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How Do You Deal with Divorcing a Spouse with Borderline Personality?

Man with the many faces of a borderline personality

Any divorce is difficult. There are emotions, often changes in where you are living, if children are involved, they are dealing with feelings while you are trying to process your own, among other significant life changes. However if you are divorcing a spouse with Borderline Personality disorder, trying to resolve your case through settlement and working through co-parenting issues can be even more difficult when you are dealing with a parenting partner who has borderline personality disorder. Even people who have a well-managed or well-controlled condition or personality disorder will often have exacerbated conditions and difficulties when going through significant life changes such as a break-up of a relationship or a divorce.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?

Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that is characterized by ongoing patterns of varying moods, self-image and behaviors. Often, people with borderline personality disorder struggle with impulse control/impulsive actions, intense or irrational episodes of anger, depression and anxiety. Frequently, the difficult symptoms experienced from borderline personality disorder can last from a few hours to a few days. There are many subtypes of BPD that can be diagnosed, but all of the sub-types of BPD have in common a general inability of the person diagnosed to self-regulate and stabilize their own emotions and impulse control. Often people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder struggle with their view of themselves, their role or place in the world and impulsiveness sand uncertainty. When people diagnosed with borderline personality struggle with their own sense of self and where they belong in the world, naturally, the struggle, often intensely with relationships and meaningful connections with others. While people with borderline personality disorder can learn to control and reduce their symptoms, they often continue to be difficult to live with and have meaningful relationships with. In many family dynamics, the burden of a person with borderline personality disorder struggling with their relationship with their partner and their child or children becomes so difficult that the family dynamic cannot be maintained in status quo.

How do people with Borderline Personality Disorder Know they Have the Condition/Disorder?

Commonly, this condition begins to appear and show symptoms during late adolescence or early adult years. Often, people with borderline personality disorder are initially diagnosed with anxiety, depression, substance abuse or other impulse control disorders (such as attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or even a different personality disorder initially. For many people, the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder is often overlooked and can be difficult to diagnose in the absence of a complete battery of psychological testing or a psychiatrist or other qualified mental health professional being involved with the individual on a long-term basis. Sadly, when the individual is not correctly diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, the person’s recovery is delayed or prevented. Many people have significant stigma around this condition as there is no “simple cure” or solution or treatment that works for all persons diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Largely, each individual has to be assessed, on an individual basis, based on his or her needs, condition and likely effective treatment options. 5.9% of Americans are diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, however, so it affects approximately 1 in 20 people.

What Causes Borderline Personality Disorder?

This is not yet fully known, generally it is believed at the present time that genetics plays a role, as well as other environmental factors, often believed that social, cultural or traumatic childhood experiences could create a role in an individual developing borderline personality disorder. If you are dealing with a partner with borderline personality disorder, the more you can educate yourself on appropriate ways to deal and interact with the other person, the more you will be able to achieve a successful divorce or family court process. Additionally, working with an attorney who is familiar with and understands borderline personality disorder will greatly aid you in developing a legal strategy and plan that will maximize effectiveness given the reality of the situation.

What are the Symptoms that You Most Often Deal with When Your Partner has Borderline Personality Disorder?

  1. They will often view everything in an “extreme”- you and other things or people, including children are either “all bad” or “all good”;
  2. They have rapidly changing opinions of others, often relationships go from good to bad in a single day or even in the matter of hours;
  3. They will have intense and unstable relationships that seem to cause rapidly shifting feels and lack of impulse control. Often this is why people with BPD have affairs and then deeply regret it shortly thereafter;
  4. They are intensely fearful of abandonment, often their fear of abandonment is imagined, however, they will sometimes cut off relationships in a pre-emptive effort to avoid false fears of abandonment;
  5. They will often have relationships that rapidly swing between extreme closeness and extreme anger/unhappiness;
  6. They have a distorted sense of their self or self-image and will often have sudden excessively negative beliefs about themselves;
  7. They will often engage in self-harming behaviors;
  8. They will often have suicidal ideations, thoughts and threats;
  9. They will often engage in impulsive and dangerous/excessively risky behaviors such as abusing substances, unsafe sex, spending sprees, reckless driving and other similar things;
  10. They will experience rapidly changing moods that cycle in hours or days;
  11. They will display inappropriate, intense and excessive anger and experience difficulty controlling their anger;
  12. They will often have chronic feelings of emptiness and despair, often for this symptom, they are misdiagnosed initially with depression;
  13. They will feel disassociated or detached from reality;
  14. They have irrational fears or expressions of emotions and extreme difficulty in trusting others.

