Borderline Personality Disorder and Relationships

As partners will often agree, relationships with any personality disorder type are a challenge, but in the case of borderline personality disorder relationships are even more of a roller coaster. And, as we know, one does not have to have a formal personality disorder diagnoses to have the traits of one and bring those into their relationships—either with intimate partners, friends, work, or other kinds of social situations. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) can put a strain on any relationship, which makes the disorder even more important to understand if we are faced with a partner that poses with its traits.

Intimate borderline personality disorder relationships

Relationships with BPD individuals are doomed for chaos. They are intense—both in seemingly loving way, but also when disruptions happen. It is significant for individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) to shift between clinging and distancing, which makes relationships unstable and hectic. Shouting matches with a blend of crying, sadness, but at the same time anger and rage are an everyday thing. The same goes for impulsive behaviour in the form of seemingly total despair and hopelessness. They will do anything to avoid “the bad feeling” of rejection (abandonment depression). Sometimes, when things really get intense, this can also lead to threats of suicide and self-harm.

It is worth pointing out that it is quite common for borderline personality disorder abandonment depression to be confused with regular depression and hence the condition to be misdiagnosed. Similar is common also in narcissistic personality disorder.

Borderline personality disorder individuals can be loveable, which is why BPD relationships can be like honeymoon. They are intense and exciting. Because of that, they are generally great to be around. This is their core coping mechanism, which serves their main purpose—to draw people to them and create relationships that will then give them a sense of self. But this period of calm and idealisation is always followed by storm—there will come a time they turn foul and that is when they want to distance, because “things are getting too much” for them.

They will approach you in a loveable way, but then when they get too close, will feel smothered, suffocated and will hence start distancing—often in a somewhat nasty manner. All this is to prevent that they don’t get hurt as they did as children.

Individuals that are still not in more serious romantic relationships and are still trying partners out, will usually end the relationship once it becomes “too much” for them. Once the partner gets to close to them emotionally, they will tend to feel suffocated and will just let go, distance and end it. A lot of times this will happen in a hurtful manner, which is how they learned to cope not to get hurt by ending the intimate emotional bond.

They perceive their sense of self in the form of a relationship. If a relationship breaks, this diminishes their sense of self and leaves them shattered. This is why they will fear abandonment and seek constant reassurance in their partner, which to the partner might pose as a bit overwhelming. The partner will usually want to distance themselves from this behaviour, which the person with BPD might perceive as emotional distancing, rejection and spiral into abandonment depression.

Sex in BPD relationships

BPD individuals will often use sexual relationships to get recognition and emotional soothing. A lot of borderline personality disorder individuals suffer from some form of childhood abuse, trauma—sometimes in the form of sexual abuse, emotional abuse or any other behaviour they might have perceived as abusive or violent. The attachment disruption this created in their past reflects in their current sexual patterns. A lot of borderline personality disorder relationships will, hence, have one form of sexual difficulty or another.

Sado-masochism is often times present in BPD relationships—not only in the form of sado-masochistic sex, but also in other relational interactions. On one hand, they will take the masochistic side—they will want to get hurt to get a sense of self—and, on the other hand, they will engage in sadism—they will want to hurt to have a sense of control over others or the situation.

However, even though sexual binging, sado-masochism and other intense sexual behaviour can be indicative of borderline personality disorder, some BPD individuals will have just the opposite relation to sex and will avoid it or engage in it with difficulty. In some cases they will not be able to reach sexual climax or have other difficulties with physical touch.

Promiscuity and impulsive sexual behaviour

Due to their mechanism of receiving recognition, BPD relationships will suffer from promiscuous and impulsive sexual behaviour of their partners. Sex will be a form of gaining the sense of worth and the sense of self—especially at times of emotional distress, abandonment depression and rejection. Borderline individuals have difficulty soothing themselves emotionally, which is also why they seek relationships and recognition of others. It is not unusual for a BPD individual to impulsively engage in sex with random people—even strangers—when they experience rejection or abandonment from their current romantic partner.

When BPD relationships are indicated either in couples therapy or individual therapy, the psychotherapeutic treatment plan will eventually need to shift from the couple to the BPD individual and address his or her presenting problem.