Because some of the hallmarks of borderline personality disorder (a personality disorder closely associated with severe and protracted, interpersonal childhood trauma) are extreme difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships (dramatically fluctuating between idealizing and then demonizing and discarding others) wildly fluctuating emotions, and a tendency to fly into intense rages one might reasonably predict that such individuals were more likely to divorce, or be divorced by, their partners. I was therefore surprised to note that, according to research, this does not appear to be the case; in fact, the divorce rate of those suffering from BPD is approximately one in three, similar to the average rate of divorce in the United States (these statistics were derived from a study that looked at those who had divorced by the age of forty).
However, notwithstanding the above, research also suggests that those suffering from BPD are:
– less likely to get married in the first place (about 12 out of every 20 of those suffering from BPD were found to married by approximately age 40 compared to a U.S. national average of about 17 people out of every 20). [Source: U.S. census).
– less likely to get remarried following a divorce (only about 1 in 10 of those with BPD remarry, compared to the average for the U.S. which is about 1 in 5). Again, these statistics involved looking at whether individuals had remarried or not by the age of about 40).
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE QUALITY OF MARRIAGES IN WHICH ONE OR BOTH INDIVIDUALS HAVE BPD?
Of course, just because the divorce rate amongst married individuals with BPD is similar to the average, this does not necessarily mean that the quality of their marriages is similar to the average.
Indeed, a study carried out by Lavner et al., 2015 involving 172 newlywed couples found that those marriages involving at least one individual with BPD symptoms were reported as being less satisfying and more problematic after a 4 year period by both partners than were marriages containing individuals who did not have BPD symptoms. The researchers stated that the distress experienced by both partners in a ‘BPD marriage’ (for want of a better term) began early on in the marriage and that the more BPD symptoms individuals in ‘BPD marriages’ displayed, the more troubled the marriage.
The fact that those who had previously been part of a ‘BPD marriage’ have been found to be less likely to remarry may reflect the poorer quality of first marriages they experienced – a case of ‘once bitten, twice shy.’
It has also been found that those suffering from BPD, or displaying symptoms of BPD show a tendency to marry other people with BPD symptoms. This tendency has been termed: ASSORTATIVE MATING. It would be interesting to know if this phenomenon essentially doubles the severity and frequency of marital problems, or, less simplistically, whether a mutual understanding of one another's condition leads to greater tolerance, understanding, and forgiveness. Of course, if the second scenario is to prevail, it is much more likely to do so if such couples educate themselves about their condition and seek couples' therapy by a therapist who has expertise in borderline personality disorder. And, for those involved in a 'BPD marriage,' it is also a positive thing to note that a large proportion of BPD sufferers get better/go into remission in time.
According to the Priory Group, those with BPD can improve the quality of their marriages (and other relationships, of course) through:
- social support
- developing hobbies
- improving communication
- developing appropriate boundaries within the relationship
- directly treating BPD symptoms with psychotherapy
Lavner JA, Lamkin J, Miller JD. Borderline personality disorder symptoms and newlyweds’ observed communication, partner characteristics, and longitudinal marital outcomes. J Abnorm Psychol. 2015;124(4):975-981. doi:10.1037/abn0000095
Paris J. Implications of long-term outcome research for the management of patients with borderline personality disorder. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2002 Nov-Dec;10(6):315-23. doi: 10.1080/10673220216229. PMID: 12485978.