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Can you have a healthy relationship with a borderline?

Having a romantic relationship with someone who has borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be challenging, but it is possible to have a healthy and fulfilling relationship if both partners are committed to communication, setting boundaries, and managing BPD symptoms.

What is borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition characterized by intense and unstable emotions, impulsive behavior, fear of abandonment, and unstable personal relationships. People with BPD often struggle to regulate their emotions and behavior. Their emotions can change very quickly and seem out of proportion to the situation. They also tend to view things in extremes, seeing people and situations as all good or all bad.

Common symptoms of BPD include:

  • Intense but short-lived emotional episodes
  • Fears of abandonment and rejection
  • Unstable self-image and sense of self
  • Impulsive and risky behaviors
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Intense anger and mood swings
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Explosive arguments
  • Feeling suspicious or out of touch with reality

People with BPD often have trouble maintaining stable relationships. Their emotional reactions and impulsive behaviors can push loved ones away. However, many people with BPD want to have close and meaningful relationships.

Challenges of dating someone with BPD

Dating someone with BPD can bring on a unique set of challenges you wouldn’t experience with someone without this condition. Some key difficulties can include:

  • Fear of abandonment – People with BPD commonly have an intense fear of abandonment. They may perceive relationship conflicts as threats and react strongly.
  • Unstable emotions – Their emotions can change radically from very positive to very negative in a short period of time. This emotional rollercoaster can be hard on partners.
  • Anger issues – Intense anger, conflicts, and criticism can arise. Their anger is often a response to perceived abandonment.
  • Impulsiveness – Impulsive behaviors like reckless spending, binge eating, substance abuse, risky sex, and dangerous driving can strain the relationship.
  • Self-harm – Some cope with their emotions by harming themselves. Witnessing this can be very distressing for romantic partners.
  • Distrust – They may occasionally feel suspicious or paranoid about their partner’s motives. This could stem from fears of being lied to, betrayed, or abandoned.
  • Attachment issues – Some desire intense closeness while others push their partner away. These attachment issues stem from earlier unstable relationships.

Despite these difficulties, many people with BPD are able to have happy and fulfilling relationships. It requires commitment, communication, boundaries, and managing the symptoms.

Tips for a healthy relationship

Having a stable relationship with someone who has BPD is possible by utilizing some key strategies:

Communicate openly and honestly

Frequent, open communication allows you to better understand your partner’s experiences. It also builds trust. Be open about your feelings, needs, and concerns. Encourage your partner to share openly too.

Validate their feelings

Accept and validate your partner’s emotional experiences, even if they seem irrational to you. This shows empathy. Avoid insulting, criticizing, or dismissing their feelings. Validate their emotions by saying things like:

  • “I understand this is upsetting for you.”
  • “You have every right to feel that way.”
  • “I would probably feel the same in your shoes.”

Set clear boundaries

Unhealthy BPD behaviors like lashing out need firm boundaries. Calmly explain what behaviors you will not accept. Leave if arguments escalate out of control. Make it clear verbal abuse, controlling behavior, or violence will not be tolerated.

Anticipate triggers

Try to anticipate situations that may trigger big emotional reactions like abandonment fears, jealousy, or anger. Prepare for these sensitivities so you can better cope when they arise.

Manage conflicts carefully

Remain calm during conflicts and resist reacting defensively. Express your feelings in a gentle way. Take a break if needed. Avoid harsh criticism. Focus on resolving the conflict in a fair, understanding way.

Encourage treatment

Gently suggest seeking professional treatment like psychotherapy and medication management. Treatment can help manage BPD symptoms. Offer your support in seeking help.

Practice self-care

Make sure to manage your own stress. The challenges of BPD relationships can take an emotional toll. Spend time doing activities you enjoy. Talk to trusted friends. Maintain your outside interests. Take breaks from the relationship if needed.

Get support

Consider joining a support group, meeting with a therapist, or talking to loved ones. Getting support can help you cope with the ups and downs.

Signs your partner is managing well

With effective treatment and self-care, your partner can better manage their BPD symptoms. Signs your partner is managing well include:

  • Taking medication and attending therapy consistently
  • Identifying triggers of big emotions
  • Using calming strategies when upset
  • Communicating needs and feelings effectively
  • Respecting your boundaries
  • Making positive lifestyle changes like avoiding drugs and alcohol
  • Showing empathy for your experiences and needs

When to seek outside help

In severe cases involving high risk or abuse, reaching out for professional intervention may become necessary:

  • Therapy – Encourage your partner to start therapy with a psychologist who specializes in BPD treatment. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is often very effective.
  • psychiatrist – Consulting a psychiatrist can help determine if medication could help manage intense BPD mood swings and impulsivity.
  • Crisis resources – If your partner is in crisis due to suicidal thoughts, self-harm urges, or feeling out of touch with reality, contact emergency services, call a hotline, or take them to the emergency room.
  • Abuse helplines – If you are experiencing verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in the relationship, call a domestic abuse hotline to speak to an advocate for guidance on staying safe.
  • Support groups – Local and online support groups for loved ones of those with BPD can provide guidance on setting boundaries.

