Managing BPD and Relationships

How BPD Can Make Having a Stable Relationship Difficult

Lynn Courey and recounts the life of her 20-year-old daughter Sasha Menu Courey with her 19-year-old. Credit: Lucas Oleniuk / Contributor / Getty Images

If you are in a relationship with someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD), you may find it is often tumultuous and chaotic. The effects of BPD on family members, friends, romantic partners and children can be very serious. By understanding the symptoms of BPD and potential treatment options, you can better support your loved one. 

The Impact of Symptoms on Borderline Relationships

Many of the symptoms of BPD can have a direct impact on relationships.

 In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the resource mental health professionals refer to when making a diagnosis, symptoms of BPD include "intense, unstable and conflicted personal relationships." Misplaced feelings of mistrust, paranoia, and fears of abandonment may place stress on your relationships. 

Another BPD symptom that impacts relationships is called “abandonment sensitivity.” This can lead those with BPD to be constantly watching for signs that someone may leave them and to interpret even a minor event as a sign that abandonment is imminent. The emotions may result in frantic efforts to avoid abandonment, such as pleading, public scenes and even physically preventing the other person from leaving. 

The combination of intense emotions and fear of a breakup can lead to relationships with severe ups and downs. People with BPD are often terrified that others will leave them.

However, they can also shift suddenly to feeling smothered and fearful of intimacy, which leads them to withdraw from relationships. The result is a constant back-and-forth between demands for love or attention and sudden withdrawal or isolation.

Other symptoms of BPD, including impulsivity, self-harm and dissociative symptoms, can have an indirect impact on borderline relationships.

For example, if a loved one with BPD is engaging in impulsive behaviors like going on spending sprees, it can cause major stress within the family.

Below you can learn more about symptoms of BPD that can have a dramatic impact on relationships:

Special Issues in Borderline Relationships

There are many different kinds of relationships, and each one carries with it a unique set of challenges. To learn more about the specific issues you may face in your  relationships, read these articles:

Trust and Safety in Borderline Relationships

Another common complaint of loved ones in borderline relationships is lying. While lying and deception are not part of the formal diagnostic criteria of BPD, many loved ones say lying is one of their biggest concerns; this can be because BPD causes the person to see things very differently than other people. To learn more about trust and safety issues in BPD relationships, read these articles:

Borderline Relationships and Treatment

Many loved ones want to know if there is any chance that their relationship can improve with treatment. The good news is that the prognosis for BPD is good. While most people with BPD do experience residual symptoms even after time and treatment, in the long term there is hope that your relationship with your loved one can improve.

In addition to treatments that are targeted toward the individual with BPD, there are other treatment options that aim to directly impact BPD relationships and families. The articles listed below cover the various treatment options available.

More on Making Borderline Relationships Work

In addition to formal treatment, there are strategies that you can use to help improve your relationship. To learn more about how to make BPD relationships work, check out this article:


Gunderson JG. “Disturbed Relationships as a Phenotype for Borderline Personality Disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry. 164(11):1637-1640, 2007.

American Psychiatric Association. "Borderline Personality Disorder". Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, 2013

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