Ask Bon,  Borderline Personality Disorder,  Treatment

Ask Bon: How do I get my loved one with BPD to go to therapy?

This question often is the first question that my group is asked. Many family members of those with BPD believe that therapy is the answer. And for some with BPD therapy CAN be the answer. However, there are some complications when it comes to therapy and borderline personality disorder. They are:

  • Sending someone to therapy is not like having your car repaired. It involves a lot of hard work on the part of the patient/client and on the part of their loved ones and supporters.
  • Therapy as usual (referred to as TAU in the studies) can actually make BPD worse in some individuals. There are several BPD-specific therapies, such as DBT, Schema-focused therapy and Mentalization-based therapy.
  • Therapy requires the buy-in of the patient/client. If he/she doesn’t want to admit he/she has a problem or doesn’t trust the therapist with his/her feelings, therapy will likely not have a lasting effect.

Unfortunately, you can’t force someone to go to therapy if she doesn’t want to go (except through a court order). What I suggest is that you use the tools I offer for a while. After you do that for some time, the borderline might begin to gather some self-awareness or to share her inner thoughts and feelings with you. It is likely that these thoughts and feelings will be filled with shame, self-hatred and worry. At that point, you can say something like, “Boy, it must feel awful to feel that way about yourself. What do you think you can do to feel better?” or “That’s so painful to feel that way. Maybe therapy can help?”

My wife has resisted going to DBT because it identifies her as a borderline and she “doesn’t want to be that person.” She also resists because DBT seems like a therapy of last resort to her and, if she fails at it, she feels that she will have to be committed to a mental institution. I occasionally do reinforce to her that there are people who are trained to help her feel better and encourage her to look into it. She is in therapy, but not in DBT. My daughter does see a DBT therapist. She decided to go because she was so angry all the time, and she felt terrible. She wanted to learn how to feel better. At some point, her emotional pain reached an intolerable level.

I have tried to model these skills in my life and, by doing so, shown my wife that I can more adequately cope with emotional situations, both personal and interpersonal. This modeling encourages my wife to consider DBT (or another emotional training program) to help her feel better. My suggestion is that you practice effective tools, master them and use your mastery over emotional situations as a beacon for your borderline’s healing.


  • Craig H


    Thanks, as usual, for your perceptive comments. I find your balanced approach – don’t make the borderline the “identified patient” for the entire family, having the “non” focus on their own behavior, yet hold the borderline responsible for their actions. The two other ends of the spectrum (blame the borderline or adapt to their behavior) are cul-de-sacs in my estimation.

    “Persuading” the borderline to enter therapy is a dead-end, in my opinion for two reasons.

    One, because it can tend to put the “non” in the mindset that the only key to the relationship improving is to get the borderline into therapy, which overlooks necessity of the “non” to take responsibility for their emotional being and destiny. [This is not to dismiss the chaos, bewilderment, and plain out injustice that the borderline can leave in his or her wake. Living with a borderline can be excruciating! It is merely to note what savvy mental health professionals watch out for – family members seeking to make one person in the family the “identified patient” for the entire family, who if they will just get their act together will solve all the family’s problems.]

    Two, my experience is that one of the most difficult things for a borderline to do is to look at themselves. My wife is one of the most amazing persons I have ever met in many, many ways. She is also a “borderline” borderline. I am grateful beyond words that she doesn’t cut, abuse alcohol or drugs, threaten suicide, or abuse our children when they were growing up.

    Yet, in the aspects of shame, self-referential processing, IAAMF, and mood, sensitivity, cognitive, memory, pain and emotional dysregulation, she is a classic borderline. Her internal sense of herself and others and her perceptions of what people say and behave toward her do not line up with external events/reality, yet she will insist on her perceptions in the face of any and all evidence to the contrary. She orients her life around her internal pain/insecurity and seeks to organize the people in her life in such a way as to take away her pain, yet is unable to recognize and receive caring in any form that it comes to her. [Thankfully, she is able to allow the care into her life that comes from our two sons!]

    She holds me responsible for her internal pain and any discussion we have about our marriage focuses only on her pain and how I have caused it. Discussions only deal with what is on “her side of the fence,” or on how issues affect her. Her fragile psyche does not allow her to examine her own functioning and especially how she erects obstacles to her own healing. Here is the key – to do so she would have to revise her entire worldview, something that would probably cause her to shut down emotionally.

    This is demoralizing. It means that there is very little room for error on my part. The smallest “misdeed” (real or perceived) on my part and her always-present pain bubbles over. Even when things are calm she is constantly scanning the environment for threats. Many of our interactions include low-level negativity and comments on her part as she tries to manage her internal pain. Yet every once in a while the real person she is breaks through.

    We have been in marriage counseling several times and in each instance her stance was to create an alliance with the therapist against me in an effort to straighten me up so that I would “stop hurting her.” In each case she wouldn’t hear the places that the therapist was trying to work with her in modifying her way of functioning in our relationship. Therapy wasn’t a place for her to learn and grow, it was a place for her to, again, manage her pain by having the therapist attend to me and my hurtful behavior.

    So what I try to do is be as centered and as gentle as possible to her in all interactions. In the past when she raged at me because I had hurt her, I would (inappropriately) tell her that she couldn’t be hurt because I hadn’t done anything hurtful. Bon’s postings have helped me a huge amount in this regard. My next step when she pressed me to apologize for my “misdeeds,” was to say that I acknowledged that she was hurt, but that I hadn’t done anything hurtful. [Being unable to look at herself, she is not able to say “I feel hurt.” It is always “you hurt me.”] Now I am simply trying to be present to her, acknowledge her pain, and not discuss the origin of her pain. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.

    Occasionally, and it happened again this morning, I simply run out of energy and compassion after having sought to ease her pain, after having been gentle, caring, responsive, and giving up things that I want to do/be to orient my life around her pain to have her (once again) tell me that I have been inadequate as a husband and that she needs “more.” [I have found that being married to a borderline (no matter how wonderful a person) that my caring is seldom enough.] And so I tell her (louder than I want) the attention I am paying her and the gentle, caring behavior/words that I have done that cannot be denied, dismissed, or discounted and how I am tired of doing the right things and having her tell me that they aren’t happening. My image is that I work very hard on writing a theme for class and she hands it back with a big red “F” on the top of the paper. The past thirty-six hours I worked harder than I ever have to listen to her carefully and respond according to what she said she needed. And with God’s help I did! Then she gets upset because I spent five minutes in the garden cutting off some sunflower heads so the birds wouldn’t eat the seeds, said that I was ignoring her, and that she needs “more.”

    Then I feel awful because although what I am saying is factually true, I should have said it differently. The growing edge for me now is to behave in the caring ways without giving up the rest of my life because then when her despondency comes the next time I won’t feel so resentful because I have given up things that are important to me. What makes the bitter words/accusations so painful isn’t primarily that they aren’t true, it’s that I have adapted my life to her pain (given up stuff that is important to me) and it hasn’t made any difference. She still sees me the same. So now, I hope that when the bitterness comes I will let it roll off my back because I am doing things in my life that are feeding me.

