What is BPD?
For anyone reading this that isn’t sure what Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is; you can check out my post on it HERE or read THIS article from the Mind website. Keep in mind that there are still a lot of misconceptions about it, so come into your BPD research with an open mind.
BPD affects interpersonal relationships strongly, whether that be romantic relationships, siblings, parents, friendships, or even just acquaintances. For this post I’ll be mainly focusing on romantic relationships – as this subject is the one I find the most difficult. As far as my situation goes, I’m currently in a long distance relationship. My boyfriend, Jacob, lives in America and I live in England. We’ve dated 2 times before, but this time around we’ve been dating successfully and happily for 7 months.
Hopefully some of my tips will help someone who is struggling to stabilize any sort of interpersonal relationship, not just romantic.
1. Believe in your partner.
As much as you need to believe in yourself, believing in your partner is just as important. When those dreaded anxious thoughts of being abandoned hit, it can be difficult to control them. The outcome of that is that you end up arguing, or being upset, or angry. If you can control the abandonment anxiety before it has time to control you, more conflict is avoided. The way I’ve found most helpful is to just believe in my boyfriend.
It was NOT easy, in no way am I saying it’s a switch you can flick. This also doesn’t come out of constant reassurance or reminders that they love you (although that does help). I managed to be able to just trust that he was coming back, because he always did come back. I looked at the facts and the evidence, and constantly it proved that he came back every single time. Obviously I was anxious whilst he was gone, that feeling never goes away. Avoiding the horrible outcomes of letting it take control is the idea.
2. Keep track of your mood changes.
Being able to know what triggers your sudden mood changes is a massive help. It can help you to sort things out in your brain, avoid those triggers as much as possible, or make those triggers have less of an effect on you. It can also help your partner, because they know what they’re doing wrong, so they can stop it. If your partner never knows they’re doing wrong, and you don’t know either, how is the problem going to get sorted?
For me, things like minor annoyances or minor things going wrong can drastically change my mood. That’s black and white thinking, for you. Therefore, if I can try and avoid those things as much as possible, it doesn’t give my mood a chance to change. Clearly, you can’t avoid small things that go wrong during the day, but at least my boyfriend has some sort of an idea of what’s caused the mood change. He can then help me accordingly.
3. Work together, not separately.
You have someone in your life who is fully willing and 100% happy to help you. Why make that harder for both of you when you can just as easily make it…easier? The one thing I know more than anything is that trusting someone enough to work with them rather than against them when you have BPD is the most difficult thing in the world. However, there does come a time that if you really do want this relationship to work, there has to be give and take. You have to give up a small bit of yourself to be able to get back what you want.
If you’re upset, tell your partner why. When you’re angry, don’t take it out on them (if they didn’t cause it). If you’re happy, share it with them and let them know that you’re happy. Likewise, your partner needs to know what helps YOU. You’re the one who needs help, so you need to tell them what helps. If your partner asking you bunches of questions makes it worse, tell them – politely – to back off a bit. If it helps you, tell them what kinds of questions they can ask you when you’re upset. There’s a middle ground for everything, even if we can’t see it.
Your partner has limitations. My boyfriend knows where the line is, and if I start going over the line, he won’t hesitate to tell me. Understanding that the symptoms of BPD are extreme, but there is still a limit, is important. For example, NONE of the people that I have interpersonal relationships with will ever accept me threatening suicide or self harm. I used to threaten people with “If you go out, I’ll hurt myself” and now that is just not accepted at all. I know this, and so I don’t do it anymore. It doesn’t erase the thoughts and I still have urges to say things like that, but I know that I will lose people if I do that. You need to realise the limits that the people around you have set, and equally, they need to enforce them.
5. Walk away.
Sometimes even the people with the fear of being abandoned need to walk away. I don’t mean forever, just for an hour or so. I’ve been trying to get into the habit of just not speaking to my boyfriend for a while when I split on him. Splitting is extremely dangerous for me because it leads to all sorts of conflicts and usually has a chain of events that follow it which are just as bad. If you feel yourself getting overly angry, ready to be violent, manipulative, or you’re going to hurt yourself – take it upon yourself to walk away.
