- Love Club
Your Wife is a Borderline
April 26, 2004 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
I was wondering if i can make my marriage work? My wife has borderline personality disorder and she's been feeling down. She will go from wanting a divorce to glad we're not getting one.
I'm trying to get help for her but it's hard when you live out in the country. All the good docs. are taken or they are an hour or more away. I won't give up I'm just wondering how often this problem puts a couple through divorce.
You do sound like a devoted husband and your wife lucky to have you as her life partner. For my readers who aren't familiar with borderline personality disorder, I think a break explanation is needed.
The person who suffers from a borderline personality has difficulty tolerating angry feelings. When things are going fine, the borderline adores his/her love object and often even idolizes his/her beloved; but when angered, the borderline switches from love to hate, and will often verbally or physically abuse his/her partner and or kill off the person who triggered the anger by temporarily cutting off contact or ending the relationship outright.
In many cases, the borderline can't sustain a lasting relationship of any kind. In your case, it seems as though your wife never actually kills you off, she just threatens to do so, which gives us some hope that she may be able to sustain a relationship with you.
Even though there seems to be no imminent danger, she nevertheless needs to be getting help. Since you say that you can't find a therapist, I'll give you some pointers on how to deal with her in a way that is therapeutic and growth enhancing.
The next time she becomes angry with you, tell her that she isn't permitted to act out her anger by abusing you verbally, threatening you with ending the relationship, screaming at you or calling you names. By setting a limit on her behavior you are providing the boundaries and limits that don't exist in her own psyche. Little by little the outside limits will become incorporated into her own psyche and she will be able to regulate her own behavior.
After you set the limit, tell her that if she wants to tell you what you did and how she feels about it, you will be happy to listen and try to understand. If she continues to misbehave, walk away from her. She needs to see that she is going to get no attention for bad behavior and lots of attention when she behaves properly and communicates her feelings appropriately.
I know you love her and want to support her. Realize that behaving in a passive and accepting way in response to her raging against you isn't helpful and actually reinforces her pathology. You need to find your strength and put your foot down in order for her to begin to heal.
"If anger and fighting are ruining your dream of a happy marriage, Dr. Turndorf’s conflict resolution program is for you."
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Author of NY Times #1 bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
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Pulitzer Prize winning author and Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
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Winner of the Best Historical Fiction Award, 2012
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