  • Tame Hetaraka

    Thankyou for writing about your wife whom I know you love very dearly as you would not be still with her because when I read this I thought that you must have been recording me some where. The only difference is it was not sun flowers but the feeding of our two little dogs. I have been arrested for assulting her twice and the police would only believe her because she can be so believable. Like you I have had to give up all the things I like doing to accomadate her but it is still not enough. Also she does not allow me to sleep so I am always tired and it makes it difficult for me to think properly. I can only hope that there is help for us somewhere.

  • Craig H


    As I mentioned, this is an excruciating path – the most difficult part of my life by far, despite my pouring more energy into trying to figure out the best way to function, be responsive, caring, etc… without setting my own life aside. And while I am chagrined to recognize that often my responses have been invalidating and in other ways not helpful, it has also been exhausting and disheartening that, in my perception, my wife seems to find a way around my gradually increasing level of maturity and caring.

    For example, when I learned and put into practice reflective listening, her response was “quit acting like a counselor and treating me like a patient who has something wrong with them.” Recently I am trying to meet my wife’s despondency with the validating responses I am learning from what Bon advocates. The other night she turned to me as I was validating her and said: “Did you learn that in a book somewhere?” In other words as I modify my responses to her adversarial expressions of her internal pain it seems as though she adapts her responses in ways that neutralize or dismiss what I am saying or doing. The net effect is that she continues to focus on me as the source of her problems.

    As I mentioned in the previous comment, I am very grateful that she does not act out in the self-destructive ways that people with BPD often do (cutting, risk-taking of all kinds, suicide attempts, etc…) – her lifelong strong Christian faith will not allow her to do these things. She has saved me, our two sons and their families from this ordeal. I shudder to even imagine what our family life would be like with repeated interventions with law enforcement, the legal system, hospitals, and the mental health system. (There have been seasons where she has physically abused me in the past. Thankfully they are over. Some of these and other episodes have had a harrowing, bewildering, and bizarre unreality about them.)

    However, there is a downside to avoiding the worst non-destructive behavior: her only “outlet” for her pain is me. My perception is that the level of her internal pain is no different from that of a person with BPD who is involved with the extreme behaviors, yet she doesn’t have these other ways to manage and cope with her pain. So while the wide variety of ongoing ways that her emotional dysregulation continues to feed her internal pain, the only way she “uses” to deal with her pain is to focus on me as the primary cause.

    This manifests itself in an almost moment-by-moment commentary, judgment and criticism of my behavior, and demands that I apologize and commit myself to change. These interactions leave me exhausted as I seek to practice all sorts of ways not to be reactive to her, not get snared by rhetorical questions, not get caught up in her bringing up events that happened twenty-five years ago that she inaccurately compares to what is going on presently in an effort to make the case that I am evil and am the sole cause for all her pain. Recognizing how my first choice of response is to “go silent” and emotionally or physically distance myself, I try to stay in touch with her emotionally without ending up in a “he said, she said” discussion. Sometimes I succeed, more times than I would like to admit I fail.

    Bon has helped me immensely to see that this isn’t about me – it is about her. I can keep this straight in my head much of the time. Inevitably across time the strain of her negativity toward me wears me down. While her moments of extreme emotional dysregulation probably only occur once a week or so, what I perceive as her mechanism of using me to manage her internal pain is more or less continuous. For example:

    1. She is exquisitely sensitive to external stimuli. When we are riding together in an automobile (I drive most of the time) she will flinch when another vehicle suddenly appears in her vision. She senses that we are in danger (most of the time we are not), but rather than say “Wow that scared me” she will agitatedly accuse me of driving unsafely. In 39 years of driving I have one moving violation and no accidents at fault, yet she is convinced that I am an unsafe driver. As we are traveling down the road, she is giving me a steady stream of instructions (“watch out for that pothole, turn on your blinker now, move over into that lane, you are only going 30 mph in a 35 mph zone, you are too close to the car up ahead,” etc..)
    2. When I make statements about myself she hears me judging her. So when I say “I need to lose ten pounds” she responds by saying “Why do you think I am fat?” When I say “I am tired, I am going to get ready for bed” she responds “Are you saying that I haven’t done enough work today?”
    3. When we are watching a movie, she is reading a book, or she hears about something happening with an acquaintances of ours and an aspect in that movie/book/situation reminds her of her perception of me she will begin to criticize me and she is no longer experiencing what was just going on – rather she has “left” the immediate moment and has gone to the place of her pain. I find myself thinking “where did that come from, we were just watching a movie and now we are talking about what a bad person I am?”
    4. The rough patches in her relationships with her extended family and other people become my problem. She doesn’t seem to be able to leave the pain where it “belongs.” If she isn’t getting along with her sister, she shifts her pain with that situation to me: the problem isn’t in she/her sister’s relationship; it is that I am not protecting her from her sister’s disrespectfulness.
    5. When we are in each other’s presence during a peaceful time, we are just being together with no commitment, agenda, conversation topic – just her and me in the wonderful times of companionable silence, she will, after a brief time, bring up something that is bothering her, some “unresolved issue,” etc… The peaceful time is gone and she now wants to “solve the problem.”
    6. An inadvertent and neutral event, with no negative intent, occasions an outburst. For instance, last night we were snuggling together in bed. She was lying on her back under the covers reading a book. I was on my side facing her with my “top” hand under the covers caressing her far hip and my “top” leg on top of the covers so that I wouldn’t overheat. She reached up to turn off the light and then tenderly turned toward me so that we were both lying on our sides facing each other and hugging. It was wonderful! As she rolled toward me the covers between our two legs (my top leg was on top of the covers prior to her rolling over and both her legs were underneath the covers) got pinned between her bottom leg and the mattress. Noticing that the skin on our legs wasn’t touching he muttered angrily “You put the blanket between us; I can tell you don’t want to be next to me” and rolled away from me to face the other side of the bed. Now she is back into her narrative of how I don’t like to touch her, I don’t want to be with her, I think she is worthless, and so on.

    Now I know as I am learning from Bon that this isn’t about me. It is about her. Yet these kind of interactions on a regular basis across more than a quarter of a century have just worn me down.

    Part of the reason for my being so worn out is that I am so isolated. While most of my extended family and our two sons know that she and I struggle in our marriage, no-one knows the nature of our struggles other than we have a hard time getting along. While she shares her perceptions that I am a bad husband with her extended family, friends, a few people in my very public work setting, (occasionally) the “personal committee” in my work setting, and my district supervisor her, I have on two or three occasions shared a few details with a two colleagues across the years. My loneliness is that there is no single person on this planet who knows the day-in-day-out trials that I have experienced for over thirty years. If I were to die tomorrow I would be remembered by the people who love me, but nobody would know the true nature of what my life has been like.

    I apologize if this sounds like a pity-party. I would describe self-pity as having two aspects: one, bemoaning one’s situation without doing anything to make it better; and two, not recognizing the way one contributes to one’s family situation (in other words, not admitting that one does play a part in the relationship difficulties in one’s life.)

    I hope I am doing neither. I am trying to be fair to my wife (she is a lovely person with a “better” heart than I have) in not making moral judgments; rather I am seeking to outline as descriptively as possible our functioning as a couple without assigning any ill motivation or intent to her behavior. As Bon mentions persons with BPD are in a huge amount of pain and are doing the best they can – their behavior makes sense to them. I am also being careful to mention how/where I fall short as a person and a husband.

