Dealing with an ex who has borderline personality disorder (BPD), the other B-word, can be trying. The experience can become amplified if you have children together and must speak to your ex often.
So how can you communicate effectively with someone who suffers from borderline personality disorder so that your interactions are civil, not B-like (the B-word you know), and productive? I have a few suggestions. But first, do you know what borderline personality disorder is?
What is borderline personality disorder?
BPD, formerly known as emotional dysregulation disorder, is a mental condition characterized by instability in behaviors, moods, and relationships. It is diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional based on an individual’s symptoms. A person with BPD may have intense mood swings, experiencing emotions that can include anger, depression, or anxiety, and last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
They may also view the world only in extremes, alternating between idealizing a friend or romantic partner, showing them with love and affection, and devaluing this same person, thinking of them as the absolute worst person and an enemy. These regularly changing feelings may result in unstable and intense relationships.
People with BPD also tend to fear abandonment, so they may make strong efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. That may include quickly starting new relationships or “ghosting” before the other person has the chance to abandon them first.
People with BPD may also be highly impulsive, exhibiting behaviors such as reckless driving, going on spending sprees, practicing unsafe sex, abusing substances, and binge eating.
Other characteristics of individuals who have BPD include being unsure of their place in the world or core identity, resulting in regularly changing interests, values, or appearance. This characteristic stems from an unstable sense of self, as well as a chronic sense of emptiness.
On a more dangerous note, people with BPD may practice self-harming behaviors such as cutting, and they may regularly experience recurring suicidal thoughts and behaviors. They may make suicidal threats.
These behaviors make dealing with an ex who has BPD particularly difficult. Additionally, the unstable and unreliable behaviors may make co-parenting a challenging and emotionally taxing task. Below are some tips you could adopt to help maintain a functional relationship with your ex and maintain your boundaries.
When your ex gets unnecessarily angry over a conflict and throws a bunch of insults your way, it might feel tempting or even justified to throw insults right back and match his or her level of anger. But that will be unproductive for you, your ex, and potentially your children, and will result in additional stress and lots of heartache.
It’s important to remember that people with BPD have feelings, too, and want to be understood and heard. When your ex starts acting this way, try to look past the emotions and understand what your ex is trying to convey. And while doing this, try to validate your ex’s feelings, even if you feel that they are unreasonable. Then, from there, you may be able to have a more sensible conversation about your conflict.
Regulate your emotions.
A classic pattern for those who have BPD is to bring emotional intensity to many social interactions. This behavior translates to conversations about seemingly innocuous issues having heightened emotional stakes. So, be mindful of the possible things your ex could say to trigger you and do not let yourself be baited by those things when your ex does try to provoke you.
It may help if you practice self-care techniques or coping skills before talking to your ex to keep yourself calm and level-headed. And try not to get angry when they try to get you to react; once you react, your ex will have more leverage against you and thrive on the theatrics.
Be consistent with boundaries.
People with BPD tend to have poor boundaries, as they may not see a line where they end and the next person begins. Therefore, you need to be extremely clear about your boundaries, repeat them often, and stick with them. Continue to be empathetic and validate your ex’s feelings so that you are more easily able to cooperate in your divorce or successfully co-parent.
Managing an ex with BPD can be mentally taxing, so it’s critical to make sure that you’re doing OK regularly. If you’re feeling stressed or worn out, take some time to enjoy a hobby. Alternatively, you could practice relaxing activities such as meditation to bring your cortisol levels down.
It might also make sense for you to hire a therapist who can help teach you additional coping strategies for dealing with your ex. After all, you need to be feeling your best to deal with the problems the world throws at you, especially conflicts with your borderline ex.
Elise Buie, Esq. is a Seattle-based family and divorce lawyer and founder of the Elise Buie Family Law Group. A champion for maintaining civility throughout the divorce process, Elise advocates for her clients and the best interests of their children, helping them move forward with dignity and from a position of strength.