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, in his late 20’s, started dating a 19 year old woman and seemed potentially headed for marriage. However, after a couple years, the relationship started to grow more unstable, leading to a painful breakup. He is struggling to deal with the aftermath, especially given their close proximity, and asks for some advice.

The reader has allowed us to post the question and response, which is always appreciated. As always, contact us if you’d like advice and we will be sure to respect your privacy by only posting your question with permission and with any changes you prefer to protect your anonymity.

The reader writes:

My girlfriend and I had a “break” which turned into a breakup. We were together two and half years and it was my first relationship. It wasn’t an ideal breakup either. She was 19 when we started dating and I was in my late 20′s. After about a year we were talking about marriage and future plans, but when she turned 21 she really started getting distracted and annoyed. Very quickly everything I said was dismissed or brushed aside like I was repeating myself. It wasn’t long after that she wanted a “break.” I thought she just needed time, maybe a year of fun with her friends, and it looked like that might be true because she started going out with her friends and having a blast. She still would say things like “why did we break up again?” or “maybe one day we’ll get back together.” She even said that one day we might get back together as soon as a month ago.

Now though, she has a new boyfriend and when we talk (once a month) she takes everything I say as some kind of insult or nosiness, and asks why I can’t just get over her. All of a sudden she can’t see me any other way. I’ve hit rock bottom so many times the last seven months. I had all kinds of trouble with anxiety and depression, I’ve lost all interest in everything, I feel nauseated often, and it doesn’t feel like this can end well. She’s gone now and I know I can’t talk to her because it’s too painful, but the thing is she works at my job. We work 40 feet from each other. Plus when I moved to this city our relationship took over my life. Everything about this area has a memory of her and I. I see these places everyday. What’s worse is she is a 5 minute drive from me. I drive by there all the time and see her family outside. What do I do? I’m going insane. She’s gone, but she’s not gone, she doesn’t want me, but I’m still in love with her.

And now our response:

Dear Reader:

First of all, I’m sorry you find yourself in such a painful situation. Breakups can really be devastating because they can dredge up difficult feelings from multiple levels at once.

The first thing that struck me upon reading your story is the ages. Your girlfriend was very young and likely at a point in life where she didn’t really know who she was. It’s common, even in healthy people, to still be forming one’s identity at 19-21 years old. So it’s entirely possible that she really felt your relationship was right at first and for a while thereafter, but then felt a drive leading her to explore elsewhere in order to develop other parts of herself before committing to any path and then some feelings of wanting to go back to you and so on, even going back and forth multiple times. There wasn’t the stability that there might be with an older more developed person. So that might partly explain why the ups and downs of this played out as they did.

Also, I notice that you were in your late 20′s when this started and therefore a significant bit older than her. I don’t raise that to say that there is necessarily anything wrong with that. There are certainly healthy wonderful relationships between people of those ages. But it is also sometimes the case that when a guy is more comfortable playing situations out with someone at that much younger, less developed age, he too has some unformed identity issues that put him at a similar level of maturity. You mentioned that in your late 20′s this was your first relationship. So that leads me to suspect that there is something to the notion that, despite the age gap, the level of development and maturity in certain areas may have been similar.

So the age issues alone may lead to some insight about what was going on there and why there was the instability.

It is sort of an archetypal situation, I think, where the inexperienced somewhat older guy becomes absolutely smitten with the lively exciting younger woman. And, in turn, the younger woman, at first, gets a real boost from this older guy noticing her and thinking she is special. Things can move very fast, with fantasies being thrown about and the feeling that all wounds are healed and all life will be wonderful from then on. But without the actual maturity to back it up, it is all built on sand and soon crumbles, leaving a lot of pain.

There is also the very slight possibility that some of the signs you mention point to something like Borderline Personality Disorder. I’m not saying she has that or not. I don’t have nearly enough information. And actually at this point I would say it’s not that likely just from what you said. But some of the things point to that a little, such as her unstable view of you and her apparent lack of empathy for why you are so hurt and expecting it to just go away simply because she suddenly has lost interest. Also, I think that sometimes issues like that are common in the older guy-younger woman situation. So that is just a possibility to consider, though certainly not anything solid. Honestly it sounds more like just the normal instability of a younger woman. But I wanted to just mention this so you can look into it more and see what you think.