    What I am seeking to do is to express my heartache and sorrow of spending a long, long time working very, very hard at something and of seeing very little light at the end of the tunnel. For the past twenty-five years I have examined our relationship through spiritual, traditional psychological, interpersonal, and family systems lenses. My bookshelf includes many books/journals that are very carefully highlighted and with detailed marginal comments. My profession allows me to do “double duty” – my vocational learning/study is on behalf of my job as well as my personal/interpersonal maturity. I throw myself with great enthusiasm into this learning. Recently I photo-copied an article from a professional journal I found very helpful and am cutting and pasting sections of the article into a personal journal I keep with lengthy comments on how this article challenges me to more mature functioning in my marriage. Again, I am not even beginning to suggest that I am a fast or thorough learner, only that the highest priority of my life is to function more maturely. My wife’s perception is that I am as mean now as I was twenty years ago.

    Although my perception may be inaccurate at this point, it seems to me as though my wife’s functioning is like that of a strain of bacteria (I am using this image descriptively, not as a metaphor) that becomes resistant to an antibiotic. She appears to be able to shrug off my slow increase in maturity, adapting her functioning by becoming increasingly skillful in keeping the focus on my “bad behavior.” In other words her despondency and criticism don’t seem to be related to the level of my functioning. This is disheartening. I truly believe that suffering is redemptive. In my case I see very little redemption, only more of the same.

    Bon has helped me to see that many of my responses have been invalidating and I thank him for that. I will seek to continue to learn. I am not optimistic however. Why? Because as long as my wife continues to accumulate pain from the way she experiences life, as long as her only outlet for managing her pain is to assign it to my behavior, as long as she misperceives my behavior (usually her perception has as measure of truth as well the distortion caused by her pain and defense mechanisms), as long as she denies, dismisses, or discounts the good things I do her pain will not be lessened. She will still have the same amount of pain to manage and unless she learns new ways to manage her pain, will live a pain-saturated life and my consistent experience is that when she is in pain she emotionally moves toward me in invasive ways. Bon is correct when he says that while the ways she seeks to manage her pain don’t make sense to me, they make sense to her. The problem is that it doesn’t make the pain go away: at best her pain remains the same, but often it gets worse.

    I will seek to be as non-reactive and validating as possible. I will rejoice in and hold onto those moments when things are different. I will seek to have realistic expectations. I will try to summon up the courage to move out of the adaptive posture I have in our marriage of setting my goals/passions aside because they are upsetting to her.

  • Wrongturn1


    You write: “These interactions leave me exhausted as I seek to practice all sorts of ways not to be reactive to her, not get snared by rhetorical questions, not get caught up in her bringing up events that happened twenty-five years ago that she inaccurately compares to what is going on presently in an effort to make the case that I am evil and am the sole cause for all her pain. Recognizing how my first choice of response is to “go silent” and emotionally or physically distance myself, I try to stay in touch with her emotionally without ending up in a “he said, she said” discussion. Sometimes I succeed, more times than I would like to admit I fail.”

    WOW – just WOW. You have exactly articulated my marriage of 14 years to an undiagnosed BPD woman. Among my most vexing problems at the moment is that I’m trying to figure out how to stay in touch emotionally after realizing that my emotions have all essentially been “switched off”. Have you developed any effective strategies for staying emotionally engaged (or even in touch with your emotions b/c I’m not even aware of what my emotions are anymore)?

    Hang in there – you’re not alone. God bless.

  • Craig H

    Dear Wrongturn1,

    Thanks for your comment. I haven’t been back to this website for awhile so I missed your response of October 28. I noticed it this morning (Nov 6) and won’t be able to reply for a week or more – very busy schedule coming up that includes a family wedding out of town, and I also want to give a well-thought-out response to your significant question.

    If I hear what you’re asking, it really gets to the very heart of the matter of how we can maintain a sense of self (who we are) when so much time, energy, and focus seems to be expended responding to the emotional “uproar/chaos” within our marriage. How do we not “get lost” and “disappear” when IAAMF [it’s all about my (our spouse’s) feelings]?

    This has been the dilemma of my married life. The hard part is that it’s easy to ricochet from the emotional entanglement and reactivity that comes with being married to a person with BPD (I’ve heard these otherwise wonderful folks described as a “tar baby,” from the Brer Rabbit story – how they have a way of “sticking” to other people emotionally), to ricochet over to an emotionally detached, unavailable, and distant spouse that unilaterally moves through life without the intimacy of shared vision/ communication that so many couples seem to have.

    I know this isn’t healthy, but it seems to me to be the only way I can preserve who I am from my wife’s behavior which (in my perception) functions to co-opt who I am/my life goals/what is important to me because it appears as a threat to her. This ricochet seems to infuriate her as my emotional “pullout” leaves her feeling abandoned and my different life vision leaves her feeling betrayed. (“If you don’t see things the way I do it must be because you don’t love me.”) So I often “return” to the enmeshment, feeling upset with myself, yet at the same time it doesn’t seem to improve her sense of security or well-being. So we both are distressed.

    I know there is a middle way between the two extremes. A way to stay emotionally connected with her in warm, caring, and supportive ways without giving up my life goals, etc… I think I have glimpsed what this looks like and have taken some very small baby steps in beginning to practice this lifestyle, although not without setbacks! I think this is what I hear you inquiring about and hope to be able to put this into words in a response I’ll post here in the near future.

    Thanks for the encouragement and God’s blessings to you as well.


  • Bon Dobbs


    You said this: ” How do we not “get lost” and “disappear” when IAAMF [it’s all about my (our spouse’s) feelings]?”… If you truly understand IAAHF then you will know that I am not advocating ceding one’s feelings for your loved ones. The purpose of that formulation to for the loved ones to understand the motivation behind the behavior and not to say it’s a situation in which your feelings are never heard. When a person with BPD is reacting emotionally, the motivation for those reactions are about their feelings and not (generally) about your behavior. If you can speak to the feelings, you can help that person quell the behavior that results. That’s the purpose of the words “It’s all about her feelings”.


  • Craig



    Yup. I am with you on IAAMF, at least I think so. When a person with BPD is “in the IAAMF mode,” what they are saying may sound like it is about us, but as you mention, generally speaking it is about them.

    Now I do know that when I first encountered “IAAMF” I completely misunderstood the concept and found it offensive, mistakenly thinking it was advocating that the feelings of a person with BPD do indeed trump anyone else’s. After a more careful and thorough reading of your description I now see what you are saying at a theoretical level and how it makes a difference “on the ground.” It has helped me. Thank you. When my wife is in a momentary or longer period of emotional dysregulation I find myself repeating silently to myself “It’s not about me” and it helps me not get as emotionally reactive as I used to.

    Near the end of your comment you write: “When a person with BPD is reacting emotionally, the motivation for those reactions are about their feelings and not (generally) about your behavior. If you can speak to the feelings, you can help that person quell the behavior that results.” With your help I am finding this to be true. As I learn to validate her feelings I do find that this behavior doesn’t happen as often or as intensely as before. It is still there. It’s still bewildering. It still hurts. But as I am learning to respond differently her level of emotional dysregulation is less and she returns to baseline more quickly.

