Tips for managing BPD symptoms in relationships

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Someone suffering from a borderline personality disorder is likely to have a difficult time regulating their emotions and behaviour. This can then disrupt relationships or make it harder to cope in a BPD relationship.

For people in a relationship with someone with BPD, or for anyone beginning such a relationship, we spoke with Dr Oluwagbenga Odeyemi from The Priory Hospital Woodbourne about how you can help support your partner and manage BPD symptoms within your relationship.

Recognising and managing BPD symptoms

Most borderline behaviour isn’t deliberate. While it can be difficult not to take the words and actions of a loved one personally, this can lead to higher levels of stress. Learning how to manage BPD in a relationship and how to cope with BPD is important, and there are some key behaviours to look out.

BPD behaviours that you are likely to see include:

  • Mood swings
  • Angry outbursts
  • Abandonment fears
  • Impulsive and irrational behaviours

Dr Oluwagbenga Odeyemi says “Having an understanding of what triggers these reactions in your loved one is an important part of maintaining your relationship; people with BPD traits often feel isolated and alone when a trigger event occurs, usually leading to a reliving of past traumas. Understanding this can improve your empathy and ability to provide support”.

Getting the right support for you

BPD in relationships can be challenging, but it's also important to take care of yourself when caring for someone with BPD in order to avoid burning out or becoming too stressed.

  • Spend time with family and friends – avoid isolation and instead spend time with people who listen to you and make you feel cared for.
  • Engage in hobbies – it isn’t selfish for you to take some time to relax and have some fun. This ability to take care of yourself and destress can actually better your BPD relationship.
  • Join support groups – talk to people who are in similar situations and understand what you are going through.
  • Look after yourself– eating well, exercise and getting good quality sleep can help you to better manage stress and your emotional wellbeing.

The phrase ’Charity begins at home’ rings true here; looking after yourself will empower you to help your loved one.

How to communicate with someone with borderline personality disorder:

Talking to someone with BPD can be testing at times, as their disorder can distort the messages they hear and those they try to express.

Here are strategies to help you communicate more effectively with your loved one:

  • Recognise the right time to start a conversation. If the person is being reactive, calmly postpone the discussion.
  • When you find the right time to talk, actively listen with no distractions. Try not to interrupt or redirect the conversation. Instead, show that you are listening by nodding and using small verbal comments. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying – just make it clear you are listening and acknowledging what they are saying.
  • Listen to the emotion your loved one is trying to communicate, rather focusing on the words that they are using.
  • Make your loved one feel heard – this isn’t a time to win an argument or prove them wrong, but it is a time to show them the help and support they need.
  • Try to remain calm even if your loved one starts to become reactive. If this happens, walk away to alleviate any stress and give you an opportunity to cool down.
  • Distract your loved one’s attention when emotions run high. Try something that is soothing, such as exercising, painting or even doing chores.
  • Talk about things other than BPD to give you both the opportunity to explore and communicate new interests and lighter subjects.

Dr Oluwagbenga Odeyemi explains “Like any relationship, two way communication is important, but indeed, sometimes a listening ear rather than an argument is more useful and uplifting for a loved one with BPD.”

How to set boundaries with borderline personality disorder:

Setting boundaries can be an effective way of helping someone with BPD manage their behaviour.

It is important to remember that there is no magic cure. Although there are treatments available to manage personality disorders, there are times that can still be challenging.

A person with BPD is likely to react the first time boundaries are put in place. So make sure that you are both calm when talking about boundaries for the first time. At this time, do the following:

  • Outline the behaviour that you will and will not condone. Try to reassure the person with BPD during your conversation.
  • Setting boundaries should be a process. Introduce them slowly over time rather than setting all limits in place on day one.
  • It is likely that your loved one will test the boundaries. Make sure you enforce the predetermined consequences, otherwise the boundaries will seem meaningless.

Dr Oluwagbenga Odeyemi believes that “healthy boundaries help to safeguard you and your loved one. Be prepared to be tested (usually not intentionally) as emotional regulation is not straightforward, but with practice and reinforcement, the desired goal can be achieved.”

Supporting someone with BPD

Borderline personality disorder treatment can be psychological (talking therapies) or can involve medication. Priory has hospitals and wellbeing centres that specialise in BPD treatment around the UK.

Our programmes are led by consultant psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists and mental health nurses, who aim to enable individuals to lead more positive lifestyles while reducing the level of risk to themselves and others.

This page was reviewed by Dr Oluwagbenga Odeyemi (MBBS, DoLS, CCT, MPH, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at The Priory Hospital Woodbourne

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