BPD and long-distance relationships can be a very damaging mix.
Why do I say this? Well, before my diagnosis, circumstances found me and my boyfriend of 2 years in a long-distance relationship (we’re talking opposite sides of the world long distance). I’d be lying if I said the relationship wasn’t already on the rocks, but it lasted less than two months before ending in disaster.
“But all of your relationships have ended in disaster,” I hear you accuse.
Touché. And yet, those two months of being in a long-distance relationship exasperated my BPD to the point where I was very, very ill. The breakdown of this relationship was actually the catalyst to my diagnosis. But why?
Unhealthy BPD Thoughts and Behaviours in Long Distance Relationships
It is common for borderlines to have unstable, toxic relationships. Co-dependency, emotional instability and extreme sensitivity are just some of the things that make us difficult to date. However, it is our intense and overwhelming fear of abandonment that is one of the biggest problems, triggering a host of other BPD symptoms and wreaking havoc on our relationships.
As you can imagine, being in a long-distance relationship tends to inflame our fear of abandonment. It is often a self-fulfilling prophecy because it initiates other unhealthy behaviours that drive our partners away.
Here are some unhealthy thoughts and behaviours that make BPD and long-distance relationships a difficult combination.
Needing Constant Reassurance
We have a tendency to seek constant validation because our self-loathing insecurities leave us wondering why on earth you want to be with us. Physical affection can be hugely validating, with even random kisses or hugs putting our minds to rest for a while. But in long-distance relationships, the absence of this physical affection means that even though we really, really don’t want to, our brains make us ask you if you still love us. Over and over and over again.
Clinginess and Over-Texting
When you’re in a long-distance relationship it’s normal to want to text or call more than you usually would – but borderlines can sometimes take this to the extreme. Because we feel so lost without you (and many of us are also highly impulsive), we like to text you … a lot. It can be incredibly suffocating for our partners and has a habit of driving them away.
We’re jealous of the people who get to spend time with you every day. We’re jealous of the girl you take your lunch break with even if you tell us that nothing’s going on (I mean, that’s what they all say, right?) Most of all, we’re jealous of how easy it is for you to just carry on living your life while we are depressed, heartbroken wrecks who feel like half of our soul has been ripped out.
Controlling your emotions can be very tricky when you have BPD, especially if you’re in a long-distance relationship. The loneliness, uncertainty and fear can take over in an instant, making you incredibly reactionary. Your partner so often becomes the target of your explosive anger, vilification, threats of suicide and intense waves of despair.
It is often too much for them to handle – and the distance makes it easier for them to walk away.
Delusional Thinking and Overreacting
You say you’re going to call at 4 but you forget until a couple of hours later. You mention that you’re going to a party tonight and ‘won’t be on your phone much’. You don’t say ‘I love you too’ with the same enthusiasm as you usually do.
When you have BPD, you constantly feel as though abandonment is imminent. Innocent behaviours like forgetting to call become glaring signals of your dying affection towards us – and it’s terrifying. Our reactions can be extreme and irrational, which only pushes you further away even though all we want is validation that you aren’t going off us.
Depression / Suicidal Thoughts
Love can be so painful when you have BPD. You grow so attached to your favourite person that it physically hurts to be without them, like they are the very oxygen you breathe. It may sound poetic and passionate – but in reality, it’s extremely distressing.
It is being unable to eat or sleep because we miss you so much. It is experiencing excruciating emptiness and suicidal thoughts because our self-identity is in tatters. You are our support system so we run to you for comfort – but distance can make our depression even harder for you to deal with.
Of course, long-distance relationships are no picnic for most people. Cosmopolitan cites jealousy, differing schedules and a non-existent sex life as just some of the reasons why long-distance relationships are so prone to breaking down.
However, you only have to do a quick scan of certain Reddit subs to find a host of borderline’s partners/exes, frustrated by our ‘psycho’ behaviour when it comes to long-distance relationships. It’s clear to see that borderlines struggle with them to a dysfunctional and destructive degree. So, is it just a write-off?
BPD and Long-Distance Relationships – Can They Work?
Personally, I think they can!
See, BPD affects everyone differently and some people are more high functioning in relationships than others – especially post-diagnosis. Long-distance relationships can also be good for borderlines to maintain independence and healthy boundaries. It’s definitely possible – but of course, that doesn’t make it easy.
After I got my diagnosis and did some serious soul-searching, I ended up getting back in the same long-distance relationship. And guess what? Not only did it survive the next few months of distance, but the relationship is still running pretty smoothly.
Don’t get me wrong, I still go through a lot of inner turmoil. I am constantly challenging delusional thoughts and internalising intense emotions. Luckily though, I’ve got much better at managing my explosive reactions which has an extremely positive effect on my relationships.
Here are some of my tried-and-tested tips for making a long-distance relationship work.
Practise Daily Self-Awareness
I’ve found self-awareness to be one of the most effective tools for managing BPD. Once I understood my BPD and its symptoms, the irrational fears, delusional thoughts and intense emotions became easier to manage.
Activities like mindfulness, therapy and journaling can help you to identify and separate irrational BPD thoughts from ‘normal’ thoughts. This revelation makes these thoughts a lot less scary and helps to prevent a tirade of overemotional reactions and outbursts.
I’m definitely not perfect, but I think my ability to take a step back and observe my emotions before acting on them is what really helped me to maintain a stress-free long-distance relationship.
Have An Open Dialogue With Your Partner About Your BPD
Research shows that when both people in the relationship take the time to understand BPD, the relationship has a much better chance of being successful.
Long-distance relationships can worsen some BPD symptoms. Being open and honest about your triggers and symptoms encourages your partner’s support and understanding. A healthy dialogue can help to prevent some situations from escalating out of control – and even nip initial triggers in the bud.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Establishing boundaries can help maintain a healthy long-distance relationship. For example, limiting communication to certain times of the day or agreeing to a communication break if an argument breaks out are good ways of dealing with codependency and intolerable behaviour.
Both parties should make their expectations clear and stick to them. Borderlines have a habit of testing boundaries, so if you’re the partner of someone with BPD, being firm and clear can help keep these boundaries in place.
Work on Establishing Your Own Separate Identity
I still struggle with finding an identity outside of my relationships, but it reached breaking point when I first tried long-distance. While he was out living and enjoying his life, I was glued to my phone because he was my life and he was the only thing that mattered.
As terrible as it sounds, I wanted him to be as lonely, lovesick and co-dependent as I was, but he had a whole separate social life and I had … nothing.
Throw yourself into something you’re passionate about. A hobby, a new skill, something you love that sparks a flame in your heart. Reconnect with an old friend or confide in friends that you trust. Go out and experience new things. Save up for something that you really want. Work on bettering yourself and create a narrative that is completely yours and yours alone.
Remember, long-distance relationships are naturally difficult and many people are unable to make them work. While BPD and long-distance relationships may have a reputation for creating dysfunction and chaos, positive strategies like self-awareness, boundaries, communication and confidence can promote a low-stress long-distance relationship.
Do you have experience with BPD and long-distance relationships? Did it break down or were you able to make it work? If you have any tips, please leave them in the comments down below! Also, please visit my resources page for my full disclaimer.