    In my comment to Wrongturn1 above, I was referring to a different aspect of IAAMF that I find in my marriage, which could perhaps be more accurately described with the acronym “IAAMP” (It’s all about my priorities).

    My sense is that my wife is threatened at a deep existential level whenever my life’s vision/goals/ priorities differ from hers. My perception is that when and where our views on, say money, politics, religious faith, activities, parenting, friends, and so on diverge she senses that she is being rejected and/or abandoned, and begins to move toward dysregulation. “Emotional dysregulation” might not be an accurate term; perhaps in this case “existential dysregulation” is more apt, because she feels as though her existence is being threatened. She has verbalized that she feels as though her life is on the line when we have significant differences of opinion or life direction. “I have to fight just to survive!”

    While her episodes of existential dysregulation aren’t as intense as when she emotionally dysregulated , it takes her longer to return to baseline. To use the metaphor of a gong struck by a mallet, in this case my sense is that the tone of the gong (her response) is not nearly as loud (she is not as emotionally agitated and upset), but the sound keeps on going much, much longer and I perceive a grim, dogged determination as she pressures me to return to be the way she wants me to be.

    So for instance if I were to spend some money, even an amount under $10 (we are debt free with significant – and I mean significant – assets) she would lean hard on me about how I shouldn’t have spent that money. If I would continue to spend this way on a regular basis, how would she respond? Would she “raise the stakes” or get used to it? Well that is the $64,000 question, because I’ve never had the courage to try.

    So that is what I mean in my comment when I said “get lost” and “disappear” in my marriage. I suppose it technically isn’t in relation to IAAMF, it is more accurately in regard to what I am referring to here as IAAMP. It sure does seem to me that in our life together there are a lot of ways that we live on a day-in-day-out basis (furnish our house, organize our household, spend our time, spend our money, accumulate possessions, who we associate with as friends) where I don’t recall “being given a vote.” Now I know that sounds incredibly passive on my part and it is; unfortunately it is a dynamic in our marriage and I do play a role. As a friend of mine says in jest about he and his wife: “We compromise and do it Ann’s way.”

    Is this an aspect of BPD or merely something unique in our marriage? I’m not sure. I see a linkage between IAAMF and IAAMP in two places. One, the fear of abandonment that haunts persons with BPD: My perception is that IAAMP isn’t about my wife wanting her preferences; she sees it related to her survival itself – she must have her preferences in order to survive. Two, IAAMP can move to IAAMF at any moment without any additional external stimulus and the existential dysregulation escalates into emotional dysregulation. In this case the triggers are invisible to me. Just today it appeared to be her anxiety about our upcoming trip and interactions with my extended family that elevated her IAAMP frustration about how I spent Saturday evening (drove 40 miles round trip to a sectional volleyball championship game and paid $6 admission) to a more emotionally dysregulated level that had many of the markings of IAAMF.

    I am making slow but sure strides in embracing the concept of IAAMF (two steps forward, one step back) and learning to be less reactive to her emotional dysregulation, yet I still find myself feeling a significant amount of bitterness toward my wife because of the larger issues that I am referring to as IAAMP. Have you noticed this in your relationship with your wife?

    I have given up important parts of who I am because I don’t want her to be mad at me, because I don’t want her to fly off the handle, spread stories to family members, friends, and people in my work setting. I don’t know if this is a common theme among other “nons,” but it is an underlying melody of my life.

  • Wrongturn1


    Hope your wedding trip and family visit goes/went smoothly. During the period of time leading up to a family visit (especially visits with my family), I find that my wife typically becomes dysregulated as she 1) mentally and emotionally rehashes every perceived offense that my family has done to her over the years (e.g., “when I walked up to your sister and your mom that one time, your sister nudged your mom, and I just know they had been saying XYZ about me”); and 2) imagines wrong things that my family members *might* say to her or do during the visit (e.g., “I just know when your mom arrives that the first thing she will do is look me up and down and smirk, thinking that I’ve put on a few pounds”). Instead of trying to defend my family members when this anticipatory dysregulation happens now, I just say things like “I wish they would not hurt you like that” or “it’s a shame that things have to be that way with them”, which I really do mean…maybe just not exactly in the way that she interprets it. But this seems to be a better strategy and validates her feelings instead of adding fuel to the fire.

    As for your statement/question:

    “…yet I still find myself feeling a significant amount of bitterness toward my wife because of the larger issues that I am referring to as IAAMP. Have you noticed this in your relationship with your wife?

    I have given up important parts of who I am because I don’t want her to be mad at me, because I don’t want her to fly off the handle…”

    Yes, definitely. I have given up pursuits that were *hugely* important to me in order to accommodate my wife’s BPD dysregulation. HOWEVER, giving up parts of who I am because I don’t want her to fly off the handle does no good for either of us because giving up these parts of me will not actually “cure” her, and it only leads to me resenting her. I have started to recognize that both the accommodating behavior and the resentment on my part are unhealthy CHOICES that are solely my responsibility. So what I am trying to do now is to make choices in my life that are more true to myself while at the same time showing love and validation to my wife. And part of that is trying to get back in touch with my emotions and stop keeping my wife at some emotional distance, which I’m not sure how to approach yet.

  • Craig

    Dear Wrongturn1,

    Thank you for your comment. You write clearly and concisely – it’s a pleasure to read what you write.

    The wedding visit went smoothly. Thank you for asking. I am sure that part of it was that my behavior has been less emotional and more validating lately. Part may also be that we were staying with my wife’s sister and family whose home is only ten minutes from all of the wedding events – so fortuitous! So my wife had the soothing presence of other siblings (her twin sister traveled down with us) and a niece and nephew there to take a bit of the edge off of having to encounter my extended family – most of whom she gets along with very well, it’s just my mother and father who are threatening to her.

    Your comments of how your wife interacts with you when around your extended family mirror my wife/my interactions when around my extended family to a “T.” I could add anecdotes where only the words are different! Interestingly, my wife becomes unsettled before and after short visits that I occasionally make alone to my Mother or Father’s homes (they are divorced).

    It is a real “dance” to be validating toward my wife in regards to my extended family because she has a way of “disarming” most techniques. If I were to make comments like you do (“I wish they would not hurt you like that”), even if (as you say) I didn’t mean them the same way that she would interpret them, my wife would “demand” that I intercede with my extended family members and tell them not to be so hurtful to her. In the past she has insisted that I call or e-mail them in advance to tell them to treat her with respect. Later she will question me as to exactly what I said to them and if it doesn’t fit what she thinks I should have said to them, she is upset. So I find what works best is to softly and quietly tell her that I love her and that she deserves the utmost of respect from everyone. If/when this doesn’t work I just try to stay in touch with her emotionally without getting caught up in the “content” of what she is saying or asking.

