You Keep On Pushing My Love Over The Borderline: Intimate Relationships Between Partners With BPD

A frequently seen trait for people suffering with Borderline Personality Disorder is their tendency for “splitting” or “black and white thinking” or “all-or-nothing thinking;” where the individual is prone to classifying things at the extremity of the spectrum of emotions (i.e., goodness vs. evil, innocence vs. corruption, victimization vs. oppression, and so forth). Naturally, this can make it incredibly difficult for proper development of the relationships, especially when both partners are afflicted with BPD. According to standard psychoanalysis, this concept also applies to that of the ego, resultant in continual existential dilemmas and insecurities playing out in myriad, baneful ways if both people are not aware and extremely careful. But it is true, absolutely, that intimate relationships between those with BPD can be healthy and loving, but it does indeed require the establishment of excellent communication in order to strike that essential balance between the unfounded but incredibly real feelings caused by the disorder, such as fear of abandonment; a heavy bent toward undue anger and/or frustration; chronic feelings of emptiness, depression, and anxiety; affective instability due to a marked reactivity of moods; and according to BPD expert John G. Gunderson MD of McLean Hospital, “destructive or self-destructive feelings or extreme feelings in general, such as feelings of fragmentation, lack of concrete identity, and victimization. But with radical love and work toward real sustainability, two people with BPD can absolutely craft and continue to build a beautiful, emotionally deep, and greatly intimate solidarity and love.

comedy and tragedy masks

Dr. McGorry, the leading doctor for Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, known as headspace,stated, “If you use antipsychotics right away, you are hurting the field. It plays into the hands of our critics.” Let’s hope the DSM-5 will bolster this class of thought in American psychiatry.

Further complicating matters is that one size of BPD certainly does not fit all. Predicated on the personality disorder studies of American psychologist Theodore Millon, there are generally considered to be four types of Borderline Personality Disorder: the Discouraged borderline, which includes avoidant, depressive, or overly dependent (a.k.a. co-dependent) features; the Impulsive borderline, which includes histrionic or antisocial features; the Petulant borderline, which includes negativistic (a.k.a. passive-aggressive) features; and Self-destructive borderline, which includes depressive or masochistic features. Obviously, depending on how BPD plays out for each individual must be taken into consideration, both when fighting the illness and when entering—let alone maintaining and growing—intimate partnerships. For those whom trust is an inherent issue, this will obviously cause distress in the love department—but it doesn’t have to. As long as both parties are committed to their own wellness, and that of their partner, this relationship can work just as any other. And it isn’t easy. But then again, it never is. So if it’s worthwhile, this can be a match that truly works on myriad levels—perhaps even as a positive point of empathy and closeness.

According to the studies by Australian psychologists Cleary, Siegfried, and Walter, there are many reasons for those with BPD to remain hopeful, so long as they are willing to put in the work—largely continuous Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and/or mood stabilizing medications or antidepressants. Their data indicates that, “people with BPD often make good progress. Around a third (depending on criteria used) of people diagnosed with BPD achieve remission within a year or two. A longitudinal study found that, six years after being diagnosed with BPD, 56% had good psychosocial functioning compared to 26% at baseline. While vocational achievement was generally more limited even compared to those with other personality disorders, those whose symptoms had remitted were significantly more likely to have a good relationship with a spouse/partner and at least one parent, good work/school performance, a sustained work/school history, good global functioning and good psychosocial functioning. Another study found that ten years from baseline (during a hospitalization), 86% of patients had sustained remission of symptoms, with around half achieving recovery defined as being free of symptoms and achieving certain levels of both social and vocational functioning.

Clearly, two people with BPD may actually be better at understanding each other’s pain, particularly if they’ve gone to great lengths (which they essentially have to) in order to realize their partner’s needs, and actually work toward implementing them in their daily consciousness. As usual, it’s all about building communication, trust, and exercising very calculated patience; a daily desire and kept promise to exercise that in ways most others probably will not have to. They can work together toward wellness, and must remember not to drag each other down, or expect the other to “fix” their own problem, as it is mutual stability, happiness, and love that both want to offer—and can—and, respectively, it can be an astonishing partnership of great strength. And remember, no relationship is perfect, and comes without requisite levels of work vis-a-vis openness about oneself and his/her reactions, which is frightening for anyone, and especially true for those with personality disorders—but it can be and has been achieved. In this type of literally life or death struggle, there is also an enormous chance for the most profound of camaraderie to emerge—and with that, a brighter, closer future on many fronts, maybe more than ever imagined, and an intimacy that transcends the norm, rather than operating below it. One must be kind and contentious and self-aware. And these are not small things, but this is, after all, quite a great reward.

As activist Audre Lorde once said, “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing,” and so must we be for our life, our love, and our happiness depends on it. And if it’s real, that love, do not give up, for few things in this world are as worthwhile as this.

