Today we have a question from a reader about how to respond to a sudden breakup with a partner who has Borderline Personality Disorder. The reader has been kind enough to give us permission to post the question and our response so that others can benefit from them. We truly appreciate readers who provide such an opportunity.

If you have a question you’d like answered, please contact us. We will never post anything without your permission and, if you do allow us to post your question, will hide any identifying information that you do not want made public.

Now let’s begin with the reader’s question:

Hello,

My name is (name removed). I’m 20 years old. My girlfriend recently broke up with me on August 9th, 2011. We were together for 1 year and would of been 8 months on August 14th, 2011. I’m writing to see if I can get any direction. Let me explain.

She has Borderline Personality Disorder. At first the relationship was great, then she slowly started being mean, then she’d flip out on me every night over something stupid, and small. We lived together for about 1 year and 4-6 months in my parents house because she did nothing but complain about her family cause her mom is a alcoholic, she never knew her dad, her aunt is a backstabber and greedy and scummy. She praised her grandparents, even though her grandfather was a controlling, greedy, jerk. My family treated her amazing, let her live here for free, included her in everything. She had it good here.

Well, we kept fighting about her family, particularily that I didn’t agree with her grandfathers ways for he had recently done somethng rude to her, she did nothing but stick up for him. She kept trying to break up with me, however, I kept saying I’d change. A few days after all this went down, we was all normal. Everything was fine, she was talking about coming home to clean. She had things planned for months ahead of times. Even though I believe she talked bad to her family about me or told them I didn’t like them.

Everything was going fine, she texts me out of the blue and says, I think we should stay apart tonight. I replied, why are you being mean for? Next thing I know, she shows up with a big bag of chewing tobacco for me, and is all crying saying we need to talk. We go upstairs, she didn’t seem to know what to say, so she just said I can’t do this anymore. And I was like, why? Then a few minutes after she’s all crying histerically, she says there’s things about me that would make you hate me. She says she had a crush before me and has feelings for both of us. Which, I don’t believe, I think her family made her break up with me.

I know she had HUGE feelings for me. She always got me little presents, and she was ALWAYS here. She said she never had sex, then said she did off and on all the time. Well, it’s been a few days since then. I am upset about the happy memories we shared. Don’t know how to handle it. However, just a few days later, she texts me, last night actually, and said,”It’s (name removed), this ain’t my phone. I just wanted to let you know to to stop bothering me and stop trying to cause trouble and move on. I’m done completely, and never want to talk to you again or be friends with you so move on.”

Now, I haven’t said a single word to her. At all. I literally haven’t talked to her since that day she came to break up with me. And she came out of the blue and said that. My mom said it was probably her trying to get me to talk to her, to get a reaction. I just don’t understand, I didn’t ever hurt her in any way, never bothered her once after. Why’d she do that? It seems completely unfair and psychotic really.

The reader then sent the following short update:

Something new happened in these events. She had a “crush” before me. And he lives in Virginia. Turns out, he bought her a Greyhound ticket for the 19th of this month to go down there. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, he’s 22 and drinks alot. Has alot of friends. Smokes pot. She hates all of that though. Because of her alcoholic/drug addict mom. So I imagine she’s just running to him because the need for someone. She loves her family to much to possibly move there. I imagine it won’t last more than a week with them because she hates all of that. She’s only 20. So she’ll probably be back begging for me.

And now our response:

Dear Reader:

First, I’m very sorry to hear about this. I know breakups are painful in general and breakups with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder can be incredibly painful.

Now, before moving on to anything else, you have to stop and really understand the nature of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Many people are in relationships with people who have personality disorders, including BPD, but aren’t even aware of the disorder. So, for them, it can be even harder to make sense of the situation and figure out how to respond. You have the benefit of actually knowing that your ex has this condition. And you need to use that knowledge to make sense of this situation before deciding what to do.

People who have Borderline Personality Disorder are very emotionally unstable. Their brains simply don’t process emotions in the same way as emotionally healthy people’s brains do. One result of this is that they can’t be consistent when dealing with intimacy. So they can swing wildly from acting extremely loving to extremely angry and back again, sometimes within mere minutes, over and over. This can be very confusing because every time the relationship seems on the rocks, the next minute the partner with Borderline Personality Disorder can show up and act as if nothing ever happened and even be sweet and caring. So the other partner suddenly thinks things are fine again and, wanting desperately to believe that is true, begins to relax and enjoy the relationship again and indulge in those fantasies of how wonderful things are going to be.

