Divorce is difficult for almost any couple but divorcing a spouse with Borderline Personality Disorder may be exponentially more difficult. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental illness marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behavior. It is estimated that between 1.6 and 5.4 percent of the population suffers from BPD. Individuals with BPD experience intense emotions and often engage in impulsive actions and have problems in relationships. People with borderline personality disorder may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety and can lash out at their family members during these episodes. Relationships can deeply affect a person with BPD’s self-image, behavior and ability to function. The possibility of facing separation or divorce may lead to self-destructive behaviors, self-harm or suicidal thinking. If your spouse feels that your relationship is falling apart and that he or she does not have any support, your spouse may take drastic measures to ‘win’ you back or convince you to stay in your marriage.
Traits of Borderline Personality Disorder
While only a trained professional can properly diagnose someone with BPD, knowing some of the signs may help you deal with a partner with a BPD and better maneuver through a pending divorce.
There are nine criteria listed in the Diagnostic Statistic Manual (DSM-5) to determine whether someone has BPD. A person must present with five or more of the following:
- Desperate efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
- A pattern of unstable relationships switching between extremes of admiration and hatred.
- Unstable self-image.
- Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (such as spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving or binge-eating).
- Repeated suicidal behavior and threats or self-harm.
- Erratic mood swings.
- Chronic feelings of emptiness.
- Intense anger or difficulty controlling anger.
- Temporary, stress-related paranoid ideation or dissociative symptoms.
Communicating with a Spouse with BPD During Divorce
When divorcing a spouse with BPD, it is likely that they may become more reactive than usual and they may insult you, threaten you or make unfair accusations towards you. The natural response is to defend yourself and match the level of reactivity. However, as you have likely seen during your relationship, this may only exacerbate their behavior. You have to remind yourself that an individual with BPD has difficulty placing him or herself in a different person’s perspective and lashes out to seek attention. Your spouse with BPD may not have the insight or skills to appropriately respond to finding out and moving forward with divorce.
When divorcing a partner with BPD, try to limit unnecessary communication with your spouse as much as possible but when you do need to communicate, keep your conversations consistent and matter of fact. It might be easier to communicate in writing to ensure you stay on track with your discussions and can also stop communicating or take a break if your spouse becomes aggressive, angry or threatening. You should set structure and limits when communicating with your spouse and not give him or her extra attention if they are being reactive. If you find that communicating with your spouse in person is difficult and unproductive, your attorney can help set up guidelines or lines of communication which may mitigate some of the ongoing stress. Additionally, your attorney can provide you with tips to lessen the conflict when communicating with a spouse with BPD.
If you are facing divorce and have concerns about how to manage your spouse’s mental health during the divorce, working with a family law attorney at Goranson Bain may make the process more manageable.