Today we respond to another reader with questions about the breakup of a relationship with a partner with Borderline Personality Disorder. The questions come from Justin.

Justin writes:

To whom it may concern,

I have been left by my BPD ex, she cheated on me and is already seeing someone else. Her spot in our bed isn’t even cold and she’s already with someone else. As many people have said our relationship had ups and downs. At times she would rip me a new one with her words and I would just take it cause I was raised not to yell at a woman.

My questions I would like answered:

  1. If I want her back, is my best bet to act like I don’t?
  2. Are all BPD’s the same? She left her ex for me……Am I just next in line?
  3. Can you ever talk them back or is that it?

And our response:

Justin,

First of all, it is classic Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) for her to already be seeing someone else. People with BPD have not yet developed a solid core identity. So they rely on others to provide that. Therefore, being alone is terrifying for them. So people with BPD will commonly line up their next attachment before leaving a previous one. And they will move on to the next person very quickly. So quickly that it is shocking to the Non – the partner in the relationship who does not have BPD.

It sounds like there are elements of your upbringing that led you to be vulnerable to tolerating the type of unacceptable behavior that a BPD partner will sometimes level at you. So it may be worth it for you to investigate those past experiences and work on them in your own healing process.

To answer your questions.

  1. In terms of getting her back, there are no guarantees. People with BPD are quite unpredictable and chaotic. So it may be that nothing you do will get her back. And it may be that she will come back again almost regardless of what you do.

    Usually, though, when someone with BPD leaves a relationship it is because they are in the stage where they are feeling “engulfed.” In other words, they are feeling too enmeshed and close and wanting space. They run to another relationship that is in a different exciting stage. Often, once that relationship becomes enmeshing, they may run from that one in the same way. So, given that she most likely left due to feeling engulfed, if you want her to come back I think your best bet is to let her know you’re available if she wants to talk and then give her her space. Anything more will most likely just raise the feeling of engulfment and close her off further.

    Of course, I must add what you probably already know. Even if you do get her back, if she isn’t in serious committed treatment for her disorder, the pattern is likely to just play out again. This is known as “recycling.” So you might want to think long and hard about what you would require of her to consider having a relationship with her again because without her taking certain committed steps, it may just turn out even more painful later.


  1. All people with Borderline Personality Disorder are the same in certain core elements. For example, I believe they all (or, if not, then almost all) have some underlying trauma that generated the defense mechanisms we see in BPD. Obviously, in order to all fall under the same label as having the same disorder, they must all have some things in common. However, there are 9 symptoms of BPD listed in the DSM-IV and a person only needs to have 5 of those to qualify for diagnosis. That means that people with BPD can have quite a lot of different combinations of symptoms in comparison with each other. So the answer is yes and no. They are all the same in some ways and quite different from each other in others. (You can read about the different styles of BPD, for example, in this book.)

    However, the push/pull dynamic in relationships is one of those elements that I think is almost universal with people with BPD. So yes I do think it’s likely that what she did with her ex is what she has done with you and what she may do with the person after. That’s not a guarantee. But it is likely. And even if she does break the pattern and actually stay with someone, there is likely push/pull within the interaction in some way and you can bet that, if she is untreated, the relationship will be highly intense and dramatic.

  2. People with BPD have a very unstable sense of self. Their very identity can seem to shift from one time to another. So when you ask whether you can talk them back, the answer is that you never know for sure. It depends on what part of their identity they are connected with at any given moment, what other attachments they have going on at the time you communicate, and what exactly you say. It requires a perfect storm to come together to get the outcome you want. But then, even if you do, soon the sands can simply shift beneath your feet. One of the few consistent things with someone with BPD, until they get treatment, is inconsistency itself.

    Your best bet for talking her back will be when she is alone again or is feeling trapped in her next relationship and looking for exits. But you have to ask yourself, if someone is coming back to you just because their latest relationship is feeling stifling, just as yours once did, do you really want them back under those conditions?

As always, I hope this helps. And if you’d like more direct and personal attention, just contact us and we can discuss whether you’d benefit from some coaching sessions.

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 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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