But, as you may know from having been in this relationship for a while, for all intents and purposes we can say that it always swings back again in the other direction. Always. That is the nature of BPD. Back and forth. Back and forth.

BPD is not a minor issue. It’s a very deep and serious issue. For a condition to be classified as a personality disorder, it has to be deep and serious. What that means is that this person is extremely unlikely to change, and most likely will be unable to change, without committing to very intense therapy, probably for a long period of years. It doesn’t seem from what you say that your ex is doing any such thing and so, if you were to go back into the relationship, you could almost certainly expect to just keep going through this agonizing cycle repeatedly.

Imagine if your partner had a serious form of cancer and wasn’t getting consistent and high quality treatment for it. You wouldn’t expect them to be able to just suddenly cure it themselves, would you? And you certainly wouldn’t expect that you could cure it if you just loved them enough, right? Well the same is true with Borderline Personality Disorder. Your love cannot cure it. And without the proper treatment, your partner cannot just choose to change it and suddenly be consistent and caring and fair to you.

You see, at the heart of BPD is usually a serious trauma that the person has not resolved and may not even remember. And until they deal with the effects of that original trauma, which may have occurred early in childhood, long before you ever came into their life, they will not be able to commit to being a healthy partner.

As for the stories about the other relationship and your speculations about your ex’s family, the fact is that you may never really be sure what to believe. That is also the nature of Borderline Personality Disorder. People with this condition often tell various stories, change their stories, tell different stories to different people and so on. Sometimes even they themselves don’t quite know what the truth really is because they get so caught up in their own lies and different stories. You mentioned that your ex’s behavior seems psychotic. Well the reason it is called “Borderline” personality is that it is on the border between neurotic and psychotic and sometimes does lean over into the psychotic side of things. So you may not be far off in your assessment.

So now you are faced with a decision. I am sure you have strong feelings for this person and care about her deeply. And I’m sure that you want to help her. But you have to realize that you are not qualified to help her any more than you would be qualified to cure her cancer if she had that. Your ex has a serious disorder that you did not cause and cannot fix yourself and needs professional care for it. If she got that care and was totally committed to it, then she would have a chance of getting better over time. And it would be noble of you to stand by her as she did this if you were able to do so and if she was absolutely committed to recovery. It’s similar to sticking by an alcoholic as long as they have quit drinking and are going to AA meetings regularly, seeing a therapist and so on.

But unfortunately, it is relatively rare that someone with BPD will really commit fully to treatment. The ones that do that are to be admired and are great examples, but they are the exceptions. And again, you give no sign that this person is even thinking along those lines. If you want to offer your ex one last chance, then you could let her know that you can’t tolerate her behavior anymore, you want her to get help and that if she does you will stand by her.

But you are under no obligation to do that and, even if you did, the odds are slim that she would listen and suddenly make such a bold change. She might even just lash out at you even more aggressively. Apparently, your ex already knows that she has Borderline Personality Disorder so, if she isn’t dealing with it seriously, she may be in denial.

So as much as it hurts, and I know it can hurt incredibly badly, my advice is that your best bet is to appreciate that she did you a favor by telling you to stop talking to her. She gave you an easy out at the moment.

If I were you I would begin a “No Contact” policy immediately. That means:

  • Don’t call her
  • Don’t text her
  • Don’t email her
  • Don’t check her online profiles or sites
  • Don’t talk to her friends or family trying to find out information about her

No matter how much it hurts, you don’t make any contact with her or take any action to involve yourself in her life in any way. And you commit to this for a significant period of time, at least three or four months, if not longer, I would recommend. Yes it will hurt, sometimes terribly because you are, in a sense, withdrawing from an addiction to her. But that is alright, even healthy, to feel that pain and go through it.

Now you are actually correct that she may at some point, sooner or later, come back and want to talk again or even beg you to return to the relationship. In the community of BPD relationship experts, this is known as “hoovering.” That is why, before going No Contact, you may want to send her one last email just letting her know that you’ve decided to have no contact for a significant period of time because the situation has become unhealthy for you. That way, she will know why you aren’t responding if she contacts you later and you will not feel the need to break up the momentum of your no contact phase to inform her of it later.

