Romantic Relationships Involving People With BPD

BPD signs in a romantic relationship

Verywell / Laura Porter

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) commonly experience relationships that are chaotic, intense, and conflict-laden. This can be especially true for romantic relationships.

If you are considering starting a relationship with someone who has BPD or are in one now, it's important to educate yourself about the disorder and what to expect. Likewise, if you have been diagnosed with BPD, it can be helpful to think about how your symptoms have affected your dating life and romantic relationships.

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

BPD is a mental disorder in which someone experiences unstable moods and emotions, issues with their self-image, impulsive behavior, and difficulties in their relationships. Symptoms of BPD also may include risk-taking behavior as well as self-harm or suicidal behaviors.

BPD is recognized as a personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the resource mental health professionals refer to when making a diagnosis. According to the DSM-5, BPD is diagnosed mostly in females. And while it's not known exactly what causes the disorder, genetics and environment are risk factors.

If you or your partner are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Symptoms of BPD in a Relationship

In the DSM-5, symptoms of BPD include intense, unstable, and conflicted personal relationships. Research has confirmed that people with BPD tend to have very stormy romantic relationships characterized by a great deal of turmoil and dysfunction.

For example, one study demonstrated that women with BPD symptoms reported greater chronic relationship stress and more frequent conflicts. Also, the more severe a person’s BPD symptoms are, the less relationship satisfaction their partner reports.

A characteristic of borderline personality disorder is having trouble maintaining relationships, and research has also shown that BPD symptoms are associated with a greater number of romantic relationships over time.

Below we take a look at how BPD symptoms can affect relationships.

Instability

People with BPD are often terrified that others will leave them. However, they can also shift suddenly to feeling smothered and fearful of intimacy, which leads them to withdraw from relationships. The result is a constant back-and-forth between demands for love or attention and sudden withdrawal or isolation.

Fear of Abandonment

Another BPD symptom that particularly impacts relationships is a deep fear of abandonment. This can lead those with BPD to be constantly watching for signs that someone may leave them and to interpret even a minor event as a sign that abandonment is imminent.

These emotions may result in frantic efforts to avoid abandonment, such as pleading, public scenes, and even physically preventing the other person from leaving.

Lying

Another common complaint of people in relationships with someone with BPD is lying. While lying and deception are not behaviors included in the formal diagnostic criteria for BPD, many loved ones report that lying is one of their biggest concerns; this may be because BPD causes people to see things very differently than others.

Impulsive Sexuality

Impulsive sexuality is another classic symptom of BPD, and many people with BPD struggle with issues of sexuality. Also, a large percentage of people with BPD experienced childhood sexual abuse, which can make sex very complicated.

A 2011 review published in the Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience looked at how those with BPD differed from those without when it came to sexual behavior. The authors conclude that those with BPD seemed to exhibit impulsivity through various behaviors, including earlier sexual encounters, more casual sexual experiences, and more partners, for example.

Finally, research has also shown BPD symptoms are associated with a higher incidence of unplanned pregnancies in women.

Symptoms With Indirect Effect

Other symptoms of BPD, including impulsivity, self-harm, and dissociative symptoms, can have an indirect impact on relationships. For example, if a loved one with BPD is engaging in impulsive behaviors like going on spending sprees, it can cause major stress within the family. In addition, suicidal gestures can be scary for romantic partners and can introduce lots of stress into the relationship.

Starting a Romantic Relationship

Despite the intense and disruptive symptoms people with BPD and their loved ones must cope with, people with BPD often have many positive qualities that can make them great romantic partners some of the time. Furthermore, many people who have been in a romantic relationship with someone with BPD describe their partner as fun, exciting, and passionate.

Many people are initially drawn to people with BPD precisely because they have intense emotions and a strong desire for intimacy.

Will the Relationship Last?

Most relationships go through a honeymoon period. Relationships with people who have BPD are no exception. In fact, the experience may be magnified.

People with BPD often report that at the beginning of a new romantic relationship, they put their new partner "on a pedestal." They may feel as though they have found their perfect match—a soulmate who will rescue them from their emotional pain. This kind of thinking is called idealization.

This honeymoon period can be very exciting for the new partner, too. After all, it's really nice to have someone feel so strongly about you and to feel needed.

Problems start to arise, however, when reality sets in. When a person with BPD realizes that their new partner is not faultless, that image of the perfect, idealized soulmate can come crashing down. Because people with BPD struggle with dichotomous thinking, or seeing things only in black and white, they can have trouble recognizing the fact that most people make mistakes even when they mean well.

As a result, people with BPD may quickly go from idealization to devaluation—or thinking that their partner is a horrible person.

The key to maintaining a relationship with someone with BPD is to find ways to cope with these cycles and to encourage your partner to get professional help to cope with the disruptive symptoms and reduce problematic thinking. In addition to individual therapy, couples therapy can be helpful for both partners in the relationship.

Managing a Romantic Relationship

In addition to couples therapy, there are therapies that have been shown to be effective for a person with BPD, in terms of helping with relationships:

  • Dialectal behavior therapy (DBT): DBT is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that relates a person's thinking to their behavior. There are four main skills taught in DBT, one of which is managing interpersonal skills.
  • Mentalization-based therapy (MBT): MBT is a therapy that focuses on helping someone make sense of what is going on in their mind and the minds of others.
  • Medications: There are currently no medications specifically approved to treat BPD, but doctors may prescribe medication to help improve certain symptoms of borderline personality disorder. Research suggests that some medications can help a person manage their anger, impulsivity, and depression. On that note, though, it's important to carefully weigh the side effects of a medication with its potential benefit.

Ending a Relationship 

Many issues may arise when a relationship in which one partner has BPD ends. Because people with BPD have an intense fear of abandonment, a breakup can leave them feeling desperate and devastated.

Even if a relationship is unhealthy, a person with BPD can have trouble letting the relationship go. This is particularly true of long-term partnerships or marriages.

This is why it's a good idea to have a support network for you and partner, especially if a breakup may occur. This network often includes a mental health professional.

A Word From Verywell

Despite its many challenges, the prognosis for BPD is good. This means that while most people with BPD do experience residual symptoms even after time and treatment, in the long term, recovery and healthy relationships are possible.

12 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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