There are many bad relationships in the BDSM community that are toxic, but are masked as D/s relationships. In this multi-part series of posts, I'm bringing my experience and research to bear to show what an unhealthy relationship with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder looks like, as well as then provide resources for improving the situation.
In my [previous posting][//vircotto.com/borderline-and-co-dependency-in-the-scene-part-1-the-appeal-of-a-borderline-partner.html], I discussed the appeal of a relationship with a Borderline, why these relationships can feel so good and be so appealing. In this post, I identify feelings in the non-Borderline partner that may indicate that they're in an unhealthy relationship. These are all from experiences that I personally had and that, after reading the literature, I learned were very common among people in relationships with Borderlines.
Fear of Reactivity
My most common early experience as the partner with a Borderline was the experience of fear of talking about or bringing up certain issues. I've seen and experienced this as "Well, my partner is really sensitive." but it becomes a full on fear of discussing certain topics because you worry that your partner will become reactive. Reactive could mean anything from crying, to yelling, to threats of suicide, or physical violence against you.
This avoidance issue can be very subtle at first. You may notice you partner is upset, and like any caring partner, want to avoid making them more upset. They may express sentiments that sound like depression such as "I'm sorry I failed you", or they might turn that anger on you, finding and hitting your emotionally vulnerable spots. They may talk about being triggered, or having PTSD or PTSD-like symptoms.
PTSD and trigger are real and serious issues, but where the situation shifts from PTSD to something more pervasive is the sheer number of topics and issues that one can and can't bring up.
This an become quickly entwined into a BDSM language. A reactive dom can simply be labeled as "strict" and a reactive sub can simply be an "emotional little". It's important to note that these labels are neither supported nor negated by mental health issues. A Borderline partner may be a strict dom, or a little who wears their emotions on their sleeves while still having a personality disorder such as BPD.
Lack of Freedom to Express Affect / Lack of Emotional Affect
Tying into the issue of avoidance of topics is also an avoidance of emotion. Expressing frustration or sadness can be a trigger for a Borderline, but so can expressing joy. They may express that when you're sad, they feel guilty and responsible, but if you express joy, they may feel intense jealousy and anger if source of your joy is not them..
Like the cognitive avoidance, this emotional avoidance on the part of the partner can take time to manifest and often comes slowly over time. In some cases, a Borderline may choose a partner who lacks much affect, and then these issues aren't as prevent or evident, but with a partner who is emotionally active, this can actually result in an act of emotional repression, when emotions themselves become out of touch.
Feeling Lost in a Script
An experience that I had in these relationships was that when things went wrong, I often felt like I was living out a play or following a script, that my own actions were just outside of my perception or control.
This feeling can be very strange, to be almost disembodied while you're in a conflict situation, but it's one that I experienced and that makes sense when we explore more about Co-dependency in a subsequent post.
Regulating Your Partners Emotions
Along with feeling like you're in a script, you may also feel that you're regulating your partner's emotions. You may find yourself trying to act to counter-balance their reactions with counter-reactions. An example that many people can relate to would be if your partner told you that they felt worthless, you might talk to them about much you love them and how much you want them to be happy.
But if happiness is a trigger (discussed more in a later post), then you may also find yourself also regulating their expressions of joy and enthusiasm, as you fear what is likely to come later.
Feeling or Taking On Obligations
A common trait in a relationship with a Borderline is that one finds themselves taking on obligations. These may be things such as letting your partner live with you (without having explicitly moved in together), or paying their bills, or doing other non-financial tasks for them. You may find yourself taking obligations that you want to do because you love your partner, but that you'd really rather not be doing.
Conversely, you may find your partner has taken control or your life in ways that you didn't bargain for, such as by dictating how you act or speak, or ways in which you must be in order to be with them. And once you factor D/s into this mix, it can be even more complex, where taking on a role in this way may seem entirely natural at first, but which can turn toxic later.
Accepting the Unacceptable
You may also find yourself accepting behavior that you would not normally accept- for example if a partner came to you and described the kinds of behaviors that you're now dealing with, you'd insist they end the relationship, but you find yourself staying with them anyway. This may be out of a sense of deep connection, a sense of things being temporary, a sense of guilt, or feeling that you "have no options". In any of these cases, you may find yourself accepting behaviors that you know to be terrible and wrong.
Regulating / Hiding the Truth
Along with accepting behavior you don't find acceptable, you may even find yourself making an effort to try to help your partner present better eg at social functions. You may spend a lot of energy and effort "watching out" for them, trying to ensure that they don't get triggered or react, or you may openly lie to people close to you about their behavior behind closed doors.
This can tie into the D/s dynamic in a number of ways, but only as a mask. If you're a dom, you may consider your behavior simply "dominating your partner" or if you're a sub, then you may see this as part of your service. In either case, though, you're really dancing around their behaviors and trying to keep them from reacting.
Hoping for Change
A very common experience amongst Codepenents in relationships with Borderlines is the strong belief that things will change, that their partner will wake up one day and that their issues, whatever they may be, will be gone and that they'll have the relationship of their dreams (the relationship mentioned in the first part of this series). This may be reinforced by others who tell you "stick by" or by your own values that you need to stick by your partner.
You may even find yourself looking every day for the small indications that things are getting better, convincing yourself that they're improving when they're not, or that "it's always darkest before the dawn", or other ways to justify how terrible you feel, always held out by the hope that your relationship can go back to the way it was at the beginning.
Not Being Believed / Being Afraid
A very common, possibly universal experience for people in relationships with Borderlines is that they're afraid of their partners. They're afraid of how they might react, what they might do. The Borderline may hurt themselves, or hurt them, or spread lies about them (more on these behaviors in a subsequent post), or something else, but whether you're the domliest dom or the slaviest slave, you find yourself deeply afraid of your partner.
And then, to add onto that, because the Borderline's behavior is not universal across people, you are not likely to be believed. People who know you both may have a very different experience, or may target you as the cause of your partner's chaos. If you're a large, domly cis male especially, you may find yourself being blamed, and you may even start to question yourself "Am I really this terrible person?". These situations can lead to yet more feelings of isolation and hopelessness, or feed into any lack of self-esteem in that "I'm lucky to have the person that I have".
Much of the time, all of these feelings happen slowly, or happen in a way that's hard to recognize. Nothing bad happens all at once, and there are often wonderful periods of intense joy in between these terrible feelings, but they inevitably return, and they indicate that something is very wrong in the relationship.
In the next installment of this series, I'll present some attributes or behaviors that may indicate that your partner is Borderline.