Ending your relationship with a borderline personality disorder patient

Breaking up with someone living with borderline personality disorder requires gentleness and boundary-setting.
You should consider ending the relationship if it is affecting your own mental health.
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What you need to know:

  • Borderline personality disorder symptoms include an inability to regulate one's emotions.
  • It is time to break up if you feel the relationship is affecting your own mental health.
  • Do not get defensive or blame your partner for the impact of their actions; instead, choose a gentler, more validating route.

When you are with someone who has borderline personality disorder (BPD), you may notice certain behavioural challenges that make your interactions very difficult.

Your partner will be prone to emotional and behavioural reactions that might include outbursts of anger, extreme emotional insecurities and swings and impulsive, self-destructive behaviours.

On the face of it, these behaviour challenges might seem deliberate. For instance, because someone who has borderline personality disorder is afraid of being abandoned or rejected, you might notice that your partner is controlling and tries to keep you on a leash so that you don’t quit on them. This can be easily mistaken for deliberate controlling.

However, the majority of these behavioural traits are not done out of volition. Borderline personality disorder is a behavioural health problem. This means that being in this kind of relationship will be hard. It will be harder if you decide to quit. You don’t know how your partner will react.

And if you know that they have a mental disorder, you might feel guilty about walking out on them, despite this relationship being harmful to your own emotional and mental wellness. So how should you go about it? The first step is to know what borderline personality disorder is and how it affects your partner.

The second thing will be to reach out to a psychiatrist or psychologist.

What is borderline personality disorder?

According to the United Kingdom’s National Institute of Mental Health, borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that severely impacts an individual’s ability to regulate their emotions. With this condition, your partner will not only be unable to control their emotions, but will also suffer from increased impulsivity.

This will in turn affect how they feel about themselves, their self-esteem, and their ability to relate with other people including you. According to Dr. Daniel Lobel, a clinical psychologist and the author of ‘When Your Mother Has Borderline Personality Disorder: A Guide for Adult Children’, a person who has BPD will have a history of unstable relationships.

Although you may not tell from the start that your partner has borderline personality disorder, there are certain telltale signs that will indicate that they do as your relationship progresses. Dr. Lobel explains that with this mental disorder, he or she will tend to show an intense fear of abandonment or instability. “Your partner may having trouble being alone, which may show in his overbearing and clingy behaviour in the relationship,” he says. Ironically, such a partner will have the tendency to drive people away from him or her due to his impulsiveness and frequent mood swings.

According to the NIMH, when your partner has BPD, he or she will tend to view issues and things in life in the extreme. It will either be good or bad. The NIMH lists the most common signs you will need to look out for as:

  • Tendency to get into and out of relationships quickly and without much thought.
  • Dangerous impulsive behaviours which will include spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, and binge eating.
  • Injuring themselves deliberately. For example through cutting themselves with knifes or razor blades.
  • Extreme loneliness, suicidal thoughts, threats and behaviours.

These symptoms will vary in severity depending on how severe your partner’s illness is. Despite your dedication to make this type of a relationship work, there might come a time when you will feel that you cannot take it anymore, for example, when your own emotional and mental wellbeing is being grievously compromised.

When you decide to break up, Dr. Lobel says that you will do well to know that your partner will be more likely to suffer more severe emotional turmoil than someone who doesn’t have this condition. “This is mainly because their condition causes intense fear of being abandoned and because they may struggle more than most to regulate their emotions,” he says. How do you go about this?

The reaction

Informing your partner that you have decided to break up will trigger their BPD symptoms. They will feel attacked and frustrated.

“They will angry and might act out of their ordinary behaviour. If they do, you will be wiser to stay calm and respectful,” says Dr. Lobel. “Don’t rub it on them or call them names as this will only escalate their reaction.”

Dr. Lobel adds that you should also avoid sarcastic, snarky, or demeaning comments. “This will result in your loved one justifying being in a victim position and lashing out at you,” he cautions.

At the same time, it is important to remember that in their past relationships, your partner has had the reasons you will quote for breaking up. “If they have heard these reasons before, they are likely to feel unjustly judged. They might even wonder and believe they did not do anything wrong, and what you accuse them of is nothing more than an attack on their existence,” says Dr. Lobel. This may cause them to be even more hostile.

What not to say

Don’t get defensive. There are certain phrases you should be careful not to mention since they will be interpreted wrongly. For example, Dr. Lobel says that saying something like ‘I am not trying to hurt you’ or ‘I don’t hate you’ will only exacerbate the situation.

“These types of phrases are a form of defensiveness, and psychologically, defensiveness is fundamentally invalidating. It is like trying to convince the person you are breaking up with that their feelings are based on misperception or incorrect interpretation. To your partner, this will sound as if you are telling them that they are stupid, wrong or even crazy,” says Dr. Lobel.

Instead, the things you say should be coated with a form of validation. “Saying something like ‘I can see why you would feel that way. I am sorry for hurting you’ will be better than saying ‘I am not trying to hurt you’,” says Dr. Lobel.

For your own safety and wellness, it may be necessary to have boundaries after you have broken up. Remember, even someone with borderline personality disorder can be overly manipulative, and emotionally and physically hurtful.

Prioritise your wellness. Stop the communication if it becomes necessary to do so. Don’t deliberately meet with them after you have gone your separate ways, and finally, don’t toy with their recovery by agreeing to dates when you have absolutely resolved to cut ties.