    Your final paragraph is “spot on.” My accommodating behavior in our marriage also does not make things better in her perception and behavior; I similarly find myself feeling resentful and bitter which can make me emotionally cool and distant around her. Recognizing that making decisions not to accommodate (yet staying in warm emotional contact with my wife) are solely my responsibility is something that I have known in my head for a long time, but am only recently making the emotional shift to make it a reality in my life. I have a huge desire to avoid her judgment, criticism, anger, and comments to others – clearly unhealthy and surely one that goes back to my relationship with my mother, which is actually pretty decent yet with occasional accommodation.

    My wife had a horrendous and brutal childhood. I don’t want to cause her to suffer by making choices in my life that are related to things that are important to me; yet what I am realizing even as I write this is that it isn’t my choices that make her suffer, it is her response to my choices. She does seem to see life in “zero-sum” terms – that if I choose to spend time or money on things other than her it is somehow a negation of her. I try to be a “both/and” person in my life; she is often “either/ or.”

    It was my twin brother’s youngest son whose wedding we traveled to. I knew I admired my twin brother very much, but didn’t realize just how much until our time down south for the wedding. During the events surround the wedding I realized that he is probably my greatest hero. He made a very difficult decision about fifteen years ago (a decision that I don’t agree completely with) and has lived with the decision faithfully, courageously, sacrificially, winsomely, and steadfastly ever since. He is gracious, sincere, humble, and accepting with everyone that I am aware of. Certainly he is not perfect and he and I share a certain driven-ness and uptightness. He was graciously present at the wedding. He has courageously lived by his principles, yet without distancing himself from anyone in his life. He is still warm and gracious toward them. As I think about slowly taking steps to live by my principles I am hopeful and terrified by turns. I pray that I have the courage and grace that my twin brother does and will follow him as an example.

    I hear confusion in your final two sentences when you write: “So what I am trying to do now is to make choices in my life that are more true to myself while at the same time showing love and validation to my wife. And part of that is trying to get back in touch with my emotions and stop keeping my wife at some emotional distance, which I’m not sure how to approach yet.”

    I don’t hear any confusion in the rest of your comment; in fact I hear clarity and purpose. You seem to know what you think, believe that what you think is based on sound principles, and you want to move in that direction. I do hear you disconcerted because you are out of touch with your emotions.

    Two thoughts came into my mind when I read your last two sentences: One, while I don’t think emotions are unimportant, I think one’s life principles are far more important. When we figure out our principles and learn to graciously live by them while remaining emotionally connected to the important people in our lives, the emotions will follow. I don’t want to be emotionally “hollow” inside, yet it is a higher priority for me to be clear about my principles for life and committed to live by them than it is to cultivate my emotions. Two, I read somewhere recently that when we feel emotionally empty it can mean that we are either poised to make a move for more “differentiation” in our primary relationships or to slip back into a posture of adaptation. So I am trying to see emotional emptiness as a “clue” or a “signal” to pay close attention to moving toward differentiation rather than adaption.

    Thanks for your thoughtful and helpful comment.

  • Wrontturn1


    Thanks for the reply – It’s helpful to hear your perspectives on things as we seem to have a lot in common.

    Glad your recent wedding trip went well. How very interesting that you and your wife are both twins… from a scientific experiment standpoint, have you observed any BPD traits in your wife’s twin sister? Since BPD is said to have both environmental and genetic causes, one might expect both twins to display BPD symptoms – not that your wife’s twin would necessarily reveal that side of herself to anyone but her spouse though.

    To elaborate a bit on my statement that “…what I am trying to do now is to make choices in my life that are more true to myself while at the same time showing love and validation to my wife…”, I guess I could have more precisely said the following instead:

    “Now that I am aware of my wife’s BPD, I am shifting my strategy for dealing with my wife’s behavior from this:

    • Codependency, e.g., attempting to predict and control/avoid anything that would be a potential trigger for my wife, which has actually hurt both of us more than it has helped, and

    • Invalidation, e.g., previously I would always counterattack my wife’s statements/accusations and defend myself verbally during dysregulation

    To this instead:

    • Living the life that God has called me to and letting the chips fall where they may

    • Validation, e.g., expressing empathy for the underlying emotion; trying to normalize the emotion where I reasonably can (“I would feel the same way if I thought XYZ”); and this final one has been really difficult and counterintuitive for me – no longer defending myself against her (sometimes bizarre) statements and accusations since that’s not what it’s really about (since feelings = facts to her).”

    Note that the above is what I am trying/starting to do, and I’m not doing it very skillfully just yet. But I can already see improvements in our relationship after a couple of months of starting to apply these principles.

  • Craig

    Dear Wrongturn1,

    Wow – your experiences really do resemble mine in a lot of ways, both with your wife’s behavior and your responses/missteps/current new behaviors. It is interesting that our timelines are somewhat similar insofar as coming to “see the light.”

    Your description summarized in the two bullets under “To this instead” mirrors almost exactly where I am at right now, right down to the phrase “letting the chips fall where they may.” I am surprising myself by the stands I am quietly taking – attending high school athletic events at the school, joining the local branch of the Kiwanis Club, setting aside money in our medical flex plan to have a physical next year, volunteering to go with my Mom to the veterinarian the day after Thanksgiving to have her lap dog put to sleep.

    In each case she responds with fury (which can be intense and sustained) and I am tempted to cave in like I have in the past. What I am trying to do is stay in touch emotionally, but without defending myself or arguing or explaining. I simply hug her (when she will let me) and hold fast to the decision. In each case her fury moderates, but mentally I am trying to be prepared to stand by my decision even if she ups the ante.

    My wife’s twin sister’s personality is almost identical to hers and I think she suffers in similar ways to my wife (i.e. – BPD). Their very close friendship brought them through their horrific childhood. It’s not clear to me how they would have survived psychically without each other. In adulthood this relationship continues to be sustaining for both of them. However, sometimes they bolster up each other’s mis-perceptions of their respective spouses, which means they also corroborate in their perceptions that people are mean to them and that the world is out to get them.

    Your two present life directions just happen to be two items I try to keep in my consciousness as much as possible, which (it just occurs to me) I would paraphrase as “Hold fast to who God made me to be” while I “lovingly accept and validate who God has made her to be.” I find if I lose touch with either of those things don’t go well for my wife and me.

    I hope you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving. This is a scary, yet invigorating time for me as I find myself “growing into” who God made me to be. Hopefully I am proceeding without any belligerence. It isn’t that everything that happens between my wife and me has to be my way. It is just that I am going to as lovingly as I can take a stand at those points where the principles of how I want to live my life are at stake.

  • Rick Anderson

    comments yet, because there are many and lengthy, so if I say something out of turn, my apologies in advance.

    In my case, my wife of 25 years with BPD from the beginning, refuse to even acknowledge she had a problem let alone get help like I insisted 50 times or more over the marriage. The only thing that got my wife into therapy, acknowledging she had a problem, got her to listen and reflect on her behavior and make a commitment to change; was me snapping (like I warned her I would for the last 10 years of the marriage) and stating the marriage was over and there was no possible way I would stay with her.

    That was her rock bottom, and that is common theme for human beings with negative behavior problems whether it be substance abuse, mental illness, lazy, selfish, etc… they live in denial NOT making the commitment to change until they hit rock bottom.

