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.

Many people ask how to fix a relationship. But there is no one single answer because there are so many different types of relationship problems.

We can start by dividing troubled relationships into two categories, however.

  • Category 1: Relationships where both partners are interesting in fixing relationship problems
  • Category 2: Relationships where one partner wants to fix the relationship and the other does not or is indifferent

Let’s start with the second category. If your relationship falls in this category and you’re reading this article, we can assume you are the partner that wants to know how to fix your relationship because you’re the one interested in doing so. Your partner is distant and does not seem willing to be active in the healing process.

In this situation, you first have to accept the frustrating reality that you cannot force another person to care no matter how strongly you care. You may be unable to persuade this person to participate in fixing the relationship.

However, even in that case, the best thing you can do is work on yourself. If you improve yourself, your partner may start to take notice. This is especially true because those who wish to fix relationships are often the partners that crave closeness while their partners crave space. As you begin to focus more on yourself, your partner will start to feel the breathing room and may relax and eventually seek a little more closeness.

Even in the worst case scenario where your partner never takes an interest again, you can end the relationship already on the path to becoming a stronger person by yourself and in future relationships.

But there are ways you might be able to encourage your partner to join in healing the relationship. One of the most important is to consider what their biggest fears in the relationship are and working to assuage them. Many times, the more distant partner fears engulfment or being overwhelmed by attention and demands on them. If you communicate to your partner that you understand their need for space and prove to them that you can respect it, then you may have more leverage to ask for them to participate in fixing the relationship when you are together.

There are few more frustrating situations to be in than to be in a relationship that you sincerely wish to fix and in which you are putting forth effort to do so with a partner who is unwilling to do his or her part. The bottom line is that you can only work on yourself, express your willingness to respect your partner’s space within reason and then ask them to please participate in the healing process. At that point you simply have to accept that other people make their choices and those choices have consequences. If you’ve done the best you can, then you can hold your head up high regardless of the outcome.

Now let’s consider the first category, in which both partners want to fix the relationship. In this case, it is all about communication and exploration. First you need to communicate to try to zero in on and define what the key problem is. There are many classic problems in relationships that usually stem from some dichotomy where the partners each fall on opposite sides.

We’ve already mentioned one such dichotomy in which one partner values closeness and the other space. Here are some other dichotomies that might be at play in your relationship trouble:

  • Wanting to go out more vs. stay in more
  • Wanting to spend money freely vs. save frugally
  • Wanting to analyze situations more vs. make spontaneous choices
  • Wanting things scheduled vs. wanting to play it by ear
  • Wanting strict rigid values vs. wanting tolerance and free thinking

Are any of these what has you at odds? If not, talk together about what difference really lies at the heart of your conflict.

Once you have the problem well-defined, then work to become conscious of where this difference began.

Some of these differences have to do with innate temperaments that cannot easily be changed. In that case, you should try to find ways to compromise so neither partner’s preference takes precedence all of the time.

Others of these differences are not innate, but were picked up in the course of your development. They may stem from the values of your families or from rebelling against those values. Try to become conscious of the path that led to these characteristics that are currently at odds. Can you remember the earliest instance of feeling that way? Tell each other your stories and you might find yourself gaining a great deal of compassion and compromising more naturally.

Regardless of the other details of your relationship difficulty, there are two recommendations that are just about always worthwhile.

  1. Whether alone or as a couple, find the best relationship therapist you can.
  2. Read, alone or together, Getting the Love You Want and the Getting the Love You Want Workbook. These books will bring you tremendous insight and offer you powerful tools that you can use by yourselves or along with a therapist. They will also help you in figuring out what kind of therapist would be most helpful to you.

Fixing a relationship can be a very complex, but rewarding, endeavor. Let us know in the comments section what you think about this topic. What approaches have worked or not worked for you in trying to figure out how to fix a relationship?

Today we have a question from a 17 year old girl who is struggling to get over a breakup with her 18 year old ex-boyfriend. As with all of our readers who give us permission to post their questions and our responses, we thank her.

If you wish to ask a question, contact us. If you are willing to allow us to post your question on the site, we will work with you to protect your privacy as needed.

The reader writes:

My boyfriend and I dated for about 1 1/2 years and it was great. We fought occasionally but they never gotten too bad. Then one day I was talking about the possibly of us going on break since things felt dull between us. He freaked out and we got into the worst fight ever! We screamed at each other and he said alot of hurtful things. We managed to be resolved three weeks later, but we stayed on “break”. Then off and on again with fighting. And then finally he broke up with me after I did something I never should’ve…I involved his mother (thinking she would help him see my side). Now my number’s blocked, I’m blocked on Facebook and he refuses to have any contact with me. But I can’t seem to let him go! It’s been 3 months and I can’t seem to go a day without thinking about him. HELP!!

