Marriage to a spouse with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is tough, but divorcing one can be even tougher. Mrs. BPD is acutely sensitive to any real, or perceived, threat of abandonment. She has difficulty regulating her moods, making her prone to extreme reactions. Similar to narcissists, those with BPD have black-and-white worldviews: if they believe you’re on their side, you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if you look at them the wrong way five minutes later, you’re charred toast.
Mrs. BPD may not be as Machiavellian as her narcissistic counterpart, because she’s driven by emotions she can’t control. You can’t change your BPD spouse, but you can learn ways to defuse the conflict she incites and manage your own reactions to her.
- Keep your cool. Don’t let Mrs. BPD’s extreme emotions trigger yours. As nasty as her words can be, they’re actually an expression of hurt. If you realize that her feelings of abandonment underlie what she says, you may take things less personally. Because Mrs. BPD lacks insight, she doesn’t understand her pattern of creating drama. If you take the bait and lash back, she will perceive you as a threat, and respond with even more heightened emotional outbursts.
- Cultivate compassion. This may sound like a stretch, but having compassion for Mrs. BPD will help you communicate with her more effectively. BPDs have a history of feeling invalidated and unheard. They invite the very reaction they’re hoping to avoid with their volatile, unpredictable outbursts. Instead of getting angry, try imagining what it must feel like to be chronically afraid of abandonment. Having compassion doesn’t mean you coddle Mrs. BPD, but it may help you regulate your own feelings of anger so you don’t inflame conflict.
- Keep clear boundaries. Mrs. BPD has a fuzzy sense of boundaries. She’s not sure where she stops and you begin. This is why she may be possessive of the children: obstructing visitation, frequent calls to the kids during visitation, making them feel so responsible for her that they resist visitation with you. Trying to scare Mrs. BPD with threats of litigation or refusing to answer her emails/texts will just trigger her abandonment fears and make her more intrusive. Instead, let her know what you will and won’t allow: you will respond to no more than one email a day; she can have one, brief phone call with the children a day when they’re with you; you will follow the court order and expect her to do the same.
- Address bad-mouthing. Mrs. BPD needs others to confirm her distorted reality – that you’re evil/dangerous/a terrible person — so she may try to enlist “allies” by embarking on a smear campaign to discredit you and gain sympathy. You may need to correct false statements by talking with your child’s teachers, doctors, and mental health professionals (especially if a custody battle is brewing). When you present your side of the story, try to do so without slandering Mrs. BPD. You need to come off like the reasonable one. If your spouse has bad-mouthed you to the kids, explain that Mrs. BPD has trouble regulating her emotions, which leads her to make extreme statements. Acknowledge that your children are scared and anxious about what they’ve heard, and invite them to speak to you directly if they have concerns.
- Be assertive. If you spent your marriage walking on eggshells, you may be afraid to set limits with Mrs. BPD. If you refuse to accommodate her, will she poison the kids or trump up false abuse allegations? Maybe. Maybe not. Only one thing is certain: you can’t control what she does, and remaining passive will just encourage Mrs. BPD to steamroll over you. Unless you want to turn into a human pretzel, you need to assert yourself, adhere to your limits, and not back down. While you don’t want to argue with your ex, you do want to model appropriate assertiveness skills to your children. They need to learn that healthy relationships don’t involve being a doormat or pushing the other person around.
People with borderline personality disorder project their anger on to others. Don’t give your power away by reacting to someone else’s distorted interpretation of reality. You can’t change Mrs. BPD’s personality, but you can choose to behave in ways that minimize conflict and improve your quality of life.
Read our companion blog: How To Divorce Mr. Narcissistic Personality Disorder and please note that spouses with BPD and NPD can be either male or female.
When you divorce a high-conflict personality type, certain legal strategies may be more beneficial than others to keep conflict to a minimum throughout the process. Have questions about divorce? child custody? asset division? and more? We can help. Please contact us to schedule your initial consultation with one of our compassionate attorneys. Why wait to feel peace of mind? Call today: 888-888-0919.