Now it sounds like this has all left you in a very painful place. It is possible you are experiencing a sort of withdrawal, rather than just typical healthy heartbreak or depression. A lot of the things you mention point to that.

So there are some things I’d recommend.

First of all, as hard as it is, it is probably best for you to accept and even decide for yourself that it is over with her once and for all – that even if she wanted to come back you are no longer willing. I know this is hard to do as you probably harbor many fantasies of her running back to you and how everything would magically be ok. And it’s certainly possible to put together some scheme to valiantly try to win her back. But keep in mind that realistically, even if she came back, she is still the same person at basically the same level of stability and would likely go back and forth again putting you through hell. Also this is someone who, from what you say, seems to lack much empathy for you when you’re going through a rough time. Obviously you’re very attracted to her, but that attraction doesn’t mean she is healthy for you.

And so try to remember this as you decide to accept that the relationship is over and that it is likely best for you, even when your body and your emotions may tell you otherwise at the moment. It is possible that she will grow more and in a few years realize that you really were right for each other. But even if that did happen, it still wouldn’t help you right now to focus on that. It would still be better for you to decide that this is over and give yourself that clarity so you can heal. Whatever will happen years from now can likely only be helped by you treating the situation, for any foreseeable future, as done. If she already knows how you feel, knows you’d like to reunite and is with someone else and treating your pain as a nuisance, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve said your peace and can accept it’s over without worrying that you left some great possibility unexplored.

Second, it may help you at this time to pour yourself into seeking insight and understanding about what you’re going through. There are a couple of books we recommend often that might help you a great deal right now.

How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern How to Break Your Addiction to a Person by Howard Halpern – This book may really open your eyes about why the breakup is taking the toll on you it is, down to the level of feeling nausea and so on.
Keeping the Love You Find by Harville Hendrix Keeping the Love You Find by Harville Hendrix – This book will give you some deep revelations about why you were attracted to this person in particular, what was psychologically driving you two together, as well as apart, and how you can work on some of these issues to heal and prepare for another relationship in the future.

You are a late bloomer and didn’t have your first relationship until late, and so I imagine part of your pain is the feeling you can never find anyone like this again. Her attention and attraction to you made you feel special and boosted your ego. And losing that is like losing a drug in your system in a way. But you can certainly have other relationships in the future. Some of us have been through multiple breakups, each of them feeling like the end of life, and after a few you realize that the feelings are coming from somewhere important but that, without some interpretation skills, it isn’t always easy to correctly decipher their message. Those books will give you a lot of understanding about that.

Finally, you do have a very tough logistical situation. I would absolutely recommend full No Contact at this stage, even cutting off the once a month talks, to give you the space to heal. But you seem unable to really do that completely. I can only advise that you do as much of it as you can and, when forced to come into contact, use some way of internally protecting yourself, like focusing on something else in your mind as best you can. Your situation reminds me of that song “Always Something There”.  It’s really a hard one.

If things do get severe enough and continue long enough, though, then I would recommend your next step be to find a therapist who specializes in relationship and attachment type issues and possibly even relationship addiction. They would understand what you’re going through. And the next step, which if necessary you could discuss with that therapist, is to consider if you need to move, perhaps even just temporarily, to give you the space you need. That may not be necessary and with time you may find this easing up, especially as you look at some of the resources I’ve recommended and understand what is going on and heal up some. But it’s a possibility for the future if needed.

The last thing is just to have a little faith that there are all of these options to help you get through this and you really can do it and you’re not alone. Breakups, especially when there are the kinds of self-esteem and identity issues this may have involved, can lead to feelings of hopelessness. You feel like it will never end and you will never feel any joy or security again. But there are millions of people who can attest that, in a few years, you’ll probably look back on this with a little remorse, but have it in better perspective and actually be stronger than you are now if you use the experience for healing.

Thanks for writing and best of luck

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