


How to manage the angry outbursts in a relationship with a borderline partner

relationship with a borderline

How does one manage a relationship with a borderline person? It is imperative for the partner to be aware of their fear of abandonment and not take their anger personally when they feel rejected, as well as not get drawn into giving into certain acting out behaviours. The lover who is borderline can often make threats to leave or give ultimatums in order to test their partners love and commitment,  to avoid abandonment.  These behaviours work against having a healthy relationship and do not draw the partner closer, and the borderline partner needs to know this.

Like a toddler, they learn to get away with their behavior, if others let them get away with it and not address it. Instead, it is important understand what is behind the behavior, rather than give into it.

It can be helpful to see their behavior like a child acting out, who lashes out occasionally because their feelings have not been regulated. So, their distress needs to be heard and tolerated, otherwise they will feel out-casted for expressing themselves.

Many who are partners of a borderline will say that they put up with a lot before they snap and react back. Any abusive behavior needs to be addressed in real time, in order to stop the acting out. It is best to be discussed when things are more modulated, not at boiling point. If the partner says nothing or placates the anger by letting them get away with it, they enable the acting out to continue. The person who is borderline often never had limits on their behavior and do not know how to stop, until someone sets healthy limits on them, so they know that they cannot get away with what they are doing, otherwise they will continue to hurt others and sabotage their relationships. It is not okay to project bad feelings on to others and attack them, when others have not done anything to warrant this.

It can be helpful to let the person who is borderline know that you were not rejecting them or ridiculing them, and show an interest in understanding them. This means that you do not judge or label their behavior, because this will re-trigger them to feel that they are bad and everything is their fault, and they will continue to be angry to ward off the feelings inside of them. The person who is borderline needs to feel accepted for their real self.

A partner needs to respond like a calm, strong parent who can handle the emotions behind the tantrum and not attack them for it. For instance the partner can say: “Okay, something I said has upset you, do you want to tell me about it”…. “I am sorry you felt that way, I actually didn’t think you were crazy at all…” Let them know you care about them and accept their feelings, without taking on-board the projection. If you react or take their behavior personally, you’ll become the bad object in their mind.

Often the acting out behavior of a borderline individual prevents them from feeling abandoned and feelings of worthlessness. They do not always know that they are hurting the ones they love. By discharging their feelings onto others, they can see them as the ones who are bad, instead of feeling bad within themselves. They are often unaware of what triggers them and think that their feelings are caused by the partner.  They are often unable to separate their feelings from the real situation.

When the child was exploring their self, they were often met with misattuned responses, by feeling abandoned or attacked for not complying to the parent. The child was often seen as bad for not doing what they were told, rather than discovering what the child needed and responding to those needs. So they internalised that something was wrong with them. So their joy of self exploration was turned into a disorganised state of emotions, feeling naughty, bad for misbehaving and often abandoned when the parent had enough and withdrew or shut down. The child could not tolerate feeling abandoned from the parent. The child learned that they got the love they wanted if they became the good girl, giving, compliant, accommodating, clingy, dependent. Otherwise they felt worthless, unwanted or abandoned for being themselves and exploring a separate self. So, they often gave up expressing themselves to please others. Expressing themselves makes them feel bad, a burden, naughty or abandoned.

How to communicate and manag a relationship with a borderline

In a relationship the BPD feels scared of being abandoned when they express themselves, feeling bad or wrong. They fear that they will be cut off if they do not do what others want.  The relationship with a borderline causes them to give up their self and focus on meeting the needs of others, often sacrificing themselves. They usually focus on making others happy and avoid saying how they really feel, until their needs do not get met and then they become angry at their partner for not meeting their needs.

When they feel that loved ones are separating, by having their own friends or space, they can feel abandoned. To avoid abandonment they cling to the partner, wanting to spend as much time with them.  Otherwise they can feel alone, abandoned or unwanted. So, they turn to the relationship for  a source of comfort. Loved ones can feel pushed away with accusations of abandonment or neediness

Not developing a separate sense of self,  they often feel unable cope and can depend on others to take care of them, often burning out relationships by pushing loved ones away.  The partner, therefore, needs to not give into rescuing or taking care of them,  but stand strong and firm to set limits on their behavior, without judging them. This can be done with empathic understanding.

Ways to deal with a loved one who is borderline

  • Do not judge the person but address the unwanted behavior.
  • Do not get drawn into the ultimatums or threats, as a way of testing the relationship, by addressing it assertively
  • Encourage them to take responsibility and support their self exploration, so they can sort things out for themselves.
  • Do not solve their problems for them or you will be taking responsibility for them.
  • Try to not take their behavior personally but understand what is behind it, and respond to their emotions.
  • Do not  react. Let them know how their behavior impacts you, to set limits on it. Let them know if it pushes you away.
  • Do not take their words seriously if they’re reactive. But let them know how it affects you, when things cool down.
  • Set boundaries on testing behaviours.  If you do nothing or say nothing you will enable the behavior.  Speak with strong conviction that the behavior is destructive, not the person. Be like the strong, calm parent who lets the toddler know when they’re out of line, to set them straight.

What the individual who was borderline needed was a clam, strong parent who did not give in to them, but provided support for their real self to explore, so they could develop confidence in themselves,  and not focus on others to feel good about themselves. Having a marriage with a borderline person means do not take on board their projections, but assist to understand the whirlwind of emotions during the romantic roller coaster ride.

Information on helping someone with BPD:

Nancy Carbone specialises in the treatment of borderline personality disorders from the Psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute.  As a relationship therapist at Counselling Service Melbourne, she has a M Soc Soc (Couns). If you want help dealing with someone with BPD contact Nancy on her enquiry form or call 0449 861147 for an appointment.  You can sign up on her newsletter for free tips and relationship advice.

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