One of our page followers asks: “Is it possible for someone with BPD to have a normal relationship? If their partner can’t get what’s inside their mind…“
First of all, I have to say that “normal” is a very subjective word. I am not comfortable using the word here because there really is no such thing as a “normal relationship”. Every relationship has its strengths and weaknesses; it is how you deal with adversities when they happen that governs the health of your relationship.
“Normal” vs. “not normal” can also be a judgmental way to view ourselves; the idea that we are “not normal” already plagues many of us. There are healthy relationships, unhealthy relationships and a whole spectrum of relationships in between the two extremes. Some relationships are closer to the “healthy” end and some are closer to the “unhealthy” end.
Those of us experiencing BPD symptoms don’t have the market cornered on unhealthy relationships! Relationships can be very tricky to navigate, even if you don’t struggle with regulating your emotions. All any of us can do is strive to have the healthiest relationship we can. That is the framework I want to work with here, the relative “health” of a relationship.
As someone who struggles to maintain a relationship with their friends, family and even parents I never thought I would find myself in a healthy relationship with my spouse. Growing up and as a young adult I would vacillate between alternately loving and hating my parents, along with everyone else in my world. No one was in my world for very long, even as a child I didn’t maintain friendships more than weeks or months in length.
After age 13 I couldn’t even live with either of my parents for longer than a month or so. I couldn’t seem to live anywhere for long, I bounced between institutions, state homes and family members because I would either be kicked out or run away from each place within a short time. It was always after a relationship disturbance.
My first long term relationship as an adult was with a man who enjoyed messing with my mind. It was sometimes violent, always emotionally abusive and he would gaslight me (purposely do things to make me feel I was going insane, like tell me something happened that didn’t or deny that something happened when it did). We fought all the time because not only didn’t he care if he was upsetting me -he took joy in doing so.
I didn’t even know what BPD was yet, but my BPD symptoms were out of control during this relationship and for a long time afterwards. I tried killing myself the second time while with him as a desperate attempt to escape his abuse. I was saved from the relationship by going to prison during a severe breakdown. I was gone for 2 ½ years and he had moved on by the time I got home, thankfully. We had kids together though and he would continue to torture me for years, even after I married my husband.
I am a very open book; I don’t really hide much about myself so my husband knew all of my dirty little secrets before we got married. He knew I had emotional problems, he had actually heard of me before we met. We are from a very small town where he, his father and everyone else referred to me as “the crazy lady” before I met them. He also knew I was fresh out of prison by only a few months and on parole.
The beginning of our relationship was as exhilarating as any other new relationship, but there was a lot of struggles as well. The hardest thing for me to learn to deal with was someone who validated my feelings and didn’t ever try to upset me on purpose. When we did have disagreements I would yell and scream but he would just calmly try to help me through the situation. Sometimes his failure to react as emotionally out of control as I did was hard for me to take. I doubted his love during these times.
Somehow, my husband just seemed to “get” me. He instinctively seemed to understand that no matter how much I raged at him that it really wasn’t about him. He was able to see through all the anger and rage to the pain and hurt in my core. Occasionally my rages get to him and he will lash back at me, but it is rare. He was the first person in my life to see the “real me”, the wounded child who used violence and rage to protect herself.
Without this rare ability to see beyond my behavior, I really don’t think we would still be married (it will be 16 years this May). My anger and emotional instability would have been more than most other partners could have or would have put up with. Life was so chaotic back then that I am surprised that he didn’t run away dozens of times over the years.
My direct answer to this question (finally!) is that I believe that it is entirely possible for someone who deals with symptoms of BPD to have a healthy relationship. I have been living in one for over 15 years. As the partners dealing with BPD, we need to work as hard as we can to control our impulses and destructive behaviors though. It isn’t easy, but it can be done. Learning as much about ourselves as we can helps.
One of the ways we can address some of our relationship issues, once we identify them, is by having a Wellness Recovery Action Plan. Among other things, a WRAP plan includes a section where you identify your triggers and create an effective plan for dealing with it when the trigger happens. A WRAP is something you create for yourself and you can change it whenever necessary to keep it current and effective.
A few side notes about the WRAP. You can do a WRAP on your own or get someone to support you with it. The best time to work on your WRAP is when you are feeling good about yourself. (When you aren’t feeling your best it is harder to think in a hopeful way.) WRAP has several sections, you do not have to do them in order and you can work on it a little at a time. As the workbook says, the WRAP is a “living document” that grows and changes with you.
Getting your partner to help you recognize when you are falling into behavior patterns you want to avoid is another way you can increase the health of your relationship. I was speaking with BPDPOM page founder Melanie Janks-Carillo and she told me about some of the strategies that she and her husband have found successful for them:
“After 6 years of recovery I experienced another crisis. My husband and I had been through this before and knew we could make it through again, but this time we needed a better strategy for maintaining wellness. We agreed upon having words and phrases that would allow me to recognize when features of BPD were beginning to surface. These words and phrases were created by me with the understanding that I would not get angry when they were used, but would step back and evaluate what was going on. Cognitive distortions creep up on us and having my husband to help me be able to identify them before they become destructive is a big part of my recovery. Especially where relationships are concerned. If I am beginning to split someone he will sit me down and talk with me about what he is witnessing in my behavior. We have agreed that I will have a mind of openness. I must listen to him and think about things before reacting. We do this with the understating that in learning CBT/DBT skills there is practice, but never perfection.”
I also believe that our partners having an understanding of what makes us tick might be an essential ingredient for the relationship’s success. A huge helping of deep compassion and a willingness to work with us are also important, in my opinion. Relationships without these things might last but they won’t be very healthy. (You won’t be very happy either.)
If both of you are on the same page, have respect and love for each other I believe that a relationship can overcome just about any adversity. It takes work, from both partners, though. I found a few articles that offer some concrete tips on relationship strategies for couples where a partner experiences extreme emotions.