Divorce is challenging for nearly any couple. However, divorcing someone who has borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be even more difficult. BPD is a mental illness characterized by a consistent pattern of ever-changing moods and behaviors. An individual with BPD will also change their self image unexpectedly.
Between 1.6 and 5.4 percent of people in the U.S. have BPD. Individuals who suffer from this condition have intense emotional outbursts and will usually act impulsively. This poses a serious problem in relationships. For instance, a person with borderline personality disorder can have bouts of rage, fall into a deep depression, and have a panic attack, all in a matter of days or weeks.
BPD affects the entire family. Having a relationship with a person who has BPD affects that person’s ability to reason, as well as their behavior and overall self-perception. So, if you let your mental ill spouse know that you want a divorce, they may start engaging in self-destructive behaviors, such as threatening suicide, using drugs, or getting drunk often.
If your spouse is not handling news of the divorce well and doesn’t have a support system outside of you, they may do drastic things to manipulate you into staying in the marriage.
It’s important to note that only trained professionals can accurately diagnose Borderline Personality Disorder. However, you should know some of the traits and signs so you can better navigate through this emotional time in your life.
According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5), someone must have at least five of the traits below to be diagnosed with BPD:
- Drastic efforts to avoid abandonment, whether the abandonment is real or imaginary
- A string of unstable relationships/displaying extreme fondness followed by burning hatred for someone
- An unreliable perception of self
- Impulsive actions in at least two categories that are self-sabotaging (i.e. drug use, sex, distracted driving, gambling/spending, over- or undereating).
- Threats of self-harm or suicide
- Extreme mood swings
- Feelings of emptiness and loneliness
- Fiery anger/difficulty keeping anger under control
- Paranoid ideation due to high stress levels
Trying to Talk to a Spouse with BPD During a Divorce
When you’ve decided to divorce a spouse with BPD, you can expect their behavior to be worse than usual. They may hurl insults at you, make false accusations, or threaten you once you’ve expressed that you want to end your marriage.
You’ll naturally want to defend yourself, but this will only worsen your spouse’s behavior. Keep in mind that someone with BPD can’t empathize with you, so they likely don’t know how you’re feeling and how their words and actions are affecting you.
It’s best to limit communication and only speak with your spouse when necessary. Keep your conversations as brief as possible and stick to the point, no matter how much they try to throw you off track. Don’t give your spouse extra attention if they start saying hurtful things, crying, or screaming at you.
Walk away if your spouse becomes physically aggressive or threatens to harm you. If you can’t have a productive conversation with them, talk to your attorney to establish guidelines that will help reduce some of the stress of the divorce.
Divorcing a spouse with a personality disorder presents greater challenges than if you were ending a marriage with someone who doesn’t have a psychological disorder. In addition to speaking with a family law attorney, you may want to keep regular appointments with a therapist or counselor so you can deal with the stress, fear, confusion, and anxiety that sometimes occurs when you’re trying to end a relationship with someone who suffers from BPD.