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.
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.