Supporting a Partner with Borderline Personality Disorder

Alana Barlia, LMHC

Borderline personality disorder is characterized by unstable interpersonal relationships, unstable sense of self, and a marked fear of abandonment that displays in numerous contexts: interpersonal relationships, romantic relationships, feelings of emptiness, anger, reckless behavior, and identity crises.

Borderline Personality Disorder is caused by both nature and nurture. Borderline personality disorder is associated with genetics and biology, suggesting that some people are simply born with highly sensitive nervous systems, making them more susceptible to exhibiting extreme personalities. However, BPD is exacerbated by invalidating environments and traumatic experiences.

Below are some common questions answered about Borderline Personality Disorder and how it can manifest in and affect interpersonal and romantic relationships.

1) How does borderline personality disorder affect relationships?

  • There are a few ways borderline personality disorders affect relationships. The most prominent way is that people with BPD often anxiously try to avoid abandonment. Thus, they may cling stronger than the average person, require more attention, and be more emotional or theatrical in order to receive that attention. People with BPD also experience more intense emotions – thus if they are angry, sad, lonely, or irritable - this will often be placed onto their partner.

2) How can you support a significant other with borderline personality disorder? What are some do's and don'ts when it comes to being in a relationship with someone who has borderline personality disorder?

An individual with borderline personality disorder has a real or perceived fear of abandonment. Thus, partners of people with BPD can be supportive by affirming and supporting their partner through clear communication.

  • Do be supportive, don’t rescue them  

  • Do validate their experience, don’t feed into the drama

  • Do provide love, don’t cross your boundaries

3) What are some signs you might have borderline personality disorder?

Are you constantly struggling to maintain interpersonal or romantic relationships? Is this due to perceived threat of abandonment? Do you react to this fear of abandonment by lashing out in anger? Do you have an intense feeling of loneliness or emptiness or loss of sense of self? Do you engage in reckless behaviors such as substance use, unsafe sex, road rage, or gambling? These may all be signs that you may have BPD. If you are struggling with any of the above or would like more information on Borderline Personality Disorder, seeking therapy is a good first step - please don’t hesitate to reach out!

To learn more about Borderline Personality Disorder and how BPD could affect your interpersonal relationships, read the full article in Alana’s “The Cheat Sheet” feature here.