Today we have another question from a reader.

This question is from a woman who had a long relationship with a partner who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) that ended after that partner cheated. The relationship was challenging, not only because of the involvement of BPD, but also because of this reader’s feeling it needed to be kept secret from her family for some time. Now that the relationship is over, she is struggling with codependent symptoms, “what ifs” and a sense of lost value – all very common in these kinds of relationships.

She writes:

Hi,

I’ve read things on your site about relationships with people with borderline. I dated my Ex for 4 years, and I am struggling now as it ended.

I caught her cheating on me, from the very start I told her there was only one thing she could do that would make me leave and it was cheating.

She told me from the start about all her prior relationships and how the ex did something wrong. SO i guess I went into it thinking I wont make the mistakes that they made. Yet I couldn’t tell my family that I was dating a girl, I keep our relationship a secret for over 2 years and I know that killed her.

We broke up once and while we split I did tell my family, we got back together but it only lasted for 4 months. She told me, she wasn’t happy that she felt like she tried and gave it everything she had. All the reasons she gave for ending it make sense. She said we have nothing in common, which isn’t totally true but it is in ways. That all we did was go to the gym, party and cook. We did other things to but that was alot of it.

I’m struggling to let her go, in my head I feel like she won’t come back cause she is scared. I know she’s seeing someone else already.

I guess I need help I think I became co-dependant how do I start to recover. All I can do is think about her, how if i was better it wouldn’t have ended? I keep wanting to contact her, like she’s a drug that I need to feel better about myself.

And our response:

Hi and thanks for your question. I really empathize with you as I know the ending of these relationships that involve a disorder like Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are especially painful.

In any breakup, there is always the question of whether the relationship is truly over (or should be over) or not. If the relationship has the potential to be a healthy one and there is a chance to continue it, then that possibility is worth considering. However, from your story, it sounds like this is a relationship that even you have determined should probably be over based on the cheating and the fact that you yourself feel there may not have been enough in common. So, while there are some things I could say about getting back together if the situation merited that, I am going to answer this as if the relationship is over and the subject is really about you handling the breakup optimally.

First of all, the last line of your email holds the key to the early phase of your recovery. Relationships between codependents and those with BPD really are quite addictive. So your early recovery model is quite similar to coming off of an addictive substance – namely the powerful neurochemicals that were produced while in the relationship. It involves simply refraining from going back to the drug long enough to process what is coming up.

I say “simply” but of course this requires a great deal of focus, effort and consistent habits. It is challenging and painful. But, during this phase, by not returning to the relationship, you will allow many insights and growth opportunities that were being suppressed to become available. It is really helpful in this phase to be working with someone who can help not only support you through this difficult period, but also help you glean all the developmental benefits you can which will then serve you later in all phases of your life and in ways you might not even expect at the moment. You can get through this withdrawal phase by reading as much as you can on the subject to keep yourself conscious and focused on recovery. But the ideal is really a therapist or coach who can reflect back to you in a very personal way that is customized to you.

In any case, the secret to these recoveries is getting through that initial phase, not running back to the relationship, and facing and processing all of the energies that surface – the energies the relationship was helping you avoid facing.

As you move through that early phase of recovery and into the later phases, you may be surprised as you realize that your ex was not really the issue, per se, but rather a symbol and a catalyst to push other aspects of your life into your awareness. In the later phases of recovery from this kind of relationship, you may find yourself becoming more clear about not only how to better approach future relationships, but about your past history, your family dynamics, your identity, and your life direction in many areas. You may eventually look back on this healing process as part of what helped you become who you are at that future date.

