There seems to be a revolving door of crises at any given time. Just when things begin to slow down, another chaotic moment arises out of nowhere and demanding immediate attention. When the underlying cause is addressed, the spouse claims they have no responsibility for contributing to the disruption. They emotionally cite numerous external sources for the problem, some of which are very accurate. And so the pattern continues to repeat.
Is there a name for this? The name “Borderline” is not descriptive of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Rather, the old name of Chaotic Personality Disorder is more characteristic of the erratic behavioral pattern. Unfortunately, the DSM-V uses the name BPD. So what does it look like to be married to someone like this? Here are a few indicators.
- Constant fear of abandonment. The spouse makes numerous gestures and attempts to reassure the BPD spouse of their fidelity which work only temporarily. After a period of time, the intense fear of abandonment resurfaces with evidence from past, present, and predicted future behavior as justification for the distress. The BPD spouse does not have to have any rejection or desertion in their past to explain their trepidation. However, if they do, this only adds to the level of intensity.
- They love/hate their spouse. The BPD engages in a repetitive pattern of pushing away their spouse and pulling them in closer. They can do this verbally by assaulting, “You are the worst” and then hours later say, “You are the best.” Neither statement is vocalized casually or sarcastically. Rather it is very forceful and convincing leaving the spouse to believe they are headed for divorce.
- Can’t separate self from others. This momentary attachment onto others is not always about the spouse. When it is, the BPD is euphoric when the spouse is happy and depressed when the spouse is sad. There seems to be a lack of division in feelings and reaction between the BPD and those around them. However, this does not remain constant. It usually oscillates from a supportive connection to an oppositional response.
- Impulsive, self-damaging behaviors. There is a history of numerous spending sprees (into the thousands), heightened sexual activity, substance use and abuse, random shoplifting, reckless driving, and/or binge eating. Despite any consequences the BPD faced for these behaviors in the past, they continue to engage. The BPD will gladly explain their reasoning as to why the behavior is justified. The spouse will not understand.
- Suicidal threats. When the BPD feels backed into a corner or completely overwhelmed, they sometimes threaten suicide. On occasion, they may do self-harming behaviors such as cutting, overdosing, or even attempting suicide. There may be numerous hospitalizations in their history that provide short-term relief.
- Extreme and rapid depression, irritability or anxiety. One minute everything seems fine and then the next the BPD spouse becomes instantly depressed, irritable or anxious. This will not go away quickly rather it lasts from a few hours to a couple of days. The trigger event may not be noticeable to the spouse. The BPD has the ability to absorb their environment so literally any negative aspect could be very upsetting.
- They say they feel empty. While this is descriptive of a BPD, it is also the most self-aware statement that they could make. Imagine the BPD like a sponge with holes in it. Just like a sponge can absorb milk, water, or other liquids so a BPD can absorb their environment and the people around them. They are only able to do this because of the emptiness they feel inside. Often their mood will accurately reflect what is happening near them.
- Rapid escalation of anger. Very quickly the BPD spouse can escalate frustration into rage and go from yelling to hitting. This usually happens when they feel misunderstood, discounted, discarded, rejected, or deserted. The BPD spouse feels every emotion at such an extreme level so when they are attacked, the anger rises instantly as well.
- Stress-induced paranoia. When the anger and anxiety are not properly expressed and addressed, the BPD spouse feels overwhelmed, misunderstood, and insignificant. This feeling of worthlessness becomes powerful. In order to counteract those feelings, the BPD develops paranoid thoughts of their spouse or others around them. Once this stage has been reached, it takes an enormous amount of reassurance to reorient them.
All of these indicators can led the BPD to believe the worst is about to happen. The fear of abandonment combined with the intense emotions can make a marriage seem to be chaotic and unstable. It doesn’t have to be this way. The best part of this personality disorder is the ability for it to be managed successfully. Thus, the marriage can survive as well if both parties are willing to work on it.