“It’s Complicated”: Personality Disorders and Relationships

"It's Complicated": Personality Disorders and Relationships

The desire to form close, healthy relationships is universal and present in every stage of life. Being in a healthy relationship requires the ability to give and provide support, willingness to see from the other person’s perspective, and consideration for their interests when making decisions. For many people, learning to be a good partner can take a lifetime, but for those living with a personality disorder or who love someone with a disorder, relationships can be even more challenging to navigate.

In studies that observe the effect personality disorders have on relationships, researchers note how the traits of various personality disorders impact how individuals connect with others, including their partners. Unsurprisingly, traits such as impulsivity, anxiety, and dramatic mood swings can significantly interfere with social connections.

For those who are either living with a personality disorder or whose partner has a disorder, it’s important to recognize the effect it can have on the relationship. It’s also necessary to be able to recognize the signs of a strained relationship and know where to find support.

Navigating Complex Dynamics: The Intersection of Personality Disorders and Relationships

Personality disorders come with a variety of traits and behaviors that don’t fit with cultural norms and expectations and can damage an individual’s relationships. The individual may have a difficult time forming social bonds, wondering why relationships seem to come easily to everyone else. On the other hand, someone who’s in a relationship with someone with a personality disorder may be frustrated when it feels like they’re doing more than their share of emotional labor or the relationship is unhealthy despite their hard work.

The type of personality disorder an individual has can influence how they engage with others and can have a significant impact on how they behave in relationships, especially if they’re not aware of the traits they’re exhibiting. For example, someone with manipulative personality disorder may use tactics such as guilt, over-the-top romantic gestures or gaslighting to stay in control of the relationship. People with avoidant personality disorder often have an overriding fear of rejection or abandonment, so they may have difficulty when it comes to communication and commitment.

The presence of a personality disorder doesn’t condemn an individual to a life without meaningful, healthy relationships. There are obstacles present in nearly every relationship that, if not purposefully navigated, can jeopardize the mental health of those in the relationship. Understanding the personality disorder and working closely with a mental health professional can go a long way in overcoming the effect personality disorders have on relationships.

Impact on Communication and Emotional Intimacy

Honest interactions and good communication form the bedrock of every relationship, and when those are absent, confusion and dysfunction are likely to occur. There are several ways personality disorders may impact a relationship.

Inability to Build Emotional Intimacy

Personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder often lack empathy and the drive to form emotional attachments. They may appear to be callous toward their partner’s feelings and needs, creating emotional distance.

Dishonesty and Manipulation

Many people with personality disorders use charm, manipulation tactics, or deceit to get what they want, and oftentimes, they feel no remorse when acting in their own interest at their partner’s expense. In turn, their partner may feel betrayed or used.

Lack of Empathy

An individual with a personality disorder may have a challenge when it comes to understanding or caring about their partner’s perspective or emotions. They may dismiss their feelings, resulting in their partner feeling unheard or isolated.

Lack of Compromise

Many people living with personality disorders feel entitled to getting their own way, causing them to be dominating in their relationships. They may not be open to compromising or negotiating with their partners, leading to conflict.

Difficulty Expressing Emotions

Depending on their personality disorder, an individual may have a limited emotional range and have a difficult time effectively expressing what they feel. This can result in their partner feeling disconnected or shut out, leading to feelings of loneliness.

Inability to Take Responsibility

In some cases, those living with certain personality disorders may have a hard time taking responsibility for their mistakes. Instead, they may blame other people or factors outside of their control.

Ignoring Social Norms

Someone living with a personality disorder may not place any importance on social etiquette, which can cause tension and frustration in the relationship. For example, they may not see the importance of keeping commitments or being on time for important activities, and they may even engage in unethical or illegal activities that cause their partner shame or embarrassment.

Recognizing Red Flags: Signs of Strained Relationships

The presence of a personality disorder doesn’t excuse someone from being accountable when they behave in ways that are harmful to their partner or the relationship. In some cases, the dynamics of a relationship make it impossible to create healthy boundaries and foster communication and trust, making it necessary for that relationship to end.

Some common red flags include:

  • The individual is self-centered and unable to recognize the value or contributions of others, including their partner
  • The individual feels superior to their partner and consistently belittles them
  • The individual is always in control, often using manipulation tactics to get what they want
  • The individual is preoccupied with blaming others for their own mistakes
  • The individual is unwilling or unable to learn to manage intense emotions
  • The individual resorts to abuse or threats of abuse when challenged or contradicted
  • One person always feels the need to make excuses for the other’s unacceptable behavior

Seeking Support: Balancing Self-Care and Relationship Challenges

When navigating a relationship with someone who has a personality disorder, it’s important to remember that the normal rules may go out the window. For example, if a person has no qualms about using lies, deception, or even illegal actions to accomplish their goals, it’s not realistic for their friends, parents or romantic partners to expect to be able to trust them implicitly.

For those in relationships with people who have personality disorders, self-care is vital to their own mental health. While a relationship like this can be isolating, it’s important for the individual to maintain a strong support system of friends and family who understand the relationship and its dynamics. They should continue to prioritize self-care by maintaining a healthy diet, fitness regimen, and sleep schedule, as well as avoid using substances such as alcohol to mask negative emotions. As always, if the relationship includes any type of physical abuse, it’s important for them to put distance between themselves and their partner.

People living with personality disorders can learn to function in society and follow norms, even if they don’t have an innate drive to do so, but it may always be necessary for those in their lives to have firm boundaries in place. Regardless of the dynamics, a relationship can quickly become toxic when one partner refuses to invest in the relationship as much as they take from it.

Healing and Growth: Strategies for Building Healthy Relationships

It’s important to remember that personality disorders exist on a spectrum, and a diagnosis doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to enjoy healthy, supportive relationships. There are strategies that can help with building relationships despite the presence of a personality disorder.

  • Learn about the disorder. Part of caring for someone who has a personality disorder is to understand the disorder itself, including common traits, strengths and things to consider.
  • Get help from a professional. While personality disorders may not be curable, therapy can help many people living with disorders to better process their emotions and understand their motivations. A professional can also help the partner to understand how to best function in the relationship.
  • Provide emotional support. Living with a personality disorder can be isolating and frustrating. Providing emotional support, understanding and patience can help the individual improve their behavior.
  • Navigating a relationship with someone with a personality disorder can be challenging. It’s important to understand the disorder, the individual’s motivations and the red flags to look for in an unhealthy relationship.

Fortunately, Restore Mental Health has a team of professionals experienced in treating personality disorders and providing support for those navigating relationships with someone with a disorder. To learn more, contact us today.