Being in a relationship with a partner who has a mental illness such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) can pose substantial challenges. A person with BPD may experience significant mood changes that affect their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. While the condition can vary and treatment can minimize BPD symptoms in many cases, the condition is also a permanent one that will require lifelong management. Even with treatment, some people with BPD will experience the highs and lows that characterize this mental illness.
BPD is sometimes compared to a roller coaster ride, because of its ups and downs and twists and turns. The individual who has the disease, however, is not the only person who experiences BPD’s unexpected plunges of mood or the erratic and, sometimes, risk-taking behaviors. Their spouse or partner must also contend with the illness, which can affect them profoundly.
When one partner has BPD, many couples do find their own ways of navigating the illness and its telltale highs and lows. Therapy, medication, and even improving one’s understanding of mental illness can help couples achieve greater stability. However, many partners of individuals with spouses with BPD find it difficult–sometimes too stressful–to cope with the disease and the ways that it manifests in their loved one.
In many of these cases, some couples choose not to stay together. The reasons for splitting up can vary. For the partners of people with BPD, making the decision to end a relationship can be agonizing. On the other hand, circumstances may make continuing in the relationship impossible. How do you know if it’s time to leave a partner with BPD? Here we’ll explore that question.
Evaluate Your Own Mental Health
When a spouse has BPD, their feelings and moods are always in the spotlight, but what about yours? How do you feel as a result of caring for someone with this condition? How have your partner’s moods and behaviors affected your emotions? It’s not uncommon for spouses to feel alone with their worries and stresses. The stress and uncertainty associated with caring for the individual through their mood swings can take an emotional toll on a spouse.
Individuals with BPD experience fluctuations in energy levels that can affect a spouse’s life considerably. When a spouse or partner with BPD is experiencing low energy or is in the throes of a depressive phase, they may be unable to work or help manage other aspects of the household like caring for children or the home. Their spouse is left with all the responsibilities when their partner cannot meet them. Again, this can create chronic stress, and that can lead to the development of depression or other mental health disturbances.
Understanding Your Role as a Partner, Not a Therapist
If you’re married to a person with BPD, you may often find yourself in the role of caretaker. You may feel hypervigilant of your partner’s moods and behaviors. As a partner, you naturally want to assist your loved one and support them, but remember that you are a partner–not a mental health therapist. As a partner, it’s natural for you to want to experience an emotional connection to your spouse. Sometimes, this may not be possible. Sometimes this isn’t possible in relationships when no one has a mental illness. What will affect your decision is how you feel about your role and how it affects your own mental health and quality of life.
Options Before Leaving
Before ending your relationship, you may wish to consider some potentially helpful options that could alter your decision. In some cases, one or several of these options might improve the situation for both you and your spouse. Before leaving, consider:
As the spouse of a person with BPD, you can find support by attending counseling. A therapist can help you better understand the mental illness your loved one is experiencing. They may be able to help you manage your stress and find better strategies for coping with your situation while supporting your spouse. On the other hand, they may also validate your feelings about leaving the relationship as you explore the circumstances of your relationship.
Suggesting Treatment Options
Effective management is the key to longer periods of stability for individuals experiencing BPD. Exploring new treatments may improve the situation for your spouse as well as yourself. Talk to mental health professionals about strategies you can try to support your loved one and minimize the stress that you’re experiencing.
Discuss the Impact
Sometimes being the spouse of a person with BPD feels lonely because you leave so much left unsaid. You may find that you keep your feelings bottled up so that you don’t say something to hurt your loved one. After all, it is the disease that is at the root of what, so often, feels like chaos. Talk to your partner about your feelings. Hopefully, it will persuade them to focus on their treatment and strategies for managing their illness.
Determine if Intervention Is Best
Sometimes people who have BPD engage in behaviors that make staying in a relationship with them impossible or nearly impossible. Could an intervention that involves other family members or a professional help? Could an intervention help you persuade your spouse to attend treatment sessions, if they’ve stopped, or opt for more intensive care such as a stay in a mental health facility? This is a big decision, so be sure to consult mental health experts about how to initiate this process and if it’s, indeed, the right time for an intervention.
Making a Decision to Leave
When a person is considering leaving a relationship, it’s often fraught with misgivings and questions. Should you leave? When is it time to walk away? People may continue to experience tremendous love for their spouse and, yet, still feel that leaving the relationship is the only way to preserve their own well-being. How do you know it’s time to go?
High-Risk or Reckless Behaviors
When a spouse (whether with a mental illness or without one) engages in risky behaviors like gambling or extramarital affairs, it’s going to have a severe impact on their relationship with their spouse. It’s not uncommon for a spouse of someone with BPD to decide to leave when their own health or financial well-being is in jeopardy.
If your spouse is skipping their medication or refusing to attend their therapy sessions, you might feel compelled to go. Many people with BPD do skip their treatment during disease phases when they feel good. However, skipping treatment can lead to a greater frequency of mood changes that make it difficult to know what to expect from one day to another. If your loved one won’t get help, you may decide that you can no longer stay in the relationship.
Your Well-Being Is Threatened
If you are feeling perpetually anxious or depressed as a result of caring for your loved one with BPD, you might find it impossible to continue living in those circumstances. Caring for your loved one while maintaining the responsibilities of work, home, and family can erode your own mental well-being.
Facing Guilt after Leaving
Leaving a spouse suffering from a mental illness is a big decision. Afterward, you may experience intense bouts of guilt, especially as you find that your own life becomes more stable and you begin to feel better. Don’t try to deal with this emotional upheaval alone. Seek a qualified therapist or counselor who can help you cope with your guilt and develop strategies for rebuilding your life while dealing with the emotional fallout of ending a relationship.
Whether you’re trying to support your loved one with BPD or thinking about leaving them, meeting with a trained therapist who understands BPD and the many challenges can be critical support. Sometimes inpatient treatment for BPD may also be part of the solution. For more information about our mental health treatment program and BPD treatment at FHE Health, please reach out.