How Does Borderline Personality Disorder Impact Relationships?

March 4, 2020 Hannah O'Grady

Having a relationship with a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD) tends to be thought of as a tumultuous endeavor. In my opinion, there continues to be an immense stigma and misunderstanding around mental illnesses in our society. However, when it comes to personality disorders, such as borderline personality disorder, this stigma can be much more intense. Sadly, I have seen how the chronicity of personality disorders has led to a resistance to treat, even among mental health professionals. Yet, those diagnosed with personality disorders have the capacity to create a life worth living and are worthy of all available and effective treatment. I currently work with individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and have found therapeutic interventions to be very rewarding, especially when it comes to interpersonal effectiveness and relationships.

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

As with all mental health diagnoses, it is hard to capture BPD in just one paragraph. For many, the diagnosis of BPD is marked by difficulties with emotion regulation. For example, those with BPD often have a heightened sensitivity, reactivity, and a slow return to emotional baseline. Other commonly discussed symptoms of BPD include fear of abandonment, unstable and intense relationships, suicidal ideation, and impulsive behaviors. (See all the symptoms of borderline personality disorder here).  

Borderline Personality Disorder's Effect on Relationships

Splitting in Relationships

Splitting, often defined as a defense mechanism in psychodynamic therapy, occurs when someone oscillates in valuing someone as totally good or totally bad. For example, people with BPD could feel as if they love their partner one day and hate them the next. (Read more about splitting in borderline personality disorder here). 

I have experienced this with some of my clients; if I miss a day of work because I am sick, some of my clients may accuse me of abandoning them, resulting in intense anger and even disgust towards me. However, by the next day, our rapport will be stronger than ever before. 

As a result of this splitting, some people may feel like they are walking on eggshells when it comes to partners with BPD. However, I do feel the need to clarify that not everyone with BPD shares the same characteristics when it comes to relationships. In fact, many people without BPD may also engage in splitting.

For example, when it comes to my personal relationships, I have undoubtedly engaged in splitting and have had partners say they feel as if they cannot say anything around me without me lashing out at them.

Fear of Abandonment 

As aforementioned, a criterion for BPD is an intense fear of abandonment when it comes to relationships. (Read more about this fear of abandonment here). Among my clients, I have seen these frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment include things such as pleading, begging, intense public displays of affection, etc. Again, not everyone with BPD engages in this behavior, and some people who engage in this behavior may not have a diagnosis of BPD. 

Relationships with Someone with BPD 

I have loved people with BPD in my personal life and have found my clients and loved ones with BPD to be some of the most caring and passionate individuals I have ever met. So often, my clients and friends diagnosed with BPD have faced a lifetime of invalidation from those they care about. Therefore, if you form a relationship with someone with BPD, seek to understand where the person's behaviors come from, and validate the intense emotions that this individual may be experiencing. Be honest, be a source of support, and drop the stigma, judgments, and pathologizing that so commonly accompanies this disorder. 

APA Reference
O'Grady, H. (2020, March 4). How Does Borderline Personality Disorder Impact Relationships?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 23 from

Author: Hannah O'Grady

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