It will hurt you to walk away from people you know you love, but remember it’s only for an hour (or however long you decide on). They’re not going to disappear in that time, and they will still love you when you come back. Maybe you can even walk away from that one person, and talk to another person. If you prefer to sort things through alone, write your problems down, sort out your thoughts properly, then go back. This avoids pointless arguments and conversations that just go around in circles for no reason – and also avoids you possibly losing the person you love.
6. Help your partner.
As much as your partner is there to help you, you can also help them. Don’t expect them to just ‘know’ how to deal with a complex mental health disorder. You need to help them understand, sit with them whilst they research things and answer questions. Like I mentioned earlier, let them know what things help you personally. Each person with BPD can be helped differently, meaning something that works for me might not work for you. Your partner should know each symptom by heart, be able to recognise exactly which one is affecting you at each point. If they don’t, keep learning with them. You will help yourself by helping them.
7. Surround yourself with love.
Don’t just rely on your partner for love. I realise that for some people, your partner may be the only person you have right now, and that’s fine. However, you shouldn’t completely isolate yourself just because that is your situation right now. I have 2-3 really good friends which I will rely on if my boyfriend has upset me or if we’ve had an argument, and I try to keep those friendships up by also asking them about themselves and talking about things other than my BPD.
I also am extremely lucky to have a supportive family, who I feel as though I can mostly go to about anything. Oppositely, there are people who aren’t as lucky as me, and I recognise that. If you’re one of those people, try and ask your partner to help you find some new friends. Maybe play a video game together and meet new people that way, or go to a club of some kind together. Even just asking your partner for tips on what you should do might help, as sometimes, they’re better at thinking clearly than we are.
8. Don’t hide, communicate.
Tell your partner what’s wrong, tell your partner what’s right. Let them know when you’re sad, why you’re sad, how they can help. Don’t hide your illness from them, they can help you if you trust them to. Having trust in another human to be able to help you through tough times is the most courageous thing you can do. Personally I’m guilty of doing this often, if I’m upset about something I frequently have thoughts that if I tell my boyfriend he’ll be mad at me. I’m getting better at powering through those thoughts though, because again, I have evidence that he can help me.
If your partner turns out to not be able to help you with whatever your problem is, maybe ask a family member or a friend what they think. If nothing else works, the internet is a beautiful place. There are so many online communities like 7CupsOfTea where you can go and talk to REAL volunteers (like me!) and we can talk through your problem with you.
9. Have a plan and stick to it.
Not only does this apply to normal life situations, as changing of plans suddenly can trigger certain things; it also applies to your relationship. If your plan in a crisis is to rely on your partner, that is not a very effective or helpful plan. Your partner will be freaking out and stressing about you being upset in a crisis, meaning that their own ability to handle things decreases significantly. If your partner knows the plan, and you know the plan, you can both implement it. For me, I have a crisis box which I use in a major crisis. My boyfriend knows about the box, he knows what to do with the things inside the box. That doesn’t help us when we’re apart because of long distance, but we roughly have another plan as what to do in that kind of crisis too.
10. Help yourself.
They can’t help you if you don’t want help. If you’re trying to force them to help you or asking for help, and then not letting them try, what’s the point? You need to at least want to improve yourself to be able to get the most out of other people’s attempts. This was something I struggled to realise for a long time. Why was everybody wasting my time with these pointless exercises and questions? I just wanted help. Then I had a brainwave, nobody was helping me because I was refusing to get better. I was comfortable in my depressive, angry state. That’s how I had been for so long, and that’s what life was for me. I had to accept that it wasn’t healthy, and I had to change my life. That’s how I managed to get over many brain hurdles.
BPD is rough. It’s horrible, it’s tiring, it’s upsetting. Mix in a partner with their own emotions and their own lives, it can be even worse. To be able to feel a sense of normalcy in your relationship you need to accept certain things within yourself. If you’re unable to do that, there aren’t any chances of your partner being able to accept those same things.
P.S – Remember your partner is human too, and if they start to struggle, you need to help them back!