Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) experience intense highs and lows which impacts their day-to-day life. This can be confusing and difficult for their peer, family and romantic relationship. However, people diagnosed with BPD also have a deep longing for strong and healthy relationships. Here are some tips that can help you show care and respect to your partner if you are in a relationship with someone who has BPD.
1. Practice intentional communication and listening skills. How you speak to your partner both during and outside of disagreements shows your effort. Instead of trying to “fix” or change their reaction, focus instead on the feeling behind the reaction. Practice verbalizing your desire to understand and acknowledge your partner’s feelings. Validating an emotion does not mean you agree, it means you are verbalizing that you hear their experience. Use “I” statements, such as “I am feeling confused by this response” or “I am feeling hurt” vs. “Your response is confusing” or “You are hurting me.”
2. Recognize their triggers: Pay attention to your partner’s triggers to help recognize when they are beginning to struggle with regulating their emotion. Ideally, this is something you two discuss together in advance. Be intentional about remaining calm. Even if you are also feeling emotionally hurt, recognize that nobody will be heard if the situation escalates. Communicate beforehand with your partner about statements that may be helpful for calming them, or even distractions that might help to de-escalate their reaction. Having a predetermined game plan will help both of you feel more prepared and comfortable.
3. Educate yourself: Do your own research on symptoms, experiences, and even the stigma surrounding individuals with BPD. There may be times your partner feels very happy and open to sharing their needs and experiences, but will likely appreciate seeing you put in your own effort to better understand. Find books, podcasts, and/or videos by individuals who have been diagnosed with BPD or experience symptoms in their relationship. TikTok can even be a great resource! Just be aware, that just like every other person, experiences are subjective and may not apply to your partner. Discuss the things you’re learning with your partner and be intentional about checking in on whether or not they identify with the information!
4. Set your own boundaries in the relationship. You and your partner are equally deserving of boundaries in your relationship. It may be helpful to sit down and have a conversation about expectations for communication and dedicated time as a couple. Work together to set clear boundaries that allows you both to have time for your own wants, needs, and interests! This can look like both of you taking a day each week to spend time with friends or family, as well as having separated time for studying or work-related tasks.
5. Focus on their strengths. Individuals diagnosed with BPD can manage their negative symptoms with a combination of counseling, a support network and long-term commitment. With these symptoms managed, these individuals can harness their unique insight and understanding of inner and external tension. There is a great capacity for empathy and compassion. Their impulsivity can also allow them to be bold and speak up in hard situations. Finally, although there may be difficulties with their fears of abandonment or attachment, when they are managing their emotions, their deep love, passion and loyalty become dominant.
If you find that you or your partner would benefit from additional, individualized support, consider attending individual or couples counseling. At Sage Wellness, we provide individual and couples therapy for Florida residents.
Written by Mattie Bogoslavsky, PhD