She adds:

I do accept that it is over and I am having trouble moving on. I do hope we can get back together. It’s something I really really hope would happen. I do want to try and get him back, but at the same time I feel like I should move on…He obviously hates me.

And finally:

I’m 17 and he’s 18. My question is, how can I move on? Like, I want to, but there’s so much around me that reminds me of him and I constantly think of him without realizing it. How can I stop that? I understand that you never get over your first love, but if it’s gonna be like this then….no thanks!

And now our response:

Dear reader,

Without knowing a lot more about the two of you it is hard to say for sure what went on here. But from what you’ve mentioned, it sounds like the problems really hit a tipping point when you mentioned the possibility of taking a break. You say he “freaked out” and you got into a fight. This would seem to indicate that he had a fear of abandonment. A fear like that often comes due to past abandonments. I don’t know what his family situation or childhood history is. But if he has had close people in his past leave him or just felt uncared for or unwanted by any of them, he could be very sensitive to having someone raise the possibility of distancing as you did.

Then you got in touch with his mother. If his family issues are in any way connected to his abandonment issues, then contacting his mother may have just stirred the pot even more. Also, though it may seem paradoxical, many people who have fears of abandonment also have fears of engulfment, in other words, fears of being violated or smothered. He may have felt that you getting in touch with his mother crossed a line and was a boundary violation, which hurt his trust. And he also may have felt ganged up on that you tried to sort of recruit his mother to side with you against him.

In any case, now the relationship is over and, though you claim you still have some fantasies of getting him back, deep down you know you need to move on. And in fact, most likely, if he felt violated by you getting in touch with his mother, then obviously continuing to try to contact him would only make him feel even more smothered. So even if there was any hope of the relationship recovering in the future, at this point it would most likely be best that you give him his space and truly work on moving on as best you can.

So now to the heart of your question: How do you move on?

The first step is to try to gain some understanding of what happened. As I mentioned, a lot of the ups and downs in relationships, especially having to do with fears of abandonment and engulfment, happen because things going on in the present remind someone of the past. So what that means is that you shouldn’t take everything that happened personally. It may not have been such an awful thing for you to suggest a break in the relationship in itself. His reaction may partly have been because of his past, which you may not have even known about. He may not even realize himself why he reacted as intensely as he did so he would project all of that anger and fear onto you, even though you don’t deserve it all. While these things do happen, and you may not be able to change it sometimes, hopefully it can help you regain a little of your self-esteem to know that not all of the bad feelings in the relationship were really about you.

The second step is to understand what attachments are really about. Usually when someone is obsessing over a person, it is because that person hits certain psychological buttons for them or symbolizes something important. What that means is that, many times, even though it feels like all your desire and need is focused on that person himself, it really isn’t about him as much as what he symbolizes or brings up in you. In the future, when you’ve had more relationships and felt this kind of feeling more times, you’ll realize that it obviously can’t be just about the person since more than one person may bring those feelings up over the course of your life. So the point is to remind yourself that your feelings may tell you it’s all about him and you can never love anyone again, but know in your head that isn’t true. In time, with the right healing, your feelings will catch up with what your mind knows.

In order to get more insight and really understand what is going on, you might want to read about attraction, relationship dynamics and so on. There are lots of resources online and also you can take a look at the books we recommend in our bookstore.

The next step is to really accept that you are going to have No Contact with this person for the foreseeable future. In fact, try not to just accept that you can’t contact him because he has cut off communications. Make the decision for yourself that you are choosing not to contact him even if you could because you need that space to heal. The important thing for you is to realize that No Contact doesn’t only mean not talking to him. It means not putting energy into the relationship at all. It means not checking his Facebook. It means not asking other people about him. It means pouring your energy into processing your own feelings, reading and learning more about what really goes on in relationships and moving on with your life.

It will hurt because a lot of times you’re using the  relationship to distract you from your own pain and past issues. But once you choose to not focus on that other person anymore you come face to face with yourself. It hurts but it is a good thing as you can finally make sense of and process your own past issues. Having been in a relationship with him, you likely also have some issues with abandonment, engulfment and so on from your own family or close relationships. And now you can get some insight into that.

Don’t be harsh with yourself. If he pops in your mind trying to force yourself not to think about him won’t help. But just let it pass and refocus your mind again and again on yourself and your own feelings. Practice that skill of calmly refocusing even when your mind doesn’t want to. And this is also why it’s good to spend some of this time reading and researching to learn more about relationships since it will give your mind something else to focus on instead of directly on him while still addressing what you’re feeling in a constructive way, rather than by trying to avoid dealing with what you’re feeling altogether.

Finally, if you are having a real hard time therapy is an option to consider. A great therapist can help you work through what is keeping you stuck and help you grow from this experience.

I really hope this helps you deal with this difficult time. When you’re young these things can feel like they will last forever. But just know that in time this will pass and you have a lot of time and will have other opportunities to love again.

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