Despite the focus borderline personality disorder (BPD) receives within the context of romantic relationships, there is far more to explore within other dynamics. The condition, of course, affects all relationships. And since our mental health can often be strained by the challenges of being in connection, it’s good to be aware of how other borderline personality disorder relationships work.
Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms In Relationships
There are common traits exhibited within all types of relationships on the part of the borderline. And one of these commonalities that define many BPD relationships is the lack of trust that can be felt throughout the dynamic – on both sides.
This, coupled with the borderline’s fear of abandonment and tendency to idealise and devalue others, can make it very hard on those they’re in connection with, whether it be a romantic or interpersonal relationship.
Because of the inherent inability to trust, those with BPD are often examining all the ways people treat them – or in this case, mistreat them. They micro-analyse every detail of conversations, believing they can pick up on subtle emotional cues from everyone around them.
This then leads to a constant back and forth – interrogating every part of every dynamic, subtly forcing their partners, friends, colleagues or family members to constantly prove themselves. This then feeds into the often unrealistic expectations they place on others.
As borderlines believe their relationships are the answer to all their problems, they often place incredible pressure on those closest to them to conform to – and fulfil their needs. This can occur in tandem with the push and pull cycle that characterises so many borderline relationships.
Female Borderline Personality Disorder And Relationships
Since around 75% of those who’re diagnosed with borderline personality disorder are women, many of the traits commonly associated with relationships are female-centric, although there is some definite overlap between genders. In relationships, females tend to have more of a highly sensitive disposition. There will be more of a clinginess that comes from the innate need to connect. There’s also more of a tendency towards weaponisation and manipulation that comes from being able to more readily use affection and sex as a means of ‘getting their needs met.’
Male Borderline Personality Disorder And Relationships
On the other side of the gender split, men also experience abandonment trauma. Although it usually manifests as a refusal to commit to romantic relationships for fear they’ll lose their partner. The relationship patterning of men with BPD may see them have multiple relationships one after another in quick succession. These may end when the male borderline erupts into explosive anger or possibly exhibits aggression. And although women with BPD are well-known for exhibiting drama-like tendencies, men’s emotions also fluctuate and can range from idealising to becoming emotionally detached and resentful.
Effects Of Borderline Personality Disorder On Relationships
A diagnosis of borderline personality disorder can make a relationship extremely turbulent to navigate for both partners concerned. It often means there’s no stability or consistency in the connection. And due to the borderline being highly susceptible to emotional triggering, it can make any form of repair and reparation extremely difficult to explore. Added to this, because of the borderline’s tendency to withdraw, shut down, and manipulate, it can also make the use of constructive communication difficult. That is, of course, unless there’s an awareness and acceptance from the borderline that they need to learn effective coping strategies for use when triggered alongside effective communication strategies
Here are some of the more threads that are associated with BPD relationships:
Borderline Personality Disorder Relationships | Cheating
While there’s no definitive research that suggests cheating is symptomatic of BPD, there is a sense of impulsivity that can lead to sexual preoccupation. This in turn can often manifest as promiscuity. So while there’s no indication of cheating as a symptom, it can be a result of impulsivity. However, not all individuals with BPD are prone to cheating.
Borderline Personality Disorder Relationships | Unstable Dynamic
If you’re close to someone who has BPD, it can often feel like walking eggs shells, as you can never be sure where you stand with them. This is due to the ongoing cycles of adulation and vilification, which can often leave you feeling exhausted. It can also leave you feeling disorientated and possibly result in adopting people-pleasing tendencies to protect yourself from harm.
Borderline Personality Disorder Relationships | The Silent Treatment
The silent treatment is often used as a way of getting needs met. It’s also an unconscious effort to gain attention to alleviate the fear of abandonment. If the individual with BPD is withdrawing and garnering attention from a partner or friend due to their silence, then it’s far less likely they’re going to feel like they’ll be abandoned.
Borderline Personality Disorder Relationships | Manipulation
Manipulation has two sides to the narrative. There can be some very real attempts made by those with BPD to manipulate those around them to get their needs met. However, that manipulation is very much within the eyes of the beholder, as those manipulation tactics are also very much a symptom of the condition. Symptoms that result from not knowing how to correctly communicate what needs are most present for them.
4 Common Borderline Personality Disorder Relationship Dynamics
There are multiple dynamics we need to examine to properly contextualise borderline personality disorder and what it means from a relational standpoint. Although there are also four recognised types of borderline personality disorder, we’ll be looking at relational patterning from a broader outlook.
Borderline Personality Disorder Mother-Daughter Relationships
One of the most damaging expressions of BPD is the mother-daughter relationship, as the child raised by a mother with BPD will be imprinted with her patterning from birth. And since there isn’t the capacity to understand the treatment they receive isn’t due to anything they’ve done themselves, it leads to inter-generational trauma.