    Most non-BPD are giving and caring to a fault (whether that be because they truly are exceptional people or they are inhibited with their own emotional issues and baggage from past experiences) if they weren’t, they would have left the relationship with a BPD in the very beginning. So non-BPD’s are NOT likely to retaliate, fight fire with fire or posture but instead try to be the bigger person, be forgiving and reassuring.

    While the latter response are the one’s that a BPD needs, provided it is done correctly with guidance and a plan (all the more important you both are seeing a therapist to guide you). If your BPD refuses to get help or NOT changing their behavior, being the bigger person to a fault leads to unplanned/unguided responses and eventually will just become co-dependency. (That was me)

    The best definition of codependency that I have seen, in the regards it would make a codepent realize how they cannot continue the status quo and think one day it will pay off and they will finally find that happiness, “Codependency, by definition, means making the relationship more important to you than you are to yourself,”

    And that kind of relationship can only happen with the corollary, Someone making the relationship less important to them than they are to themselves. No wonder why BPD often has comments that there is often an element of narcissism to it. Granted, BPD is the result mental illness, but that doesn’t change the fact the relationship is horribly out of balance, and your both in a downward spiral. (Or your whole family in my case).

    The most important thing to realize, nothing you’ve done has worked satisfactory to this point, you have to confront this and if that means drastic measures than that is necessary and the right thing to do. I didn’t take the drastic measures, I thought it would be seen as a betrayal as trust in the relationship, I kept being the bigger person hoping it would finally soak in over the years, and it didn’t, I collapse under the weight of it all.

    You would want to consult with a professional before acting my suggestions, but lets just say this is what I wished I had done much earlier in my marriage, because I think it might have saved it.

    *Stage an intervention, just like alcoholism/substance abuse, lay it on the line, with others that support him/her and make her see they need help and they are living in denial.

    *Record their outrageous behavior, show it to them and other trusted friends, extended family to offer objective testimony on how they are out of control. (Do NOT post it on, you want to bring in trusted people to help, NOT advertise to the world your spouse is an out of control monster, that would be counterproductive).

    *Posture, with good intentions, give them a taste of the rock bottom they will hit, before you both hit the rock bottom, walk out and separate from them for a month or several months, go to a divorce lawyer and start the process or similar drastic acts. Even if you’re NOT at that point, if you wait till you’re at that point, you won’t have the strength to go back and give them a 250th chance, so if you do this smartly, with good intentions, it is the right thing to do to posture and snap your BPD into reality.

    Do NOT be like me, if you’re passive and just hope it will get better, one day there will something that snaps you out of the fog, you’ll finally take inventory of your marriage and relationship, that you never did because you lived in denial, you’ll realize your marriage is a house of cards, and that will be the upsetting motion that will collapse that house of cards. You’ll need to get out for your own survival, and that point, there will be nothing your BPD can do that will get you to stay, you will have to leave just to survive.

  • Bon Dobbs


    While I approved this comment, I think all 3 of your solutions to the problem are ineffective. If you were to read my book, you could see what other alternatives there are to these approaches. The more effective way to learn to get along with and have a relationship with a highly emotional person, like a person with BPD, is to learn, practice and master emotional skills, which is what I talk about in my book.


  • Rick Anderson


    Thanks, since we’ve reached a point of no return, and had to quarantine myself from my BPD for my very survival, its only an academic pursuit at this point. I may get to your book as part of my road to recovery, it would be interesting to see what maybe I did right and what I did wrong.

    But I disagree, although I fully acknowledge I do NOT know better than you, but the measures I suggest have benefits if they do NOT help the BPD.

    An intervention?, perhaps this would NOT work, but I did the opposite, I did NOT consult or inform anyone outside the marriage. Even if it is NOT an intervention, you need to be talking with Family and Friends about the unacceptable behavior in your marriage. In my case it became an ever growing lie as we tried to hide the dysfunction behind closed doors, making the shame and barriers even greater to come clean with family and friends and ask for support. So, if an Intervention is ineffective, equally ineffective is NOT revealing the outrageous events and behavior in the marriage to support systems outside of the marriage. Regardless of the effectiveness for the BPD, it is needed for the NON, without the external support and instead isolation,the NON will slip deeper into co-dependency. I can NOT see how the NON becoming ever more codependent is good for the BPD, it definitely is NOT good for the NON.

    Recording, perhaps showing the BPD their behavior after they’ve pulled back out of their identity disturbance would be ineffective. BUT, lets NOT forget children are often in BPD relationships, and woman are diagnosed with BPD 3 times more often then men. The courts are very biased against anything but no-fault divorces, and men trying to win custody of their children without good evidence is a often a losing battle, leaving the children to be raised by the BPD. You can find plenty of testimony of the damage BPD parents have done to their children that still suffer the fallout in adulthood. Heck my BPD wife’s mother shows every sign of being BPD herself (yes, there is a hereditary component suspected as well as the abuse creates multi-generational cycles).

    Posture and threaten the divorce before you’re ready for it. In my own experience, the only time my wife made a commitment to change was when I asked for the divorce and started look for apartments and divorce lawyers. I agreed to go to marriage counseling, for the kids sake, but warned my wife we were past that point. It seemed to help her, as I was still coming out of the fog and like I warned her, it was too late, on the edge of nervous breakdown, I finally left several months after that point.

  • Bon Dobbs

    It depends on your goals here. You came to the point of no return. Those things that you think would work will not – if your goal is to stay with the person and to reduce the “inappropriate behavior” I’d suggest something completely different. I’ve rarely seen anyone fail to do those things if they follow the path outlined in my book “When Hope is Not Enough”. The behavior is caused by the emotions. If the emotions are not there the behavior is not there. The skills in my book and that I advocate here are to deal with the emotions. Once the emotions are quelled, accepted, understood, validated and acknowledged, the behavior will change. The behavior and words are an ineffective way for the BP to communicate. The BPD/Non-BPD relationship is a communication problem IMO. Your approaches will not work for a variety of reasons – the most glaring being the “parent/punisher” dynamic that you will set up here. If this is your wife, you have no power to be her parent. The relationship would never last and even if you’d done the things you’ve suggested that others do here it would have dissolved. It sounds great to do such things. It sounds like it provides some power and control. In reality and in my experience, there are another set of skills, as counter-intuitive as they are, that, when mastered, brings effectiveness, closeness and compassion to the relationship.

  • Rick Anderson

    I think the mis-communication here is; I’m speaking from the context of Pre-Diagnosis, while you’re speaking from the context of Post-Diagnosis. And in fairness to you Bon, the article is written from the perspective of a diagnosed BPD that refuses to go to therapy, so I am speaking a bit out of turn.

    My Goal was to get my wife into mental health counseling to discover the root of her problems and get her help in correcting the problems. I never heard of BPD until I came out of the fog and started my own descent into mental illness from the decades of suppressed and buried emotions.

    If I had a diagnosis earlier in the marriage (which we would have had if she had gotten the counseling one of the 50 times I demanded, I would have read and gotten better guidance in how to help at the root of the problem).

    Now my suggestions, and what I wished I had done, are from the perspective of someone that refuses to even get a diagnosis, to even acknowledge there was something wrong with the behavior and came back with the most ridiculous excuses of how the root of the behaviors were all my fault and if I was just a little more perfect then these things would never happen.

