Dating someone with a histrionic personality may mean handling unpredictable behaviors and over-the-top displays of emotion. Ignoring them may not be the best coping strategy.
People tend to bring their life experiences to their relationships, including mental health conditions they may be living with, such as histrionic personality disorder (HPD).
Dating someone with histrionic personality disorder might mean having a partner with a high level of emotionality that can feel extreme or disproportionate to the situation, or someone who seems to always need to be the focus of attention.
But relationships with a histrionic personality can succeed once you learn more about the condition and understand that ignoring these attention-seeking behaviors might not be the way to go.
Histrionic personality disorder (HPD) is a cluster B personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5).
It shares similar features with other personality disorders like narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Like all the cluster B conditions, histrionic personality may involve significant challenges when it comes to regulating emotions. For example, you could see intense displays of emotion along with unpredictable behaviors that others might find “overdramatic.”
HPD, specifically, is defined by persistent patterns of attention-seeking behaviors and intense emotionality that can impact a relationship in a number of ways.
These histrionic behaviors are mostly not intentional or a personal choice. Most likely, attention-seeking manners are the product of difficult past experiences that have led to a reinforced behavioral pattern that is now “second nature.”
When you’re dating someone with histrionic personality disorder, you may notice a tendency to behave in ways that attract attention. Not everyone will repeat the same behaviors but some examples may include:
- dressing in outfits that may be considered “over the top” in your culture
- engaging in provocative or sexual behavior with others even when not interested
- expressing thoughts and emotions in dramatic ways to maintain everyone’s focus on them
- “fishing” for compliments
- embellishing, fabricating, or exaggerating stories
- displaying emotions publicly that may seem disproportionate to the given situation
“People who have HPD love to be the center of attention, the life of the party,” explains Dr. Raffaello Antonino, a counseling psychologist from London.
Recurrent attention-seeking behaviors may lead you to believe that ignoring a histrionic personality is the only way to go. But, ignoring your partner with a histrionic personality may increase their emotional distress and, in turn, increase the chance of more attention-seeking and overdramatic behaviors.
Behaviors that aim to get attention can sometimes cause conflict in a relationship if you don’t understand where they’re coming from.
Underneath histrionic personality, there’s a wide range of intense emotions that cause the person great distress and emotional pain. Some of the histrionic behaviors come from this emotionality that’s difficult for the person to manage.
If your partner is constantly seeking attention from everyone, it may make you wonder about the depth of your connection, or if they might one day go too far. It’s natural to feel this way. But histrionic behaviors are often a facade and don’t necessarily mean your partner doesn’t love you or respect you.
The histrionic relationship cycle can be different in every relationship. It could involve self-sabotaging behaviors, like flirting or arguing, followed by efforts to regain your approval and attention.
If your partner lives with histrionic personality, they may push you away with their actions and then miss your attention when you take a step back.
You may also feel inclined to ignore some histrionic behaviors and then find out this increases your partner’s anxiety and urge to get close to you.
Here are a few challenges you may experience in a relationship with someone with a histrionic personality:
The recurrent sexually provocative behaviors, like flirting, may be a significant challenge for some people in relationships with someone with a histrionic personality.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean your partner will inevitably be unfaithful, you could feel these behaviors still cross your relationship boundaries.
The DSM-5 indicates sexually provocative behavior in histrionic personality can be present even when your partner has no real romantic interest in another person. The goal of histrionic behaviors is getting attention, not receiving affection, physical contact, or intimacy.
You may find that your histrionic partner may often shift from one emotional state to an opposite one. Maybe some of these changes seem superficial or uncalled for to you. On some occasions, you may be dealing with emotional outbursts, sometimes in public places.
This unpredictable emotional aspect of a relationship with a histrionic personality can contribute to the frequency and intensity of endless arguments.
All of this may make you feel like ignoring someone with histrionic personality is the best thing for the relationship. Instead, ignoring them may increase the likelihood of arguments when they become emotional about your attitude.
A partner with histrionic personality disorder may take a “do what it takes” approach when it comes to gaining attention.
This can come in the form of embellishing stories or telling outright lies they feel will work to their advantage.