The primary parenting style of mothers with BPD is inconsistency. They often waiver between being way too overbearing and involved in their child’s life, or being way too disconnected and disinterested. This makes for a confusing and often chaotic upbringing, with children raised in this dynamic often having to assume the responsibility of having to ‘parent’ their mother.
Because of the intense needs of the mother, the child can often be forced into the role of the caregiver, meaning they’re forced to grow up before they’re ready. They often have to provide emotional support for their mother at a time in their life when they should be receiving the nurture and safety themselves. Reference points they’re unable to take into adulthood.
For example, a mother with BPD may use shame tactics on her daughter for growing up too quickly, as this means she’s losing her emotional support. This can often manifest when the child starts to go out socialising with friends, leaving their mother on her own. This can then lead to an expression of people-pleasing and putting others’ needs before her own.
Borderline Personality Disorder Romantic Relationships
Romantic relationships with those who have BPD are characterised by the classic push and pull often associated with the condition. Most romantic borderline relationships go through multiple stages that can be seen as a cycle which repeats over and over again unless one or both partners become both aware and motivated enough to intervene and create change.
All relationships go through a honeymoon stage, but with BPD relationships, this period is intensified dramatically and forms part of the idealisation part of the dynamic. The person with BPD may often mirror their partner’s behaviours or mannerisms.
But over time, cracks will begin to show in the relationship. The individual with BPD may start to show signs of excessive neediness, as they start to shift more into their dysfunctional patterning of stepping over boundaries in their requests because of their inability to self-source.
When those needs aren’t recognised, seen or heard, or met, the borderline may enter into an expression of withdrawing and withholding. They may weaponise certain parts of the dynamic, withholding sex or affection in an attempt to get their partner to conform to their needs.
When this strategy doesn’t work, it can – and often does – lead to escalation, as there is no other option left to get their needs met. This is the extension of the devaluing dynamic which began with the withdrawal and reaches a peak with the eventual break-up, before a return and reconciliation as the cycle starts again.
Borderline Personality Disorder And Narcissistic Relationships
There’s a well-documented history of narcissists and borderlines entering into relationships with one another, as each individual’s patterning plays into – and dovetails – with the needs of the other. For the borderline who uses connection as a form of regulation, they find their ‘clingy’ nature is well received by the narcissist who craves constant attention and adulation.
The borderline will often form quick attachments with people that plays into the narcissist’s hands. As the borderline finds it hard to fully detach from partners even if they’re unhealthy or toxic, they’ll often remain in these relationships way beyond the point that someone with more awareness would tolerate. This is down to their underlying fears of abandonment, which, in turn, cause them to find reasons not to leave.
The narcissist’s agenda in seeking out their ideal partner is to find a lover that will provide them with all the attention they require. They’re essentially looking for some who can fulfil the role of boosting their self-esteem. They don’t have time to wait to get to know the person on a deeper level. In fact, they don’t desire to truly know anything about their partner.
Their desire is for the instant gratification their partner can provide them, which is part of the externalising of getting their needs met. As they’re entirely unable to provide themselves with the love and validation they need, they seek it from others instead. However, since these motives are so shallow, they’ll often leave the relationship as quickly as they entered it. This can create an ongoing rebound effect between the narcissist and borderline.
The borderline will often seek reconnection with the narcissist being all too happy to receive more validation and instant gratification until they find someone more suitable.
Borderline Personality Disorder Interpersonal Relationships
Entering into a friendship with a borderline can feel like an exciting experience due to the heavy emphasis on idealisation at the beginning of the relationship. Because of the borderline’s ability to reflect back at people their most positive qualities, it can feel like there’s a true connection with them, as you feel seen and heard in a way you’ve rarely been in the past. But in reality, it’s simply a part of their expression of objectifying others.
Idealisation exists on one end of the spectrum of BPD, but it can often have a backfiring effect. Since the borderline has offered so much praise to their new friend, they’ll often place them on a pedestal. This then leads to the perception that they’re never going to get their needs met by this person because they’ve built them up in their mind so much. There’s a huge amount of expectation, which can rarely be fulfilled.
Another part of the dynamic within interpersonal relationships is the ‘favourite person.’ Because of the borderline’s need for consistent emotional support, they often form a relationship with a favourite person. This individual then becomes their number one source of support who they’ll reach out to over anyone else.
Once this connection has been formed, the borderline can often go to extreme lengths to maintain the connection. If there is an unhealthy enough dynamic due to the emotional instability of the borderline, they may step consistently step over the boundaries of others to get their needs met by their favourite person. They may issue threats if their needs aren’t met to get their favourite person’s attention.