    Unfortunately, I suspect this is the massive unkown today, how many family’s current have a hi-functioning BPD that remains undiagnosed? How can they read your book or get help if the BPD won’t acknowledge they have problem and cooperate with getting help?

    Even from the Post-Diagnosis perspective, yes I can see how parent/punisher dynamic could be counterproductive (and how frustrating that is to the NON that receives the parent/punisher dynamic from their BPD on a consistent basis).

    BUT I have to disagree on a few points:


    I mentioned the NON going to family and friends and telling them what goes on in the marriage. Considering the rate of co-dependency of NON’s in BPD relationships, I refuse to believe this will NOT work. I agree it needs to be done properly, but NOT doing this at all isolates the NON and increases their risk of co-dependency greatly. I did NOT do this, I became co-dependent in the relationship. I’d like to know what I should have done to avoid my co-dependency if I should NOT be bringing family and friends in to hlep our problem that we could NOT work out ourselves?

    Recording, yep, I can see how this hurts the BPD. BUT, considering the high risk that BPD relationship will end in divorce, I still believe this is a reasonable measure to protect the NON and the Children in case of the highly likely outcome of divorce. I read horror story after horror story of BPD divorces, where the BPD wife ends up with the children simply because she is a woman and/or BPD lies and manipulates the courts and family services system. There are even more horror stories of maladjusted aldults that are the direct result of a BPD parent from the abuse. I’d like to know what I should have done to avoid the BPD wife getting primary custody of the children in a divorce if it happens?


    Again in my case, even telling my wife it was over I couldn’t continue, I was going to divorce her, it took me shopping for apartments for her to actually agree to a marraige counselor and by the 2nd session it became obvious the problem was my wife. I think this escapes the statistics, if undiagnosed, I suspect the divorce likely comes much ealier, and the husband just writes his wife off as a total bitch. Perhaps I am the exception, where we got the diagnosis after the marriage ended, and I look back on the 25 years that could have been totally different if we got that diagnose earlier.

    She has made a commitment to change now, has made some progress, but her behavior keeps rearing its head in her making the divorce proceedings more conentious than they should be. This is all decades too late, I can never go back to her, and I’m struggling just to get myself emotionally healthy and start enjoying life and find some fulfillment the last decade I have left before I hit the autumn of life.

    Still, I don’t feel one twinge of guilt, my wife didn’t marry a phchologist, most men would have been far less understanding and helping than I was. It doesn’t matter if she is or isn’t responsible for all her outrageous behavior in the marriage, its NOT my fault and I suffered 10 times more than most people ever would have took, if the disease did it to her, fine and it did it to me also, I didn’t give it to her, her parents did and maybe nature did as well. I have a right to survive and deserve to be happy. At this point she is likely to recover and find more happiness than I, our therapist has hinted as much,

    Do you know of a book for my BPD that guides her in proper behaviors to help their NON learn to recover from decades of abuse?

  • Bon Dobbs


    I think you’re hanging your hopes (or past hopes in this case) on diagnosis and treatment, which are both helpful, but neither is actually any form of magic bullet to living peacefully with someone with BPD. You say:

    “My Goal was to get my wife into mental health counseling to discover the root of her problems and get her help in correcting the problems.”

    That is not a goal that I advocate for, nor is it a goal you have any control over. While my daughter spent 2 years in DBT (which worked wonders BTW), I could force her to go because she was a minor. My wife on the other hand could not be forced to go to any kind of treatment.

    I think while your way of thinking is both understandable and common among Nons, it is not effective for a few reasons. These reasons are:

    1) You are very judgmental about your wife’s “problems” and “improper behavior”. It’s all her fault and the problems are something she needs to become aware of and, if fixed, everything would be fine and dandy. This approach sets up a bunch of ineffective dynamics: you’re the parent, you’re the “good” one, you’re the punisher of her for her “improper” and “inappropriate” behavior, she’s the bad one, she’s got problems, she’s crazy, she behaves like a child, etc.

    2) The level of shame in BPD is huge. While you might not have seen it, if your ex-wife actually has BPD, she’s filled with shame. This factor is one of the 4 “cornerstones” of BPD, along with emotional dysregulation, impulsivity and a preoccupation with interpersonal relationships. Your approach to BPD just reinforces the shame.

    3) You were trying to control something over which you had no power. This leads to learned helplessness BTW. You feel as if you’ve “done everything in your power” to make your goal a reality and NOTHING WORKED. Right? This is what happens when a person tries to control another person’s behavior or makes a goal over which they have no control. You give up. If your happiness is dependent upon another person’s behavior, you’re in a bad place. It seems that you had some “if only” thinking – “if only my wife were to admit she had a problem”, “if only she was diagnosed”, “if only she would have gone into treatment”. I encourage people to use “as is” thinking. Accept reality. The alternative is to live in a wishful delusion.

    Your wife went into marriage counseling after you started looking for apartments out of fear. The thing is – threats work. BUT they only work in the short run. Threats, ultimatums, rules, interventions – don’t work long term.

    What does work?

    Since BPD is primarily an emotional disorder, educating yourself about emotions and emotional communication is what works. If your wife didn’t have the feelings, she wouldn’t do the behavior. That’s why DBT teaches both distress tolerance (when events can’t be changed) and emotional regulation (when your feelings can be changed).

    I encourage people to follow the instructions in my book. These instructions are diametrically opposed to what you’ve put forth as a solution to BPD. While you story is written, others who come to this site have stories not yet written. You can only change you, your behavior, your attitude and your approach. I once told my 14 year old (she’s much older now): “I can’t save your mother from herself.” A very valuable realization.


  • Rick Anderson


    No one will come to this website or read your book until they “know” they or their loved one has BPD.

    I had to diagnose my wife myself, and it took nearly 25 years and by that time it was too late for me.

    So how does the layman that only knows their spouse’s behavior is totally outrageous and hurtful, they refuse to get help, comes to the conclusion that your book and this website is the place to go to make improvements in relationship?

  • Bon Dobbs

    Well, I know that people who have loved ones that are not diagnosed are members of my list. I found out about BPD when my wife engaged in self-injury. The way most people figure it out, without a diagnosis, is through Dr. Google. “Stop Walking on Eggshells” has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and while BPD has been shown to be more common that previously thought, I doubt most of those people reading that book has an officially diagnosed loved one. Some do, but many don’t. The doctors don’t like to diagnose an Axis II disorder and BPD specifically comes with a stigma.

  • Rick Anderson

    And that is my point, until you know what the problem is, you can’t effectively solve it, treat it, live with it. The first step is identifying the problem, before you go on to the next step of learning on how to treat it or react to it.

    Granted, and my apologies if it seems like I hi-jacked your thread, your intent is about those that “know” their spouse has BPD, and the methods they can treat it if their spouse refuses to get therapy or treatment.

    My point is;
    There are far more couples out their that know something is very wrong, but don’t know the specific problem, and the person with the problem refuses to cooperate with identifying the problem. This is a recipe for a long torturous failure, leaving the children with damage that they will be dealing with the rest of their lives.