7 thoughts on “You Keep On Pushing My Love Over The Borderline: Intimate Relationships Between Partners With BPD

  1. Excellent piece of writing and genuinely can assist with learning the topic much better.

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  2. I feel like my ex is narcissistic borderline, and his new wife seems to have (what I perceive as bpd/histrionic pd. I know my ex does not “believe in” mental illnesses (so therefore he would NEVER seek diagnosis and treatment!!). I don’t know her personally…just much too aware of her behaviors. I’m pretty sure he cheated on me with her-while I was pregnant with our child. Ugh. Anyway…I’m interested anyone’s opinion on the short or long term stability & future of their marriage. I’ve read in some places that once 2 bpds finally do marry, it gets nasty & falls apart rather quickly? Once the “mask” really comes off, true colors show? Our son is 13 months old. I DO NOT want him
    Sucked into a poop storm that could be on the horizon. They live in another state, so I could use the distance to protect him until they (possibly) explode & it dies down? He’s not supporting our son & has only seen him twice after he was born. Nice, huh? He wants to be able to take our son 12 hours away from me for 1-2 weeks at a time so he can spend time with him. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that even if both WERE emotionally stable. Interestingly, despite having her tubes tied, she got pregnant & had a subsequent miscarriage right before they announced they were married. I hate my son NEVER knowing his father, but I need to protect my son. I suppose im asking…a) WILL their relationship implode since neither recognize mental illnesses & b) any best guess on how long it could take? I’m gonna guess they started hooking up fall of ’12 (I’m not certain), openly dating summer of ’13, he moved in with she & her 3 kids (from the guy she JUST divorced a year before) last Sept. they found out in Jan she was pregnant, miscarried a few weeks ago & announced SHE announced last week they were married. His best friends had to ask him about it-he did not volunteer it. Of it he said that his assets were protected & if it didn’t work, he’d get half of HER stuff. That’s all he said about it. Neither will answer what date they actually got married, and no one has seen any pictures from their ceremony. Fishy to anyone? I just want my son safe & healthy but him not suffer too much from his dad abandoning him. Help?!

    • Hi Shawna,
      I am sorry to learn of what sounds like an enormously challenging situation for you with quite a lot of pain, and hope you and your son have the stable, loving home you both need and deserve, and will not have that compromised. From what you’ve written, the situation does seem dysfunctional, and I hope for the sake of their marriage and family they seek the assistance of a mental health worker if need be. I am not a professional psychologist, and cannot comment on the situation in as meaningful a way as I am sure would be helpful, but the positive news is that disorders such as Borderline, Histrionic, and Narcissistic personality disorders can be treated with proper therapy and work. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which I have written about in a few posts (I find it quite amazing, really), has been tremendously effective in addressing the great challenges of struggling to find stability when dealing with BPD or strong BPD traits (and other “personality disorders,” as well. I used quotes because I do not like reducing someone’s entire personality to an aspect of it, but it is definitely a major problem if ignored and allowed to grow. And, of course, everyone is different and a diagnosis doesn’t define anyone’s future…we are all responsible for our actions, and must learn why we act as we do and how to challenge our negative traits and boost our positive ones). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is also an effective means of therapy for these conditions. While there is no definite “this relationship will fail” if two individuals with BPD get together, there is much evidence that it will be greatly challenging, to say the very least. Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, those adversely effective by mental health conditions work toward true health. I am so sorry you have been greatly hurt and on the negative receiving end (to say the least!) and I wish you healing and continued strength! You sound like a wonderful mother who is doing positive things for her son, and you should be so proud of your strength, love, and dedication.

  3. I can’t say how much I appreciate your writing on BPD and mental illness, particularly in such an informed manner, and with a larger societal and political analysis of both. A relationship I was in during my final year of school combusted mid-semester partially because of my undiagnosed BPD (although he also suffered from some form of mental illness), and I almost didn’t graduate because it sent me into intense depression. I was very close to a third suicide attempt when I made the choice to ask for help. I was lucky to have access to therapy through my school and they recommended a DBT program after receiving this diagnosis (as well as clinical depression, and, although it is not on my chart officially, PTSD, having experienced prolonged sexual/verbal abuse and neglect as a child). Thankfully I did graduate and land a decent paying, if temporary, job contract. My insurance doesn’t cover mental health issues currently, but the clinic I go to has an affordable DBT program. It lasts only for a year, but after just six months it has helped immensely. This article I appreciated in particular, because I am just starting to, tentatively, date again, and there are so many stigmatizing and discouraging articles about BPD relationships. In addition, my experience as a woman with BPD has often been of relationships with abusive, unavailable, or at very least invalidating/gaslighting male partners (I’m a crazy bitch, etc, etc), which makes dating pretty terrifying. Anyway I am guardedly hopeful, and reading articles and stories posted by other people with BPD has been really encouraging, and good motivation to keep working. So thank you.

    • Hello there,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment and your willingness to share your story. I am glad you are starting to find recovery as something that is real and possible. Even though you’ve suffered a lot of traumatic experiences, you’ve not given up, and continue to search within yourself and for information from others. DBT is truly amazing, and it’s actually a therapy I think is valuable to everyone (though obviously has particular effectiveness for BPD, though typically not as much for those with narcissistic traits, which again is important to understanding this disorder as so many assume the root IS narcissism. It’s just not). It is, as you know and are experiencing (!) hugely successful for trauma survivors and folks with depression as well. Stick with it, even if it is in on your own after your program, and continue to seek out group support. The right help CAN LITERALLY CURE THIS! It is THAT effective if YOU are. And you are. Keep going. Don’t listen to naysayers and don’t look back. The light it ahead of you.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this. I am a borderline, as is my partner, and we are both in therapy and fighting the good fight towards healthy love and a relationship neither of us ever thought we were capable of having. DBT, constant communication and patience have gotten us a long way. In connection with the illness, when things are good between us, things are great and we are both now at the point where we are having more good days than bad, and we are in the process of creating something worthwhile. Before I sign off, I just want to express my gratitude upon reading this article and say thank you, as there are too few positive things written and broadcasted about the disorder, which tends to dim hope and mislead. People tend to forget that we are only people too, trying to find love for who we are and be understood and find meaning, just like everyone else in this crazy world.

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