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Borderline Personality and Marriage

Can You Make Your Borderline Personality Marriage Work?

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Updated April 30, 2010

Many different kinds of close relationships are affected by borderline personality disorder (BPD), but perhaps none more than the borderline personality marriage. Marriages in which either one or both partner has BPD can be very tumultuous and conflict-laden. Learn more about how your marriage is affected by BPD.

Borderline Personality Marriage – Rates

Studies of marriage status in people with BPD have found that about 60% are married (these studies were done in people with average ages around 40 years old). This suggests that people with BPD are less likely to be married than those in the general population-- in the U.S., about 90% of people are married by age 40.

Unexpectedly, people with BPD do not have higher divorce rates than the general population. By an average age of about 40, the divorce rate for people with BPD is around 35%; this is comparable to the divorce rate for the average U.S. citizen. However, people with BPD are far less likely to remarry after a divorce. Only about 10% of people with BPD get remarried by around age 40; that is nearly half the national rate of remarriage.

Can the Borderline Personality Marriage Be Successful?

One way to judge whether BPD marriages can be successful is by the divorce rate. Using this as a measure of “success,” it appears that BPD marriages are no more or less successful than the average marriage. However, this does not take into account the quality of the marriage or the satisfaction of the partners.

There is very little hard research data on the quality of BPD marriages, but related data on romantic relationships and BPD offer some potential insight. Research has shown that BPD symptoms are associated with greater chronic stress, more frequent conflicts, and less partner satisfaction in romantic relationships.

Some experts have suggested that the quality of a BPD marriage depends a great deal on the personality of the non-BPD partner. For example, one expert (Joel Paris, MD, who is an internationally recognized expert in BPD) has written that women with BPD tend to choose narcissistic men as their spouses. In these marriages, Dr. Paris notes, the narcissistic husband initially finds his BPD wife attractive, but later becomes abusive or abandoning. There is currently no research on the pattern Dr. Paris describes.

It is clear, however, that people in BPD marriages may be in need of special support. In addition to the BPD partner being in treatment, it may be helpful to seek out marital or family therapy to keep the marriage relationship and family functioning intact.

Divorce and the Borderline Personality Marriage

As noted above, people with BPD do not have higher divorce rates than people in the general population. However, because of the interpersonal issues involved in BPD, including extreme fear of abandonment, divorce can be particularly stressful for a person with BPD and their spouse. One lawyer has described the divorce process as “like being in hell” for a BPD client.

For more on BPD and the divorce process, see “Divorcing a BPD Spouse.”

Sources:

Daley SE, Burge D, Hammen C. “Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms as Predictors of 4-year Romantic Relationship Dysfunction in Young Women: Addressing Issues of Specificity.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 109(3):451-460, 2000.

Kreider RM, Fields JM. Number, Timing and Duration of Marriages and Divorces: 1996. US Census Bureau, Issued Feb. 2002.

Margulies S. “Representing the Client from Hell: Divorce and the Borderline Client.” Journal of Psychiatry & Law. 25(3):347-363, 1997.

Paris J. “Implications of Long-Term Outcome Research for the Management of Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry. 10(6):315-323, 2002.

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