For those living in close relationship with a person who suffers with borderline personality disorder (BPD) it can become easy to lose perspective about what a healthy relationship actually looks like. The person with BPD often creates high levels of conflict in relationships and without being aware, engages in narcissistic behaviors. Below is a list (by no means conclusive) of what hallmarks healthy relationships contrasted with behaviors typical of the high-conflict individual with BPD.
One of the cornerstones of a healthy relationship is the ability of each partner to trust the other. Mutual honesty about feelings and expectations builds an intimate bond between people. Each person finds security in truly knowing the other person and being assured that they may be trusted with one’s deepest feelings. If honesty is the relational lynchpin, dishonesty is the quickest road to relational collapse. The person with BPD may suddenly turn on their partner in public and cause them to be embarrassed. They may try to turn others, including children against the other partner. Lying about the partner to close friends and family members is a way to exert control and poses no obstacle.
All school children are taught language, but not everyone learns how to communicate. In healthy relationships both sides know how to share intimate thoughts and emotions in a clear and non-threatening way. And since not all communication is verbal, healthy partners understand how to read non-verbal cues which add meaning to words and silences. They also realize that they may communicate unintentional messages if they do not pay attention to their own posture, tone, facial expressions etc.
The person with BPD, on the other hand, struggles to pick up on such social cues. Either their perception is out of whack such that they grossly misread cues, or they are completely oblivious to them. In either case, the person with BPD has a hard time regulating his/her emotional responses and doesn’t do well with non-verbal communication.
Demonstrating mutual respect is another hallmark of healthy relationships. By embracing differences, allowing for personal preferences and valuing those differences in the other person each shows regard and respect for the other. Healthy relationships do not begin by expecting that one partner will change to suit the other. The golden rule of treating others as we ourselves wish to be treated is like oil which keeps relationships running smoothly. By contrast, people with BPD may demand inordinate amounts of attention and admiration, may disparage their partner cruelly, may hold up and idealize their partner one moment only to knock them down the next. This one-sided relationship demands homage in one direction and offers unpredictable behavior in return.
Healthy relationships are characterized by a sense of oneness, yet allow for individuality including personal time. In strong relationships, partners look out for one another’s best interest and don’t give up when things get tough. Healthy partners realize that problems are never only one person’s fault and intentionally avoid keeping a record of past offenses. All of these things are challenging for the person with BPD.
Relationships are not doomed to failure when one partner struggles with BPD, but it is important to keep in mind what tendencies are there and always hold up the goal of healthy relationship that both parties should be aiming toward.