Finally, what do you do during this no contact phase? That is really the key to your healing. This is a time to take back – to withdraw – all of the energy you’ve been focusing on trying to make sense of your ex’s erratic behavior and trying to help your ex and apply that same energy to understanding and helping yourself. You see, most likely, you have your own traumas and issues that you’d rather not face and deal with. And that’s a big part of the reason that you may have gotten involved in the first place with someone like your ex who is a constant distraction and always creating drama. As frustrating as dealing with a partner like that may be, it keeps you focused on their drama and not having to think of your own. This is the nature of codependence. With your partner out of the picture, now you will be forced to come face to face with yourself.

There are several things you should consider doing during this self-reflection time:

  1. Read good books about topics related to your breakup. Many of them are recommended on our site and in our Breakup Advice Bookstore.

    A few that you may find particularly beneficial right now are:

    How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern – This book will help you make sense of and get through the withdrawal pain you’re feeling right now shortly after the breakup.
    Keeping the Love You Find by Harville Hendrix Keeping the Love You Find by Harville Hendrix – This book will help explain the dynamics of why certain people are attracted to each other so you can fully understand why you attracted a person who is so unhealthy and why she attracted you. This will give you a lot of insight into yourself, what to work on to improve while you’re going through this healing period and what to look for in future relationships.
    Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody – A classic book about why certain people take on the role of trying to rescue their partners in relationships.

    Also, it could be especially helpful for you to read books about Borderline Personality Disorder so that you can understand more about what you went through with your ex and really come to see that the issues are deeper than you alone could have fixed.

    Here are a couple of good books about Borderline Personality Disorder:

  2. Look for online support groups about relevant issues such as codependence, where you can stay in communication with others who have gone through or are going through this kind of painful experience. It will help you learn a lot and also give you a place to turn when you need to talk so that you don’t end up breaking your No Contact policy to talk to your ex instead.

    You are especially lucky in this area. Many people refer to a person who themselves does not have Borderline Personality Disorder, but has been in a relationship with someone who does as a “Non.” You are a Non. And there is a great support forum for Nons. I highly recommend you seek support on that forum as you will learn a great deal from people who know exactly what you’re going through and how to help.

  3. Consider finding a therapist of your own to help you work through the issues that led to you being attracted to and attracting a person with BPD and to help you get through and process the pain of this breakup. Keeping the Love You Find can help you in learning about the type of therapist that might help you.

I know all of this can be somewhat overwhelming. And, as with any addictive situation, it hurts tremendously at first and the pain can even feel like it will never end. But this is actually a fantastic opportunity, if you do the things mentioned above, to grow enormously, become a healthier, stronger person, and ensure that your next relationship will be at least a bit better for you than this one. Years from now, you may look back on this as a huge learning experience and turning point in your life for the better.

Thanks so much for the question and for generously allowing us to share it with others who might benefit from it.

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2 Responses

  1. Glad he left Says:

    My bpd bf dumped me by text after 3andhalf yrs and ran away to live with a woman he met online behind my back.at first he was attentive,generous,loving.by the end he was nitpicking,verbally abusive,mean,bitter,cheating,lying,paranoid.he had also broke belongings of mine,headbutted a hole in my door,and im ashamed to admit,assaulted me 3 or 4 times.i could and should have had him arrested,but by then was so under the thumb and scared.i was devastated when he left.no goodbye,just a text.im 6months out.i see clearly now.i was abused by him.i dont envy the woman he left me for.i pity her.she doesnt know whats ahead.i regret knowing him.i was like pollyanna when we met.im so jaded now.many bpd know they are unwell,but just destroy people instead of getting help.get away,stay away.its a black hole of misery.dont let them drag u in2 it. I love the peace im getting now.never again

  2. Glad he left Says:

    Just to add,im an intelligent woman who would never at one time have stayed in such an abusive rs.but I was worn down by him.they go through 3 stages when in a rs. Idealise/devalue/discard.u put up with abuse yet they throw u away without a second thought when they find a replacement.u cant help them,u arent equiped,and its not yr job.they require medical help,its a genuine illness,just as much as cancer.even tho ive never heard from him since he left,im still scared.i wudnt want anyone 2 go thru what I did.get away,stay away.

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