    Look at the rate of multi-generational BPD, passed down from parent to child, often enough they believe there may be a genetic pre-disposition for the disease, while others argue the behavior associated with BPD would result in the same kind of neglect/withholding/abuse to children that causes them to develop BPD, regardless, it’s NOT rare to see the cycle repeat itself again and again. IF YOU DON’T CONFRONT THE PROBLEM WITH YOUR SPOUSE, IDENTIFY IT SO YOU CAN HANDLE IT PROPERLY, YOU RUN THE RISK OF DOOMING YOUR CHILDREN TO SUFFER THE SAME FATE.

    So I don’t care if the entire mental health industry declares I’m wrong, put my picture in the next DSM as the jerk that is insensative to BPD’s, I will still give the advice to those that suspect their spouse has mental illness;

    If you have objective evidence that your spouse may be suffering from mental illness, and refuses to get help for it, DO NOT BE PASSIVE, CONFRONT IT AND DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE TO GET YOUR SPOUSE DIAGNOSED. If they won’t comply, and their behavior continues to be harmful, then get you and your children away from them. (And if you’re a man, I don’t have to tell you the challenge you’ll have to get custody of your children over the mother, that is why you need to consider recording your wife’s behavior).

    For the record, I was never judgmental, confrontational, threatening nor controlling with my wife. It was she that was all of those things consistently toward me. Granted Bon, you may have said that in the context that my reasonable measures to resolve issues would be perceived as that, and I believe that, I witnessed it, but I am very confident my behavior and reactions to my wife were ten more understanding and soothing than the general male population. The only exception was her abusing our children, and my aggressive behavior coupled with passive behavior in response to abuse towards myself at least had the benefit of her channeling her abuse away from the children and towards me.

    Remember, the measures I outlined, were “WHAT I WISHED I HAD DONE”. I wish I had NOT been so passive in getting the problems my wife clearly had, identified, so we could treat it, work on it, more effectively. If I had, things would be much better for everyone in our family today.

    So making a stand, confronting the signs of mental illness, may be harmful to the BPD in short term, but it will be much better for the BPD and the whole family in the long term.

    And is that NOT the higher priority when dealing with Mental Illness? Short term easy, always turns out to be long term hard, but short term hard, turns out to make for long term easy.

    CONFRONT THE PROBLEM, IDENTIFY IT, then learn everything you can about the problem, the best way to treat it and react to it, learn to put yourself in the sufferer’s shoes to understand why they react that way, etc.

    Once you’ve learned your spouse has BPD, I totally agree with the things you’re saying Bon, I do see how they would be the most effective. We may NOT disagree on this, I do believe after my experience, a NON has to have an escape plan for theirselves and their children, and granted some of those measure may be harmful for the BPD, it is necessary for the health of the others involved, that includes collecting evidence and keeping authorities informed, so the system doesn’t automatically default to granted custody to the mother.

  • Bon Dobbs


    It seems to me that passivity didn’t work. Yet, as I see it, the other alternative is not the intervention, threatening stuff that you supplied in your earlier comment. There is another way. This is the way that I found effective. It is counter-intuitive and is very non-judgmental. I was surprised it worked. I wrote the book because I had to share with others what worked for me. I am still married and have been for almost 25 years. 10 years ago my wife was exhibiting really negative behaviors. Doctor-shopping, drunk driving, raging, other things. I did some research and discovered BPD. I verified this with an old therapist I know who saw both me and my wife years before. The thing is though… the skills I learned will work with any emotionally sensitive person, a diagnosis is not required. It’s just that most people don’t try what I suggest in my book because they think it will not work. When it does, they are usually surprised. My “method” doesn’t involve “making a stand” or confronting the mental illness. It involves learning a new way to communicate with a person with BPD.

    Anyway, clearly you suffered in the relationship. That’s tough. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience with me.


  • Rick Anderson


    Perhaps you should speak with Randi Kreger,

    She says,

    “….Let’s face it, the hallmark of a borderline personality disorder relationship is emotional immaturity by both partners. The idea that one partner was healthy (loving and giving) and the other partner was dysfunctional is seriously flawed. BPD is a real mental illness and a person with this disorder will have a history of failed relationships.

    However, emotionally mature and grounded people do not get into such relationships. Even if they accidentally fall into one, they reassess their decision process and values, make changes, and do not get caught up in extended makeup/breakup cycles and come back time and time again…”

    There is truth in that, BUT I think she could express it in a better way than to throw the NON’s under the bus. The context of the article is people, including NON’s, saying mean spirited things about BPD sufferers.

    It seems pretty clear to me she is saying if the NON was emotionally mature, they would have confronted the problem, got it resolved or would have left the relationship.

    Bon, I very much agree with your suggestions of approaches for how to treat the BPD in the relationship.

    BUT, there are far more people in BPD relationships that don’t know it, than there are people that do know and are seeking effective means to treat and deal with it.

    So, go ahead and put my picture on the cover the DSM VI as the bitter person that put’s Non’s over BPD’s. I see it unethical to recommend to anyone that has objevtive evidence their spouse is mentally ill to NOT confront it, NOT insist on it be resolved and NOT to leave the marriage if they refuse to get help and continue to be hurtful.

    I tried to do that for 25 years, and I failed, for the life of me I don’t what I could have done different to confront the problem and get it resolved, other than what I suggested I wished I had done. You’ve offered me no other suggestion other than what I wished I had done would NOT have worked.

    No it is NOT ethical to say, four other people in the family must continue to suffer for decades and develop life long problems of their own, so it doesn’t upset the delicate balance of the one doing the harm, in hopes that one day decades down the road one family member in an amateur attempt just happens to stumble on the right diagnosis and trains themselves on how to treat it.

    At the very least, if I did what I wished I had done, and it didn’t get my spouse diagnosed and we would work together on treatment, I would have gotten myself and my kids away from my BPD.

    Its triage, I see it perfectly ethical to only allow the disease to claim one life instead of five or more.

  • Bon Dobbs

    Bon, I very much agree with your suggestions of approaches for how to treat the BPD in the relationship.

    BUT, there are far more people in BPD relationships that don’t know it, than there are people that do know and are seeking effective means to treat and deal with it.

    So, go ahead and put my picture on the cover the DSM VI as the bitter person that put’s Non’s over BPD’s. I see it unethical to recommend to anyone that has objevtive evidence their spouse is mentally ill to NOT confront it, NOT insist on it be resolved and NOT to leave the marriage if they refuse to get help and continue to be hurtful.

    The thing is… what is the nature of this “confrontation”? Have you considered that there is a way to “confront” this mental illness in a way that’s not passive and not aggressive in the way of interventions? DBT family skills are just that. They are balanced and, by their very nature, dialectical.

    My message to my readers and to anyone who needs to hear it is that there is another way, a way between the extremes. My suggestions, which I can’t summarize in a response to a comment on my blog, are contained in my book. And not just in my book – in Valerie Porr’s “Overcoming Borderline Personalty” and in Shari Manning’s “Loving Someone with BPD”.

    Other people do not need to suffer for decades if they take the prescription that removes the conditions that exacerbates the disorder. There is another way. It has been outlined in DBT family skills. I didn’t just pull it out of my backside. The problem is that it is counter-intuitive and doesn’t “feel” like it would work. That being said, when practiced, it does actually work.

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