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.

I’ve often heard people wonder why the person who they get the best relationship advice from is single. After all, if this person understands relationships so well, why aren’t they successfully having one?

It may sound logical that anyone who understands relationships well would be currently living out that understanding with a partner. But when you think about it more deeply, you realize that there are actually many reasons why a person, despite being single at the time, may offer a wealth of valuable insight to those dealing with a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or a breakup.

This isn’t to say that all single people offer great advice. Some really are single due to having poor understanding of relationships. Others are single for different reasons, but just happen not to be wise in this area. Also, there are plenty of people who have great relationships but, if asked how or why, wouldn’t be able to articulate it to anyone else.

Below are some reasons that great relationship advice can come from someone who is single:

  • Teaching and doing involve different skills – There are some great coaches in sports that aren’t actually great at playing that sport. The necessary abilities are different. Someone can have a great mind for strategy, but simply not be strong enough physically to enact it themselves, for example. There have been some great NBA coaches who were very small physically. They could never have made it in the NBA as players, but do a very good job as analysts and strategists. The same logic can apply to relationships.
  • Being single can allow for distance and objectivity – Sometimes when a person is not with a partner at the moment, they have an ability to see things more clearly since they are outside the dynamics of relationships looking in. This could especially be true if they’ve been in relationships before and now have experience from the inside and from the outside afterward, as well. They have now seen a relationship through all steps of the process from being single to courting to partnership to breaking up to being single again. This can allow them to have more knowledge than someone might have that has only been in a relationship and not yet gone through a breakup, for example.
  • Sometimes being single is evidence of relationship wisdom – There are plenty of times in life when the wise choice is to be single, at least for some period of time. Someone who constantly jumps into relationships or stays in a relationship that is unhealthy may not be single, but that doesn’t mean that they are making wise choices or know more about relationships than the single person. If a person is single for the wrong reasons or because they are making misguided choices, then this might be a sign that they are a poor person to take advice from. But many people are single for all the right reasons.


  • Singlehood may be wise for one person, while a relationship may be wise for another – Building on the previous point, everyone’s situation is different. Perhaps the single person is busy with work and school and doesn’t really have time to commit to a relationship at the moment, while the person they are advising has a less stressful life. The fact that the first person’s current situation is not conducive to a relationship right now doesn’t mean they are any less insightful when advising the second person.

    Or consider that the first person is simply less physically attractive so they are getting less opportunities coming their way. They may be wise to hold out until they meet someone that meets their standards. During this period, they may have a friend who is more physically attractive and receives more opportunities and could still offer them useful advice.

    What if a person had a traumatic childhood and has been in therapy to heal that? Remaining single for a while might be better than jumping prematurely into a relationship. And yet, especially as a result of being in therapy, they may have more insight than many of their friends who are rarely single. They might even have more insight because they took some time to be single and work with a therapist.

  • Relationship knowledge doesn’t only come from romantic relationships – A lot of the skills and insight needed to have a healthy relationship are the same whether it is with a relative, a friend or a lover. All of these situations require a capacity for honesty, communication, empathy, understanding and so on. A single person, even one who has never had a romantic relationship, might still have a great grasp on these capacities. Perhaps they grew up in a household in which their parents had a very healthy loving relationship with each other, as well as with their children, so these abilities were modeled for them their entire life. This might even explain why now, for all the right reasons, they have high standards that must be met before they will get into a relationship, even as it explains why they have knowledge about relationships that their other friends – perhaps from less emotionally healthy households and constantly acting out their dysfunction in unhealthy relationships – lack.

These are just some of the reasons that single people may, despite being single, be great at giving relationship advice. There are likely even more.

So if you have a single friend that offers you great advice but you worry about whether you should trust it just because they’re single, you might want to relax. Being single doesn’t necessarily make them any less qualified to have strong insight. If the content of what they’re advising you is beneficial and valuable, use it…and consider yourself lucky to have their support.

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.