How Borderline Personality Disorder Affects Relationships

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

How Borderline Personality Disorder Affects Relationships

Maintaining a relationship with a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is challenging. BPD causes a person to feel that he or she is not valued or worthy of love and affection. This belief creates an intense fear of abandonment. The fear of abandonment causes the affected person act destructively. Due to these beliefs and behavior, relationships are often strained.

A person with BPD will engage in unpredictable behavior. It is not uncommon for a person with BPD to have unexpected mood swings and behave aggressively. People with BPD will perceive innocuous sentiments, actions and words of others as personal attacks. This causes them to lash out through through verbal abuse.

BPD causes a person to act aggressively toward others, but that aggressive behavior is not always direct. It can often be passive-aggressive. This means the person may express anger or resentment through comments or indirect behaviors. A person with BPD who is upset about a significant other’s actions or words may respond with a verbal attack. This is accomplished by stating comments with alternate meanings, like “you just always have to be perfect, don’t you?”

A person with BPD may play the role of a victim when he or she feels wronged by another. A feature of BPD is not being able to see his or her own responsibility in personal issues. People with BPD tend to be overly sensitive, and will internalize things that are not about them. It is not uncommon for a person with BPD to perceive harmless words and actions of a person as a personal attack. This can be confusing for the significant other in a relationship. He or she will have difficulty understanding the motivation and intentions behind the hurtful words.

A person with borderline personality disorder may engage in behavior that is counter-intuitive. For example, an person with BPD will test a significant other’s limits by using aggressive or contentious behavior to push him or her away. The logic is typically that “I know he/she will leave so I will beat them to the punch”. The problem is that although they act on this logic, they are experiencing great distress of the thought of this coming to fruition. If this person does leave, the person with BPD will fall into emotional despair. This will be followed by extreme efforts to regain the sentiments of the person in question. The very idea of a person leaving him or her causes enough anxiety to engage in behavior that will make the feared outcome a reality.

All of these behaviors associated with BPD have a strong effect on relationships. It is difficult for a person with BPD to understand his or her own responsibility in relationship issues. A person with BPD does not realize is the mental and emotional damage his or her behavior creates.

It is recommended that people with BPD seek individual and couple’s counseling. Counseling will help a person with BPD understand how his or her self-esteem issues affect him or her. Couple’s counseling will help both parties establish healthy boundaries and communication skills. It will also help the significant other understand the meaning and core issue behind the destructive behavior.


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