Here are just a few more points I’d like to add:

  • You mentioned how your ex would complain about her past exes and give you the impression that you may be the special person who would turn out to be different. This is a common story you will hear from people who were involved with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. And, if you are codependent, the notion of being the one who breaks their pattern of bad relationships and proves to them that wonderful love is possible will be an enticing one. However, very often, the past exes were put in the same position. And, in reality, none of you ever had a chance of making things turn out differently because the person with BPD, as part of the nature of their disorder, plays out a script in which they will sabotage the relationship regardless of how you are trying to make it better. In short, if your partner was truly BPD, there is likely little that you could have done to make it work unless she was working diligently in therapy of her own to heal the root sources of her BPD.
  • You mention that if your ex is a drug, the payoff of the drug is that you feel better about yourself. I interpret this as a self-esteem issue, which is also commonly revealed in these types of breakups. The partner fills a void and allows you to feel special and meaningful, perhaps in a way that you rarely have in your life. When they leave, since the special feeling was not internalized to yourself, it throws your assessment of your value into question. In recovery, it’s crucial to start building your own self-esteem, esteem that you have for yourself that is not dependent on someone else.
  • Since you had to hide the relationship from your family for a time, that indicates there is likely some family drama involved too which both led to why you were psychologically configured in such a way as to attract relationships like this, and probably needs to be explored as part of your recovery.
  • The fact that you are already aware of codependence and have considered that you might be experiencing that pattern shows that you are already somewhat conscious. That, combined with the fact that you are reaching out for help, bodes well for you as you move into recovering.
  • Give yourself time and practice patience. Healing from an intense relationship like this, especially a long-term one, is a process. 4 years is a long time to be with someone so intimately and it can sometimes take several months, at least, to start really feeling consistently stronger again. Focus on taking one step in the right direction at a time. And, even if the pain isn’t getting better immediately, continue taking those steps each day. Eventually, sometimes when you’ve forgotten to even notice, you’ll find your burden is lightening.

If you (or anyone reading this) would like support in working through any or all phases of this kind of recovery, I offer phone sessions to help with that. I have worked with people in this situation for many years and have a lot of particular experience with relationships involving disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I will help you make sense of the situation, offer intellectual and emotional support through the early painful phases, and – in the long run – help you turn what can be a painful nightmare into a chance to rebuild your life stronger than ever.

If you’d like to explore working with me, you can simply get in touch through the Contact Us page and we can discuss how I can best help you.

But wherever you turn for support, I hope that this advice will put you in the right frame of mind so that you will one day look back on this experience as a tremendous aid in your personal development.

Today we respond to a question from a reader.

She had an on-again/off-again relationship with a particular man over the course of many years. When they were together, the situation was often stormy and she was never really able to fully invest in the relationship and its potential. But now that he is seriously dating someone else again, she is really suffering realizing what she may have lost.

She writes:

I’ve been struggling with the loss of an ex lover/best friend for months now after he met someone else.

We had a complicated 12 year history. We met at work when we were both in other relationships. We got out of those but had trouble being in a real relationship with one another. He always wanted more than I did. I felt a lot of guilt about how we met.

When we finally started dating, I could feel his resentment toward me. We both met other people with whom we dated for a couple of years. We remained friends and at some point he expressed that he was still interested. Again, we broke up with others to try to be together and it was rocky. We had an amazing connection physically and psychologically. Very deep connection. But that made it more tumultuous when things weren’t going well.

He was always trying to get me to go to therapy to work on our issues and I would start looking for someone “better.” I always thought that something new, not filled with the history, would feel better.

In the last couple of years, he lost both of his parents. I didn’t know how to help him. He was so depressed and I selfishly didn’t want to be depressed as well as it just underscored the fact that our relationship was always so heavy. Rightfully so, he developed resentment toward me for that.

We grew apart last summer and in December he started dating someone we both met through mutual friends. I found out early February and have not handled it well. I tried getting him back but of course he said that seemed reactionary and he didn’t trust it. He told me that this new thing is light and fun and refreshing after everything we had. He told me he loves me very much and will always feel connected to me but he is so angry with me for everything. He said he wants to see where his new relationship goes.

He has been with her now for over 6 months and they seem serious. He doesn’t reach out to me anymore and we don’t talk. This is a man that I never lived with, but he lives a  block away and we talked or texted almost everyday. We were close on many levels and now it’s just gone. I cannot seem to get past the pain of losing him in my life and I realize now that I let something wonderful wilt before my eyes and now I can’t revive it. I want to let him go but I’m finding it impossible to do so. I’ve tried everything from reading books, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, etc. Nothing takes away the pain. How can this be? We never even had a normal relationship.

