The beginnings of a relationship with a person with Borderline Personality
Disorder (BPD) can be intoxicating when your partner is brimming with
jubilation because you are in their life. Then inexplicable dark moments
of resentment begin breaking through the infatuation and your partner
acts in cold and even cruel ways. These extreme highs and lows are
commonplace in “Borderline” relationships.
Disengaging can be difficult. Rationally, you understand that leaving is the healthiest thing you can do now, yet your emotional attachment is undeniable. This conflict confuses and intensifies your struggle as you feel hopelessly trapped by your desires to rekindle a relationship that you know it isn't healthy - and may, in fact, not even be available to you.
Often we obsess and ruminate over what our BPD partner might be doing or feeling, or who they might be seeing. We wonder if they ever really loved us and how we could be so easily discarded. Our emotions range between hurt, disbelief, and anger.
This guide explores the struggles of breaking away from a partner with borderline personality disorder and offers suggestions on how you can make it easier on yourself and your partner.
Breaking Up Was Never this Hard
Is it because they are so special? Sure they are special and this is a very significant loss for you - but the depth of your struggles has a lot more to do with the complexity of the relationship bond than the person.
In some important way this relationship saved or rejuvenated you. The way your BP partner hung on your every word, looked at you with admiring eyes and wanted you, filled an empty void.
Or, your BPD partner may have been insecure and needy and their problems inspired your sympathy and determination to resolve. Doing this made you feel exceptional, heroic, valuable.
As a result, you were willing to tolerate behavior beyond what you've known to be acceptable. You've felt certain that your BPD depended on you and that they would never leave. However challenging, you have been committed to see it through.
Unknown to you, your BPD partner was on a complex journey that started long before the relationship began. You were their “knight in shining armor”, you were their hope, and the answer to disappointments that they have struggled with most of their life.
Together, this made for an incredibly “loaded” relationship bond between the two of you.
Ten Beliefs That Can Get You Stuck
1) Belief that this person holds the key to your happiness
We often believe that our BPD partner is the master of our joy and the keeper of our sorrow. You may feel that they have touched the very depths of your soul. As hard as this is to believe right now, your perspective on this is likely a bit off.
Idealization is a powerful “drug” - and it came along at a time in your life when you were very receptive to it. In time, you will come to realize that your partner's idealization of you, no matter how sincere, was a courting ritual and an overstatement of the real emotions at the time. You were special - but not that special.
You will also come to realize that a lot of your elation was due to your own receptivity and openness and your hopes.
You will also come to realize that someone coming out of an extended traumatic relationship is often depressed and can not see things clearly in the end. You may feel anxious, confused, and you may be ruminating about your BPD partner. All of this distorts your perception reality. You may even be indulging in substance abuse to cope.
2) Belief that your BPD partner feels the same way that you feel
If you believe that your BPD partner was experiencing the relationship in the same way that you were or that they are feeling the same way you do right now, don't count on it. This will only serve to confuse you and make it harder to understand what is really happening.
When any relationship breaks down, it's often because the partners are on a different “page” - but much more so when your partner suffers from borderline personality disorder.
Unknown to you, there were likely significant periods of shame, fear, disappointment, resentment, and anger rising from below the surface during the entire relationship. What you have seen lately is not new - rather it's a culmination of feelings that often arise later in the relationship.
3) Belief that the relationship problems are caused by you or some circumstance
You concede that there are problems, and have pledged to do your part to resolve them.
Because there have been periods of extreme openness, honesty, humanity and thoughtfulness during the relationship, and even during the break-ups, your BPD partners concerns are very credible in your eyes.
But your BPD partner also has the rather unique ability to distort facts, details, and play on your insecurities to a point where fabrications are believable to you. It's a complex defense mechanism, a type of denial, and a common characteristic of the disorder.
As a result, both of you come to believe that you are the problem; that you are inadequate; that you need to change; even that you deserve to be punished or left behind.
This is largely why you have accepted punishing behaviors; why you try to make amends and try to please; why you feel responsible.
4) Belief that love can prevail
Once these relationships seriously rupture, they are harder to repair than most - so many wounds from the past have been opened. Of course you have much invested in the relationship and your partner has been an integral part of your dreams and hopes - but there are greater forces at play now.
For you, significant emotional wounds have been inflicted upon an already wounded soul. To revitalize the relationship, you would need to recover from being a wounded victim and emerge as an informed and loving caretaker - it's not a simple journey. You need compassion and validation to heal - something your BPD partner most likely won't understand - you'd be on your own to find it.
