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Borderline personality disorders are hard on families

Sometimes divorces occur because a spouse has a borderline personality disorder (BPD) that makes him or her impossible to live with. Nevertheless, the disorder might be undiagnosed, or they still function well enough to hold a job as well as get joint allocation of decision making and parenting time rights. This means that you not only face the challenge of raising children as a divorced parent but one who has to deal with an unreliable co-parent with a disorder.

What are the symptoms?

These symptoms typically set in during early adulthood but may get milder as the person ages:

  • A pattern of intense yet unstable relationships where feeling veer from extreme idealization to sudden accusations that a partner is unloving or cruel.
  • Sudden changes in self-identity or self-image with new life goals where they see a spouse as bad or ignore them.
  • Minutes or hours pass where stress-related paranoia causes disconnection with reality.
  • Impulsive or dangerous behavior that includes spending sprees, gambling, reckless driving, unsafe sex, or leaving a good job or relationship.
  • Suicidal behavior or self-injury related to the potential loss or separation from loved ones.

A danger to the children

A parent who exhibits the above behavior occasionally or regularly can be a danger to their children. There is a physical danger if they act impulsively. There is also the idea where the parent can paint a negative picture of the other parent and anyone associated with them. The very act of attempting to physically separate in preparation for divorce may be a trigger. Abandonment is thought by many psychologists to be a factor of origination in the development of BPD.

What can you do?

The spouse may be triggered by certain behaviors, such as setting restrictions on what they can and cannot do with the children. Whether you are conscious of it or not, you likely have found some tricks for managing the behavior or avoiding the triggers.

According to experts, this is often done by empathizing, listening and acknowledging how they feel. Rather than the temptation of fighting fire with fire, spouses dealing with BPD also serve their best interests by managing their reactions and emotions. Essential tips to remember include:

  • Don’t take what they say and do personally
  • Calm yourself before speaking with them
  • Beware of them using their charm to turn others (including teachers, mental health workers or family) against you
  • Try to be as consistent as possible in your dealings with them
  • Practice self-care

Telling the kids

Children can be incredibly resilient and have a vast capacity for forgiveness, but it is best to explain the behavior using age-appropriate language. There is no point in lying about the behavior they see and experience, but explain it with kindness -- they have issues that can cause them to make bad choices.

Divorcing someone with BPD

Some with BPD can be impossible to live with or be married to, particularly if they refuse to get the help they need. If you are trying to provide a safe and stable environment for your children, it may be wise to contact a family law attorney to determine the best way to terminate the marriage while minimizing the damage this could cause.

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