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Global Guide to Divorce

Jack Jack the Cat

divorce with a spouse with borderline personality disorder

Divorcing a Person with Borderline Personality Disorder

Mediation and collaborative divorces have been referred to as “more friendly” with a goal to keep the door open to having a relationship post-divorce. Some people who divorced individuals with personality disorders, felt safer in the court room with a judge presiding. This is particularly true with spouses who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Traits of Borderline Personality Disorder

People with BPD have a fear of abandonment which can become worse with divorce. They have poor and unstable interpersonal relationships. They tend to put someone up on a pedestal and revere them. When that person does something not liked, they become bitterly despised. People are categorized as being wonderful or not worthy of their adoration. Folks with BPD have overly intense emotions which fluctuate vastly. They are controlling and this includes controlling communication between people they know. BPD people are threatened by a partner’s success so criticize in order to tear them down in the belief it will keep them dependent and prevent abandonment (divorce).

Their impulsive behaviour – affairs, drug use, and alcoholism may be a factor in their partner wanting out of the relationship. People with BPD have a sense of emptiness with a distorted self-image. When married, one may have tip-toed around them to avoid activating the BPD spouse’s intense anger. The departing spouse’s self-esteem may be low after spending time with this judgemental person.

Setting Boundaries

Ways to get through divorce from a spouse with Borderline Personality Disorder include having clear boundaries. You can send a strong message that all communication goes to your solicitor and not to you. Have consequences if boundaries are violated. Follow through with consequences, such as blocking their calls and e-mails or changing your phone number. Instruct staff at work not to put those calls through to you or get a restraining order.

Divorce Proceedings

One has to get grounded when starting divorce. Get calm in order to stay focused, as the spouse with BPD will attempt to raise your anxiety. Do not rise to the bait or react to their ploys. Let your barrister or solicitor be the filter that keeps manipulation away from you and deals with it impassively. They get in power struggles even over little issues, so do not get in a battle. Several men I interviewed advised others to let the spouse with BPD feel that they are winning, by giving up more personal property and instead concentrate on the big ticket items. Turn over meticulous documents on finances, particularly showing what you owned before marriage, to keep emotion out of the dealings.

Spouses with Borderline Personality Disorder can bump up your legal costs by dragging out the divorce proceedings. They may refuse to hand over personal property that is deemed yours. Some solicitors send a paralegal to oversee the actual packing up of their client’s personal property. This prevents any interactions of their client with the spouse with BPD. They may try to hang on to you by throwing a spanner in the works whenever possible such as by causing delays with submitting needed records. Leave emotion out and keep to your boundaries. 

When there are children in the marriage, safeguards need to be put into place. Kids can be used as pawns to punish the spouse who is departing. Careful documentation is helpful to show neglect, parental alienation or other parenting problems. There may be a formal custody evaluation performed with interviewing other adults in the kids’ lives to determine the percentage of shared care for each parent. Post-divorce, keep records of communication from the parent with BPD. A person with BPD may be mandated to get therapy and can turn their lives around. People who put the effort into therapy can be good parents and marriage partners. Divorce with spouses with Borderline Personality Disorder who are not in treatment, can a nightmare. Ask potential divorce professionals if they are experienced in dealing with this type of person and what type of divorce that they recommend. The people I talked with had Clean Breaks with former partners with Borderline Personality Disorder and had no communication with them afterwards.

Originally printed in The Divorce Magazine