How Does Borderline Personality Disorder Often affect a Divorce or Other Breakup Situation?

Due to the lack of impulse control and emotional regulation, often people with borderline personality disorder will get noticeably worse during a breakup or divorce situation. The higher levels of stress in the situation, coupled with the emotional turmoil they are experiencing and the manifestation of the dissolving relationship exacerbating their fear of rejection, they face the ultimate “abandonment” that they have been most afraid of for months or years. This, in their minds often fulfills the deepest fears that they have over rejection and never being good enough. Often people with borderline personality disorder are no longer able to function at a high level and they don’t know how to control themselves or the situation and thus, their impulse control becomes severely inhibited. When they deal with the stressors and factors of the divorce, they do not know how to control their feelings, when to control or display them and thus, they will often have some significant impulsive, unfiltered, unmanaged displays of irrational behavior or anger. In some situations, as they realize their poor behaviors and how they may affect the outcome of their case, their behavior will further spiral and sometimes resulting in deep depression or anxiety symptoms, as well.

Another significant difficulty a person with borderline personality has when going through divorce is the inability to self-soothe. In times of stress, such as a litigation process, they do not know how to control their behaviors and make better choices. They will often begin using unreasonable negotiations, such as bargaining their unstable emotions as a way to manipulate the other spouse to “give in” to other things that should not be tied to the other party controlling their own behavior, such as threatening to make a scene at a child’s ball game or other similar circumstance. Often a person with exacerbated borderline personality symptoms in a divorce will become insulting, threatening or overly reactive to things that should not cause those types of behaviors. This can also result in them making wild, unfair, unreasonable accusations as a way to seek attention and proactively defend themselves from the harm they believe they are a victim to. If your spouse has borderline personality disorder and you anticipate going through a divorce, it is crucial to a successful outcome that you work with a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney who understands dealing with people with borderline personality disorder. A knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney will be proactive about trying to make sure appropriate plans and solutions are in place to deal with anticipated behaviors.

What if You Have Borderline Personality Disorder? How Should You Manage Your Divorce or Family Law Case?

The best thing to do is have a plan. You should develop tools that you can use to manage your condition and be prepared to review the tools and reassess your management of your condition on a regular, if not daily basis. Starting with acknowledgment and education are excellent places to begin. From there, obviously getting treatment is essential. Many people with borderline personality disorder still receive custody or shared custody of their children, however, this also requires an effort to actively control and manage your condition. Make sure tools are in place to maximize the effectiveness of your efforts to control your condition. This may include therapy, medication, alternative treatments, plans, and other resources. For example, if you have a plan about dealing with stress or high-intensity situations, you are much more likely to handle the situation better- according to plan- rather than impulsively reacting.

If you have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder through a mental health evaluation or other process, it is important that you comply with the recommendations of that evaluation. Often, compliance marks the difference between a successful and unsuccessful outcome. Some things that might be requested of you include (but are not limited to) inpatient or outpatient therapy, medication solutions, initial supervised visitations, parenting schedules centered around your treatment goals and other similar objectives.

Discuss the situation with your lawyer. Get their input. You should hire a compassionate and empathetic lawyer who you feel safe sharing your struggles with. Tell them the reality of what is going on so they can give you their best advice about dealing with your situation. If you are separating or ending a relationship with someone diagnosed with borderline personality disorder or if you, yourself are struggling with borderline personality disorder, call Pingel Family Law today at (816) 208-8130. We can help you come up with a plan and strategy to address the unique needs of your family situation.

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