Borderline Personality and Marriage

Can you make your borderline personality marriage work?

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Many different kinds of close relationships are affected by borderline personality disorder (BPD), but perhaps none more than the borderline personality marriage. More specifically, marriages in which either one or both partner has BPD can be very tumultuous, conflict-laden, and dysfunctional. 

Learn more about how your marriage may be affected by BPD, and how you and your partner (surprisingly) may not be destined for divorce as you likely would have thought.

Borderline Personality Marriage: Statistics

Studies of marital status in people with BPD have found that about 60 percent are married (these studies were done in people with average ages around 40 years old). This suggests that people with BPD are less likely to be married than those in the general population—in the United States, about 85 percent of people are married by age 40.

Unexpectedly, people with BPD do not have higher divorce rates than the general population. By an average age of about 40, the divorce rate for people with BPD is around 35 percent, and this is comparable to the divorce rate for the average U.S. citizen. However, people with BPD are far less likely to remarry after a divorce. In fact, only about 10 percent of people with BPD get remarried by around age 40 which is nearly half the national rate of remarriage.

Borderline Personality Marriage: Quality Matters

One way to judge whether BPD marriages can be successful is by the divorce rate.

Using this as a measure of “success,” it appears that BPD marriages are no more or less successful than the average marriage. However, this does not take into account the quality of the marriage or the satisfaction of the partners.

Unfortunately, there is limited hard research data on the quality of BPD marriages.

Of the research done, one study found a positive link between the severity of BPD symptoms and marital violence and distress. This means that the more severe a person's BPD symptoms are (for example, fear of abandonment or intense and frequent mood changes) the more likely there is violence, in addition to overall trouble in the marriage.

Another study found that BPD symptoms were linked to poor problem-solving and communication skills in a marriage. 

There is more scientific data on romantic relationships and BPD which offers some potential insight. Research has shown that BPD symptoms are associated with greater chronic stress, more frequent conflicts, and less partner satisfaction in romantic relationships.

Some experts have suggested that the quality of a BPD marriage depends a great deal on the personality of the non-BPD partner. For example, one expert Joel Paris, MD, who is an internationally recognized expert in BPD, has written that women with BPD tend to choose narcissistic men as their spouses. 

In these marriages, Dr. Paris notes, the narcissistic husband initially finds his BPD wife attractive, but later becomes abusive or abandoning. It's important to note there is currently no research on this pattern that Dr. Paris describes.

That said, there is research suggesting that people with BPD symptoms tend to marry partners who also report BPD symptoms—a phenomenon called assortative mating. 

A Word From Verywell

The take-home message here is that even though divorce rates are not as high as one might except in BPD marriages, because of the interpersonal issues involved in BPD (including extreme fear of abandonment), divorce can be particularly stressful for a person with BPD and their spouse. 

With that, it's clear that people in BPD marriages may be in need of special support. In addition to the BPD partner being in treatment, it may be helpful to seek out marital or family therapy to keep the marriage relationship and family functioning intact.

Sources:

Kreider RM, Fields JM. NumberTiming and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 2009. US Census Bureau, Issued Feb. 2011.

Lavner JA, Lamkin J, Miller JD. Borderline personality disorder symptoms and newlyweds' observed communication, partner characteristics, and longitudinal marital outcomes. J Abnorm Psychol. 2015 Nov;124(4):975-81.

Whisman MA, Schonbrun YC. Social consequences of borderline personality disorder symptoms in a population-based survey: marital distress, marital violence, and marital disruption. J Pers Disord. 2009 Aug;23(4):410-5.

Zanarini MC, Frankenburg FR, Reich DB, Wedig MM, Conkey LC, Fitzmaurice GM. The course of marriage/sustained cohabitation and parenthood among borderline patients followed prospectively for 16 years. J Pers Disord. 2015 Feb;29(1):62-70.

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