And our response:

It sounds to me like the two of you kept being drawn to each other because you had unfinished business to resolve together, but then, each time the opportunity to do this was there – perhaps by going to couples therapy or by actually doing a method like Imago together – you instead got triggered and upset and backed away again. This sounds like an example of the repetition compulsion playing out for both of you. I recommend you read this article to learn more about this. It seems like you yourself were often playing the “minimizer” role in this relationship which you can learn about there.

Now that he has strongly moved away from the relationship, the part of you that realizes you really do need someone like him to work through your issues with is hurt and scared. What if you never get another chance to work through your issues?

The “bad news” is that there is no guarantee of what this particular person will do. If you become very clear about how you’d want to proceed with him given another chance – for example, if you learn about Imago and commit that you’d want to work the program, perhaps along with seeing an Imago therapist together – it’s possible you could propose this to him and he might give things another chance now or in the future. But of course there is the possibility that he won’t. And that is something painful to accept.

The “good news,” though, is that, as much as the feelings may seem to be about him personally, they aren’t completely about him. He is a symbol, a representative of a type of person that your unconscious needs to work with to heal – the type of person you can project your unconscious onto for the purpose of growth and healing. He isn’t the only person that can serve this role. There are others out there.

So a possible way to approach it is this:

  1. Learn more about Imago and the way the repetition compulsion works in relationships. The article I mentioned above can help with this.
  2. Decide how you would want to proceed with this man differently given another chance so that the same cycle wouldn’t play out again and again, but you’d actually work to experience some real healing and resolution together.
  3. Decide if you want to propose this to him. If you do, I would recommend doing it in a way that communicates and accepts that this is his choice, that you can’t force him or pressure him into it and that, if he does choose to return, he would have to do it on his time when he feels comfortable. You could also suggest that he read about Imago too, but that also would be his choice whether he does that.
  4. If he returns, carry out this new plan with him. If he does not, instead spend that time, aided by a deeper understanding of Imago relationships, looking to get clearer on what it is about him that makes him such an attractive mate for you and seeking others that can play a similar role.

Having gone through this process, whether this partner returns or you eventually find another partner with whom you have the possibility of psychological resolution, you will be much more conscious and equipped this time to do what is necessary to achieve that resolution than you were in the past.

Finally, realize that underneath these strong attractions there are often wounds and traumas and neglects from your past and, while it can be difficult to fully resolve these by yourself, you will be healthier to the extent that you can work on them even on your own.

I hope this helps. And if you – or anyone reading – would like more direct and personal help, I do offer coaching so feel free to contact us and we can discuss working together. In coaching I would help you as much as possible myself, as well as be better able to determine what other resources I can recommend that might be helpful to you.

Today, we have a question from a reader who finds herself having been passed over for another woman – an event that has happened to her before and that, thus, has left her feeling devastated.

She writes:

I just turned 50. A year ago I decided to explore online dating after 10 years devoted to being a single mom. Still in the midst of coping with a painful rejection from a man I met there with whom I had a lot in common, but who decided there was ‘no chemistry’ after we explored a friendship (and was sexually impotent with me), I messaged another man who appeared to have similar values and interests. He responded very strongly that he was captivated by my profile and picture, and that he was soon moving to my city for a new job.

We chatted and emailed for 2 weeks. He was up front telling me that he was just out of a long term relationship and had some dates that went very well with another woman who lived here on a previous trip, but he wanted to meet me, too. ( I have always been skeptical of too much interest right away from men who don’t even know me yet, but he was incredibly romantic and charming and we just clicked even before we met.) We met/had our 1st date the day he moved here.

For 6 weeks he showed me everything I’ve never had in a man, and have been missing out on. Kind, attentive, respectful, passionate wonderful in bed, liked me for things I want to be liked for. I trusted him and started opening up with him in ways I have never before. Then I noticed him getting distant, and asked him if we needed to take a break, was he seeing/needed to see other people? (It was then I found out that he had been seeing the other woman he had mentioned all along, and he felt himself in a huge dilemma because he couldn’t be so close to 2 at once. He acknowledged that we were on the verge of an exclusive relationship. I felt like I was on an episode of the TV show “The Bachelor.” He chose the other woman, but indicated the he was ambivalent suggesting that we give it some time, see how we feel, he never has actually dated much (married for 14 years before his recent relationship) and needed to date. He said he felt dirty being involved with 2 women at such a level.

