Many couples blame their relationship issues on a host of problems including infidelity, communication breakdown and abuse among others. Little do they know that borderline personality disorder (BPD) could be to blame for their woes.

So what is borderline personality disorder (BPD)? This is a mental illness marked by inappropriate or extreme emotional reactions, highly impulsive behaviour and a history of unstable relationships. It may seem appropriate and justified by the person experiencing these symptoms to an extent that they get comfortable with the condition, blaming every other person but themselves for the problems in the relationship. BPD may affect schooling, jobs and even maintaining relationships for a long period of time.

Lack of empathy, feeling of isolation and boredom, hostility and unstable career plans and goals are just but a few of the characteristics associated with this disorder.

How does BPD affect relationships?

Fear of rejection: Most people who suffer from BPD have a difficulty in holding onto relationships for fear of being rejected. They have a tendency of jumping into conclusions and selectively pick emotional cues from conversations and interactions to support their fear of the relationship crumbling.

They also pay close attention to how people treat them while taking people’s behaviour personal. This, they claim, will help them avoid feeling empty and angry once they are actually rejected. By doing this, they tend to put themselves in a “cocoon” alienating their partners and jeopardizing the relationship.

They have unrealistic expectations: People with BPD want relationships to be everything to them such that they can satisfy each and every desire they have; be it emotional or interpersonal. They tend to seek perfection in a relationship, which is unrealistic as no relationship is perfect.

Such expectations may create conflicts with their partners leading to anger, confusion and misunderstandings, which eventually lead to breakup.

Lack of “a little” argument in their vocabulary: No relationship is bereft of arguments and petty misunderstandings. These petty issues are usually ironed out in no time for many couples. However, in relationships where one party has BPD, a simple argument can lead to an emotional breakdown and even a breakup. This puts a lot of pressure on the part of the partner as they get worried that they may hurt the person with BPD due to the “small” issue. It also makes the partner extra cautious on how to deal with them leading to a relationship deprived of fun to avoid upsetting them.

They can get from 10 to zero really fast: People suffering from this disorder have intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days. They tend to see people differently in different situations, idolising one at one given time and completely devaluing them in a different situation.

Treating borderline personality disorder

Understanding that your partner has BPD is the first step to having a healthy relationship. Knowing when to stop an argument and whenever they are on a “redline” would help to prevent emotional breakdown.

Therapy has also been found to be helpful with a keen emphasis on family involvement to help better understand the person you are dealing with. The family members are also advised to know more about the disease to enable them handle the patients well. They can get knowledge on the disorder through consulting reading materials and online publications touching on BPD.

However, caution should be taken in situations where the patient wants to have a session alone. Insisting on sitting together may not solve anything if they are not willing and, therefore, the need to carefully introduce the idea to them.

Some patients may require treatment through psychotherapy – a range of mental treatments that help a patient understand their feelings, what makes them feel positive, anxious and/or depressed.

After such treatments, many patients reveal that they have been able to find satisfaction through healthy interpersonal relationships and social involvements.