Witnessing your partner tell lies may be difficult and could make you doubt their honesty in the relationship. But remember that some of these behaviors are looking to gain attention from others, not necessarily deceive them.
People with histrionic personality disorder may sometimes use manipulation tactics and behaviors to claim the attention they may feel they’re losing.
Dr. Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist from Connecticut, says partners with HPD will often seek to use emotional manipulation in relationships. This may leave you confused and frustrated.
HPD is a mental health disorder that can impair daily life. It often requires the guidance of a therapist for symptoms to improve.
But that doesn’t mean that both partners can make an effort to make your relationship work. Empathy, patience, and trust can go a long way in supporting each other.
Remember, ignoring someone with histrionic personality disorder may be a natural reaction but it often isn’t what’s required in the situation.
Here are 5 tips to consider when dating someone living with HPD:
1. Remaining calm
The extreme emotions that often come with a histrionic personality can cause knee-jerk reactions. If your partner suddenly starts yelling at you, for example, you may naturally want to react to that.
Schiff recommends reminding yourself to be calm, above all else.
“Remaining calm is important,” she explains. Your histrionic partner may feel they need this drama to get the attention they long for.
By remaining calm and refusing to engage, you may help them realize that they won’t get the attention they are seeking by acting out, she advises. “Don’t reward their attention-seeking behavior.”
Abandoning them might also be counterproductive. You may want to express your emotions and confirm you still love them. Then, try to explain that you won’t engage at the moment and prefer to discuss this problem later.
2. Communicating openly and directly
Communication is essential in any relationship, but may serve a more important role when your partner lives with HPD.
Antonino recommends communicating openly as a way of addressing all relationship conflicts.
Your partner with a histrionic personality may be more likely to be mindful of your feelings when you express your concerns and set clear boundaries and expectations with them directly and openly.
“Let your partner know if you’re not OK with this behavior,” says Antonino. Explaining how the behavior makes you feel and the possible consequences it may have may be more helpful than criticizing it.
Following a stranger to an apartment, he says, can be a sign of HPD’s suggestibility trait that may put your partner in a dangerous situation. Helping your partner become aware of the risks may help them think twice about following impulses.
3. Including your partner
Attention is a common motivator for histrionic behaviors. In a social setting, Antonino recommends taking a proactive approach to include your partner, which may help prevent them from feeling neglected.
If your partner looks uncomfortable, or you notice that people are moving away and onto other conversations, you can take the initiative and lead them to new social openings, for example.
This doesn’t mean you have to cater to their need for attention. Instead, consider this a way to protect your partner from situations that you know may hurt them. Doing this may also prevent them from engaging in attention-seeking behaviors.
4. Taking time for yourself
Alone and self-care time may be important to you, particularly after an argument or emotionally draining situation.
“Knowing when to distance yourself is important, since it can be difficult and overwhelming to deal with histrionic behaviors. You deserve a break and time to care for yourself,” Schiff says.
Self-care can look like:
- spending some time with friends
- a walk in the park
- working out
- reading a book
It can be anything that brings you joy and fulfillment and promotes a sense of relaxation.
It’s important, though, that you let your partner know ahead of time when you plan to spend time away. Try to explain this isn’t a reflection of how you feel or that you don’t want to engage with them.
5. Setting boundaries
Both Schiff and Antonino recommend setting clear relationship boundaries.
When you’re dating someone with HPD, clearly communicating boundaries can be especially important, notes Schiff.
This can look like saying, “I am not OK with…” and mentioning a specific behavior you rather they don’t engage in.
People with a histrionic personality typically have limited self-awareness and may sometimes overlook some of their potentially sabotaging behaviors. Your partner may not always realize that their actions can hurt you, for example. So, letting them know can help.
Setting boundaries also let your partner know what they can expect from you when conflict arises. This may help control reactions of shock, anger, or surprise if a boundary gets crossed.
Histrionic personality disorder is a diagnosable mental health condition. It may negatively impact your partner’s life enough to make daily functioning a challenge. It could also affect your relationship, particularly if you don’t understand some behaviors.
Neither of you has to work through these challenges alone.
Individual and couples therapy approaches can help you and your partner manage histrionic personality symptoms while helping you both come up with coping strategies and relationship boundaries.