Establishing relationship dealbreakers

It’s important to establish clear dealbreakers and limits. Consider professional help or ending the relationship if your partner:

  • Refuses treatment for BPD symptoms causing harm
  • Engages in infidelity or substance abuse
  • Displays abusive behaviors
  • Violates major agreed upon relationship boundaries
  • Will not take steps to manage their BPD constructively

Let your partner know specific behaviors you won’t tolerate and the relationship cannot continue without change. Follow through if they cross your stated limits.

When to end the relationship

Ending a romantic relationship is always difficult. With BPD, it may be best to move on if your partner:

  • Becomes physically or emotionally abusive
  • Refuses to acknowledge troubling behaviors or get help
  • Violates major relationship boundaries you’ve both agreed to
  • Causes constant dramatic crises you cannot cope with
  • Makes you feel exhausted, unhappy, and emotionally drained despite your efforts
  • Unwilling to compromise or have a healthy give-and-take

Leaving any relationship should be handled with care. With BPD, it’s wise to seek guidance from a mental health professional on the healthiest way to leave while managing their sensitivities.

Tips for leaving a borderline partner

If you’ve decided ending the relationship is right for you, some tips to leave sensitively include:

  • Break the news gently, clearly, and with empathy
  • Offer to remain friends, if appropriate
  • Suggest constructive ways they can move forward
  • Remove yourself from dangerous situations
  • Get help from counselors, family, or law enforcement if needed for safety
  • Block contact if needed to manage drama and threats
  • Accept their anger non-defensively without engaging
  • Know you may need to detach completely for self-preservation

Leaving compassionately while setting boundaries can help, but your well-being has to come first. Seek outside support if needed.

Can a relationship with a borderline work long-term?

Many couples with a borderline partner do stay together long-term and can achieve relationship satisfaction. According to one study:

  • 75% of those with BPD had long-term relationships averaging 6 years.
  • The majority of couples felt they had good relationship quality.
  • Greater emotional stability and agreeableness in partners helps.

Success factors for lasting relationships with borderlines include:

  • Both partners being strongly committed to making it work.
  • The non-BPD partner having healthy self-esteem and relationship skills.
  • The person with BPD actively managing symptoms.
  • Having good communication, trust, flexibility, and support.
  • Maintaining satisfying intimacy and shared activities.
  • The non-BPD partner having outside interests and support.

Long-lasting relationships are possible with effort, compassion, and professional help. But both people need to be dedicated to the relationship’s health and stability.

Professional relationship counseling

Seeking counseling together from a therapist experienced in BPD can significantly help the relationship in many ways:

  • Learning better communication skills and conflict resolution
  • Identifying triggers and developing coping strategies
  • Encouraging constructive support and accountability
  • Improving intimacy and trust
  • Establishing healthy boundaries and expectations
  • Promoting self-care and stress management
  • Reducing destructive behavioral patterns
  • Developing a stable partnership plan

An experienced couples counselor provides guidance tailored to the challenges of BPD. Online or in-person counseling offers an objective outside perspective.

Borderline relationship stories and examples

Understanding real-life borderline relationship experiences can provide helpful perspective. Here are two examples of both a failed and successful relationship with someone who has BPD:

Example 1: A failed BPD relationship

John and Sarah had a tumultuous on-and-off relationship for three years. Sarah was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Her intense but unstable emotions impacted the relationship greatly. She would adore John and want to spend all her time with him. But minor issues would suddenly trigger extreme anger towards him. She engaged in emotionally abusive behavior by yelling insults at John and trying to isolate him from friends and family. Sarah refused to get counseling or medication to manage her BPD symptoms. John found himself feeling constantly anxious, walking on eggshells. Despite still loving Sarah, he ultimately ended the relationship due to the nonstop chaos.

Example 2: A successful BPD relationship

Lisa had borderline personality disorder. When she started dating Mark, she disclosed this early on. Mark appreciated her honesty and was compassionate towards her mental health struggles. With effective dialectical behavior therapy, Lisa learned skills to manage her emotions and impulsive urges. She worked hard to identify her triggers and calm herself during emotional episodes. Mark was caring, patient, and understanding. He set kind but firm boundaries around Lisa’s hurtful behaviors. They communicating openly and went to couples counseling periodically to keep improving their relationship. After 5 years, despite ongoing work, Mark and Lisa have a stable, loving relationship.


Having a romantic relationship with someone who has borderline personality disorder can involve unique challenges. While difficult, it is certainly possible for the relationship to be healthy, mutually fulfilling, and long-lasting. This requires compassion, communication, boundaries, professional treatment, and an ongoing commitment from both partners to make the relationship work. With effort and support, a meaningful connection can be maintained over the long term.