For your partner, there are longstanding and painful abandonment fears, trust issues, and resentments that have been triggered. They are coping by blaming much of it on you. For your partner, it is often much easier and safer to move on than to face all of the issues above.
5) Belief that things will return to "the way they used to be"
The idealization stages of a relationship with a BPD partner can be intoxicating and wonderful. But, as in any relationship, the "honeymoon" stage passes.
The idealization that one or both of you would like to return to isn't sustainable. It never was. The loss of this dream (or the inability to transition in to a healthy next phase of love) may be what triggered the demise of the relationship to begin with.
BPD mood swings and cycles may have you conditioned to think that, even after a bad period, you can return to the "idealization". Your BPD partner may believe this too.
A more realistic representation of your relationship is the one you have recently experienced.
6) Clinging to the words that were said
We often cling to the positive words and promises that were voiced and ignore or minimize the negative actions.
Many wonderful and expressive things may have been said during the course of the relationship, but people suffering from BPD are dreamers, they can be fickle, and they over express emotions like young children - often with little thought for long term implications.
You must let go of the words. It may break your heart to do so. But the fact is, the actions - all of them - are your truth.
7) Belief that if you say it louder you will be heard
We often feel if we explain our point better, put it in writing, or find the right words….
People with BPD hear and read very well. But when emotions are flared, the ability to understand diminishes greatly.
Most of what you are saying is being interpreted as dogmatic and hurtful. And the more insistent you become - the more hurtful it is - the less your partner feels “heard” - and the more communications break down.
Your BPD partner will not likely validate or even acknowledge what you have said. It may be denial, it may be the inability to get past what they feel and want to say, or it may even be payback.
This is one of the most difficult aspects of breaking up - there is no closure.
8) Belief that absence makes the heart grow fonder
We often think that by holding back or depriving our BPD partner of “our love” - that they will “see the light”. We base this on all the times our partner expressed a fear that we would leave and how they needed us.
During an actual break-up it is different. Distancing triggers all kinds of abandonment and trust issues for the BPD partner (as described in #4).
People with BPD also have real object constancy issues - “out of sight is out of mind”. They may feel, after two weeks of separation, the same way you would feel after six.
Absence generally makes the heart grow colder.
9) Belief that you need to stay to help them.
You might want to stay to help your partner. Possibly to disclose to them that they have borderline personality disorder and help them get into therapy. Maybe you want to help in other ways while still maintaining a “friendship”.
The fact is, you are no longer in a position to be the caretaker and support person for your BPD partner - no matter how well intentioned.
Understand that you have become the trigger for your BPD partner's bad feelings and bad behavior. Sure, you do not deliberately cause these feelings, but your presence is now triggering them. This is a complex defense mechanism that is often seen with borderline personality disorder when a relationship sours. It's roots emanate from the deep central wounds of the disorder. You can't begin to answer to this.
You also need to question your own motives and your expectations for wanting to help. Is this kindness or a type “well intentioned” manipulation on your part - an attempt to change them to better serve the relationship as opposed to addressing the lifelong wounds from which they suffer?
More importantly, what does this suggest about your own survival instincts - you're injured, in ways you may not fully even grasp, and it's important to attend to your own wounds before you are capable of helping anyone else.
You are damaged. Right now, your primary responsibility really needs to be to yourself - your own emotional survival.
If they try to lean on you, it's a greater kindness that you step away. Difficult, no doubt, but more responsible.
10) Belief that they have seen the light
Your partner may suddenly be on their best behavior or appearing very needy and trying to entice you back into the relationship. You, hoping that they are finally seeing things your way or really needing you, may venture back in - or you may struggle mightily to stay away.
What is this all about?
Well, at the end of any relationship there can be a series of break-ups and make-ups - disengaging is often a process, not an event.
However when this process becomes protracted, it becomes toxic. At the end of a BP relationship, this can happen. The emotional needs that fueled the relationship bond initially, are now fueling a convoluted disengagement as one or both partners struggle against their deep enmeshment with the other and their internal conflicts about the break up.
Either partner may go to extremes to reunite - even use the threat of suicide to get attention and evoke sympathies.
Make no mistake about what is happening. Don't be lulled into believing that the relationship is surviving or going through a phase. At this point, there are no rules. There are no clear loyalties. Each successive break-up increases the dysfunction of relationship and the dysfunction of the partners individually - and opens the door for very hurtful things to happen.