Living with someone with borderline personality may involve being falsely accused, dealing with changes in mood, and facing love and rejection cycles. Understanding these behaviors aren’t personal may help.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition marked by fears of abandonment and changes in energy and mood. It can impact how you express your values, interests, and feelings toward others.
When you live with someone with BPD, they may do everything they can to please you one day and then reject you the next. This, understandably, can catch you by surprise.
But these cyclic behaviors aren’t a personal choice. They’re symptoms of an underlying condition. Understanding this can help you cope when living with someone with borderline personality.
Formal symptoms of BPD
Borderline personality disorder is a formal diagnosis recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR).
Borderline personality is classified as a cluster B personality disorder and is defined by changing patterns of mood, self-image, and relationship stability, often paired with low impulse control.
To receive a diagnosis of BPD, five or more of the following symptoms must be met:
- desperate attempts to avoid abandonment (real or perceived)
- a history of idealization and devaluation in relationships
- an inconsistent sense of self (identity disturbance)
- potentially damaging impulsivity in at least two areas (e.g.: substance use, reckless driving)
- recurrent suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, or self-harming behaviors
- extreme changes in mood
- a persistent sense of emptiness
- displays of anger that may be inappropriate for the situation
- stress-related dissociation symptoms or paranoid ideation
Not everyone living with BPD experiences all of these symptoms or with the same intensity. Only a mental health professional can accurately diagnose the condition.
Not everyone with a borderline personality behaves in the same way or experiences the same symptoms. By definition, though, the condition implies a few challenges in relationships.
“People with BPD tend to have major difficulties maintaining healthy relationships, especially with those closest to them,” explains Colleen Wenner, a licensed mental health counselor from Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Some possible challenges of living with a person with borderline personality may include:
Fear of abandonment may make someone with BPD go to extreme lengths to “keep you happy” so you won’t leave them.
They may push the boundaries on your comfort level, remaining with you at all times, seeking reassurance, or being hyper-attuned to possible signs that you may want to leave them.
During this time, it may be helpful to gently — but firmly — maintain your personal boundaries while expressing your love and commitment.
2. Changes in values and interests
Dissociative symptoms due to emotional pain and stress may cause someone with BPD to briefly disconnect from the identity you’ve come to know. They may gradually or suddenly adopt different value sets, new opinions, or alternate sexual identities.
You may not align with these identity changes, but knowing they tend to be short-term may help you manage. These changes are often a protective measure to cope with their emotional pain.
3. Behaviors that may become hazardous
Potentially harmful impulsivity in someone with borderline personality may manifest as:
- substance use
- binge eating
- reckless driving
- persistent spending beyond their means
- sexual activities that may put their or others’ safety in jeopardy
If your loved one acknowledges these behaviors, you may try to arrange managing finances, grocery shopping, or driving privileges for a while. Seeking the support of a mental health professional is advisable.
If BPD involves paranoid ideation, you may find yourself experiencing the psychological effects of false accusations about your faithfulness or intentions.
Wenner explains your loved one may not be able to manage these thoughts all the time. These accusations are manifestations of their abandonment anxiety and not necessarily of the way they think of you.
5. Hurtful sarcasm
Intense emotions may lead someone with BPD to express their thoughts in the form of sarcasm or bitterness, particularly when they feel you may not be meeting their needs.
These hurtful words may make it more difficult to resolve conflict with your partner, but understanding where they’re coming from might help you pause and wait for better moments to have the conversation.
6. Poor emotional control
“Regulating emotions is very difficult for your loved one and often leads to verbal attacks or physical violence,” Wenner cautions.
Not everyone with BPD may behave aggressively or use hurtful words, though. It’s also possible they may cry for no apparent reason, become irritable, or behave emotionally distant.
Some people with BPD may tend to self-sabotage. This may look different for each person but could involve getting into an argument with you right before an important event, resigning after a big job promotion, or forgetting an appointment.
Possible reasons for self-sabotage include anticipating any possible disappointment when things are going well (so it doesn’t hurt that much if something happens), and feeling they’re not worthy of the good things happening to them.
8. Behavioral cycles
It’s possible that the idealization-devaluation BPD cycle in relationships can make you feel confused and hurt at times.
“If your loved one has a borderline personality disorder, their behavior will likely cause a cycle of ups and down in your relationship,” Wenner says. “You’ll have both good and bad times together.”
Good and not-so-good times are common in most romantic bonds. However, how people with borderline personality may behave in relationships could be something you’re not familiar with. They may adore you one moment, reject you the next, and then try to make amends after that.
BPD relationship cycle
Borderline personality disorder may involve instability in relationships due to a cycle of idealization and devaluation.
During idealization, someone experiencing BPD may require to spend every second with you, and may be quick to share intimate details to create a sense of closeness early in the relationship.
They may shift to devaluation at some point, where the person living with BPD may feel disappointed that, according to them, you aren’t making enough effort, don’t care enough, or aren’t present enough.
When you start to distance yourself, they may experience abandonment fear or feelings of worthlessness, which can make them feel the need to get close to you once more.
These behaviors aren’t a conscious attempt to mistreat or manipulate you. They’re mostly the result of an inability to manage emotional pain and fear of rejection.
Seeking guidance from a mental health professional can be essential when living with someone with borderline personality disorder, states Wenner.
“Establish a support team that includes a therapist and a medical professional. If you and your partner put in the effort, you’ll enjoy a better quality of life together,” she says.
In addition to professional insight, Wenner recommends:
1. Learning more
Learning about the condition can help you identify BPD symptoms and take away some relationship unpredictability. It may also offer you some perspective on behaviors that may seem personal but aren’t.
2. Stepping away
When living with someone with borderline personality, you may need to learn how to take some time away without implying you’re leaving the relationship.
“Try to avoid arguing and conflicts,” says Wenner. “If you notice signs of an episode coming up, take a break from each other and give yourself time to cool off before talking again.”
3. Setting and keeping boundaries
Setting boundaries can help you manage your loved one’s expectations during the idealization and devaluation cycle.
“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t agree to every request. Set limits and stick to them,” Wenner states.
If you maintain your commitment in other areas, your loved one may understand that your boundaries aren’t equivalent to rejection or lack of love.
4. Practicing patience
Wenner points out that even when you learn more about the condition, BPD can be frustrating.
Cultivating patience may help you remember the fluctuations of BPD are mostly temporary and aren’t a personal affront.
5. Looking after your own mental health
“It can be emotionally draining for everyone involved when working with someone who has BPD,” says Wenner. “Develop healthy coping strategies and find ways to relax without your loved one. Don’t let your loved one control your life.”
Establishing which behaviors you will or won’t tolerate may also help you and your partner keep the relationship healthy. Understanding your loved one lives with a mental health condition doesn’t mean you should accept behaviors that hurt you.
Living with someone with borderline personality disorder can mean working through spurts of intense anger, false accusations, and potentially harmful impulsivity.
While education and patience can help you approach your relationship in an understanding way, professional intervention may be the best option to truly address BPD challenges in a relationship.
If your loved one isn’t open to seeking professional guidance and their behaviors are negatively impacting your well-being, it may be time to evaluate if you need to let go of the relationship.