Marriage to a spouse with a borderline personality disorder (BPD) was an impossibly tall order. They exhibited broad shifts in emotions that were punctuated by aggressive behavior. Yet, they were able to hold a job and even function well enough that a judge allowed them joint custody with decision making powers and parenting time rights. This means that the challenge of moving on after divorce will only be harder because a co-parent with this type of disorder is prone to erratic behavior.
What are the signs?
The onset often occurs during early adulthood, but the symptoms may get milder over time:
- There is a pattern of intense and unstable relationships that swerve from accusations of being unloving and cruel to extreme idealization.
- There are sudden changes in personality that include new life goals that do not include a spouse, or the spouse holds them back.
- There is dangerous or impulsive behavior involving spending sprees, gambling, unsafe sex, leaving a good job, or leaving a steady relationship.
- Their grasp of reality is overshadowed by stress-related paranoia for minutes or hours at a time.
- There can be self-injury or suicidal behavior related to a potential separation from children or a spouse.
Safety is paramount
A parent who exhibits symptoms of BPD can be a danger to their children and family. Regardless of whether their impulsive behavior is a physical danger or a mental one, a co-parent should call 911 if there is the chance of injury to themselves or others. A co-parent must also be aware that the ex-spouse with BPD may perceive them as a threat, and strategically attempt to isolate or paint a negative image of the spouse or anyone associated with them.
New parenting plans or other arrangements from the divorce may trigger or exacerbate the disorder. However, the co-parent likely understands the ex’s triggers and how to mollify them. This often means:
- Listening to what they say
- Acknowledging how they feel
- Empathizing with them
What can be done?
It is important to remember that this co-parent has a disorder. Try to avoid internalizing what they say and do. Stay calm when speaking with them, and practice self-care in the aftermath. It is also essential to remain as consistent as possible in all dealings with them.
The goal of any parent is to provide a safe and stable environment for their children. This can be a seemingly impossible task, but a spouse can seek to minimize the dangers as best they can.