It is my pleasure to introduce the newest series, “My Partner With…” to QueerMentalHealth.org. Relationships can be a challenge for anyone, though they can be especially difficult when they are impacted by mental health issues. It is my hope that we can help others understand how to approach a partner’s mental health concerns. I’m starting this series off by talking about the issues that come up for myself and my partner, who has Borderline Personality Disorder.
If you were to get all your information about Borderline Personality Disorder by going to online support groups for partners of people with this condition, you would learn the following:
- Borderlines are always abusive
- Borderlines are always in denial
- Borderlines never take responsibility for their actions
- Borderlines will love you one minute, and hate you the next
- Relationships with borderlines are notoriously unstable
If all that were true, then I would be seriously doubting my partner’s diagnosis. In fact, sometimes I do. Other times, I’m left with no doubt whatsoever. But the fact remains that none of the above apply to my partner. She does have intense emotions, that much is true. She has her insecurities, especially fears that I would leave her. She has trust issues. Part of being with her is just understanding this part of her, and loving her exactly as she is, without expecting her to change for me.
Sometimes I do struggle with being with my partner – especially when she has an episode. I have bipolar disorder, and when her mood changes, it triggers my anxiety and depression. She pulls away from me, mostly because she is just so angry and doesn’t know how to cope. I know a part of her reason for pulling away is because she doesn’t want me to see what she is like when she is that upset. Another reason is she doesn’t want to take her anger out on me. I am very grateful for this, though I find it’s also the time when I want to be doing everything I can to help her and be there for her.
It helps that my partner is well aware of the fact that she has borderline personality disorder, and that she works hard at recovery and taking care of herself. She’s going through DBT, which as far as therapies go, is intense and requires a lot of self-motivation and effort. However, watching her practice the skills she is learning in DBT, I can appreciate just how hard she really does work at mastering these skills. I wish I’d had half her determination during both the times I went through CBT, or I’d be doing a lot better than I am right now. I’d probably have not needed that 2nd course of CBT.
I’m still trying to find my role in support. There are things that I can do, but the bulk of the work toward recovery has to be hers. DBT is all about self-care and mindfulness. I do try to ask her what she’s working on, and provide encouragement when I can, though ultimately it’s still her work to do. Sometimes the only way I can give her my support is to just stay out of the way and give her space. One thing that we’ve noticed is that when I am depressed and need my own support, it helps her to focus on being there for me. For me, I appreciate her support in getting through difficult times, and for her, it provides a distraction from her own emotions. Often, the reverse is also true.
Even though we have different conditions, we both battle with similar issues. Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder overlap in symptoms quite a bit, and they are frequently mis-diagnosed as each other. Our relationship works because there is a lot of mutual understanding. We have our bumps along the way, too – sometimes when she has an episode, my partner talks about wanting to leave me because she feels overwhelmed by being in a relationship. It’s when this happens that my depression kicks in and I fear that she really will leave this time…
We’ve been together for almost a year now, though, and we recently moved in together. Initially the move-in was pretty rocky as we adjusted to living with each other, and worked out the problems that come with moving in together. Ultimately, the move-in has far strengthened our relationship. Part of the reason we are stronger for it, is that before moving in, when she had an episode, she could just hide away from me for a few days, leaving me worried about what’s happening. Now that we live together, she can’t do that, so we’ve had to work together to learn how we can both handle episodes. Knowing what to do, and having more experience with her episodes has lessened my anxiety about our relationship, and I suspect she feels more secure too.
The bottom line is, we both treat each other very well, regardless of either of our respective mental illnesses. Every night before we go to sleep, we snuggle together by candlelight. We pay attention to each other’s needs, both in the bedroom and outside of it. We both do our best to not let ourselves get so wrapped up in our own issues that we overlook each other. It can be a lot of work being with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, and it can sometimes take a lot of patience, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. She is an incredibly kind and caring person, not just to me, but to everybody around her – sometimes even at the expense of her own needs. My partner means so much to me, and her love has most definitely made my world a brighter place.