I was shellshocked, and incredibly sad. He was very kind and empathetic and apologized for hurting me. That only made it worse, because it showed his quality. I knew it was probably final, but hoped maybe in the future he’d come back. 3 weeks later, I impulsively initiated an online chat, he said he had been thinking of me, we talked on the phone briefly, and the next night I found flowers at my door that he had brought himself with a card that only said “I hope you’re doing well”. I emailed him a few days later that I missed him. He responded in a joking way. I then talked to him and was rather angry telling him the flowers were an ambiguous message and was there something unfinished between us or not? He said he didn’t mean to be ambiguous and “No”, but texted me a few days later wishing me well on a community event I was coordinating.

I feel like a fool, he was only being kind after he broke up with me, have been crying for 6 weeks now, am miserably depressed, think about him constantly, and check to see if he’s on the online dating site. He is. I can’t stop hoping there is still a possibility for us.

I am in despair about ever having a relationship. I am 50. I have had 2 other painful experiences in my life where men I was involved with have explicitly chosen another woman over me, and I know that is why this is so hard, in addition to the loneliness of the past 10 years. I am told I am very physically attractive, and young looking, and I get tons of online dating interest, but I can only think of him. It was only a 2 month relationship. What’s wrong with me to feel this pain so intensely? I have even started smoking again. Help.

And our response:

Hello and thanks for sharing your story. First of all, I’m very sorry to hear about this painful situation.

Here is my take on it and I don’t think it will surprise you. I think it’s something that you know but maybe just need to hear from another party to reinforce for you.

This man sounds like an honest man. He was up front about the fact that he was just out of a marriage and seeing other people in addition to you. He is in an exploration phase, unsure of even who he himself is at the moment, much less what he wants. I think that explains the sense of confusion around all of it. That confusion makes it difficult and can lead to people ending up hurt. But he was genuine enough to share this up front.

My sense is that being a caring person he really does feel badly about anyone getting hurt. But there was no simple way for that to be avoided. By being open with everyone involved (at least that’s what I’m gathering from your story) he did what he was responsible to do. Other than that it just sounds like a situation where it isn’t possible for everyone to win.

But, in the end, I feel like this is one of those situations where your best move is the same regardless of what is going on with him. Whether there is any hope of him coming back to you or not, in both cases it seems in your best interest to back off from the situation. Pressuring him would only make you seem less attractive and the other woman more attractive so it would probably diminish any hope that existed. And if he is sincere in telling you that there is actually not any chance of getting back together, then it would be a waste of energy.

If you needed to, I wouldn’t find it too much to simply prepare one last letter letting him know that you are interested and do want to be with him, but have to move on for now. After that I wouldn’t contact him anymore – certainly not in the foreseeable future until you were far past this pain.

At that point the focus becomes you and the terrible abandonment/inferiority that this is stirring up for you again. There are no magic words that I can say to fix that. But it does help to understand where those feelings come from. You mentioned having felt these feelings stirred up in earlier relationships where someone was chosen over you. Quite possibly this feeling of being passed over for someone else – of being “less than” – goes back even further.

The silver lining of these feelings is they can help us trace back to events that we have forgotten and not resolved and sometimes at least get some understanding if not resolution.

Sometimes I think these unearthings of painful feelings end up serving as nothing more than a strengthening phase. You can get through this hurt. It is almost a form of withdrawal. And if you take it day by day and work through it rather than run from it, it will pass in time leaving you even more resilient.

Some find it helpful as this withdrawal-like phase is going on to read books like those we recommend that validate those feelings and keep them aware of what is real and what is being magnified by the unresolved emotions reawakened from the past. Some find it helpful just to keep busy and distract so as to survive another day not going back to the source until they are strong enough to face the pain itself. And this can always be a good time to find a good therapist to help you through it.

I think this sets the stage for how to respond. If you (or anyone reading this) have any follow-up questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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