I have been married for a little over two years now, we've been together for just about four. She has been married before, been in many abused relationships and suffered some tremendous losses. Before we were married she told me she has mental heath issues, suffers from depression and borderline personality disorder. She also brought with her three beautiful and wonderful children which I adore and am considering adopting. I am a fixer, a helper, a rescuer as I heard it put somewhere on this site. So when I heard this I thought it would be no problem, I could handle anything, I'd fix her and make her feel better and we'd live happily ever after.
And for a time, maybe the first year and a half of our relationship everything was great, fantastic even. We went out and explored the city, I bought her lots of presents, went on dates a couple of times a week and then every day and then we moved in together. Now that I think about it, that's when things started going sideways. She started saying that I don't love her enough or that I don't show that I love her enough or more to the point that she doesn't feel like I show that I love her.
I thought this was odd but I, proposed to her (in a very awkward, non-storybook sort of way) because I love her and genuinely wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. I thought that would prove to her that I love her, and for a few weeks it did.
Fast forward a year to my bachelor party, we did the usual, went to a strip bar and got drunk. Towards the end of the night she phones me in tears saying that she's scared I'm going to leave her for a stripper. We fought and I told her she was stupid, we were getting married in a week and I only have eyes for her and love her. All she heard was she was stupid and I had to walk on eggshells around her until the day of the wedding. The morning of the wedding I went out for breakfast with my groomsmen and I get another phone call with her crying because she's afraid I'm going to stand her up. Well I didn't and we got married and things were ok for a time.
Fast forward another year, all of her hair falls out within the space of a month. We went to a couple of doctors and no one could come up with any answers other than "stress". Which makes sense considering she was going to hairdressing school and working at the same time. She keeps crying to me about how ugly she feels and about how I'm going to leave her because she lost her hair. Well it's a year later now and some of her hair has grown back but she still has to wear wigs every day and she works in a hair salon working on other people's hair and has to look her best.
I'm still with her and I still love her, but it's getting hard to show it now. Any time I do any sort of romantic gesture she always finds some flaw in it. When I buy flowers she complains that I just picked them up on the way home from work, or that they're just going to die any ways. When I buy her favorite chocolates she complains that she's just going to put on weight. When I say she looks fantastic, she says I don't mean it because my body language doesn't say the same thing. When I try to make physical contact after complimenting her same thing. When I buy her presents she says I'm just trying to suck up.
Sex is a whole other can of worms that causes a lot of stress between us. She likes staying up late, late to the point where I fall asleep on the couch sitting next to her, where I'm exhausted the next day for work, so when we do actually go to bed I just want to go to sleep. At times when I do try to initiate sex it's generally a toss up whether or not she will let me have sex with her, which consists of me doing all the work, every single time. And yet she complains that we don't have sex often enough. She always says that she tries to wake me up in the middle of the night and I didn't respond. I think that is a crock but it's possible I guess.
Her mother lives with us and that's another bone of contention, she is a crotchety old woman who yells at our kids because they never do a good enough job at chores or whatever else she manages to blame them for. She always complains about feeling "in the way" yet she has no job and never leaves the house unless we drag her out with us. We can't go out on dates because she complains about feeling abandoned and like she's stuck taking care of the kids. They are old enough to take care of themselves.
But all of that is secondary to the fact that I love her. I love her and she doesn't believe me, she doesn't "feel" it despite everything I've done. I've stopped doing things for her, yes I know that's the wrong thing to do. So yesterday I told her that we need to go into counseling together to work out our issues. She said no flat out. I told her I was going to go anyways and that I wanted her to come too, but I am still going.
To be completely honest if it weren't for the kids we would have been divorced long ago. I made a promise to myself that I would never abandon those kids no matter what happens. But I'm getting to the point where I realize that we are going to be together for another 40 years and things are always going to be this bad.
How can I live like this? How can I just sit back and take the constant verbal venom? When I do try to speak up it only makes things worse. She makes me justify myself to her for not making her feel happy. How can I make someone happy who refuses to see just how much I do for her? I'm shutting down, I feel like I'm slowly being poisoned and I have to just sit there are take it. The woman I fell in love with is gone. All that's left is a depressed, bitter shell of a woman. Is it possible to get her back? If I fight hard enough can I make her see how deeply in love with her I am? Or will things get progressively worse until something breaks?
This is a toxic situation because even though you say you cant make her happy, you still feel like maybe you should. you feel guilty and probably lash out a little out of guilt and frustration. Its complicated by the fact that what you do for her you do beacuse you want to make her happy. I know you're thinking, of course i want to make her happy. well, you can see now that that attitude does not work, especially with depressed people. a depressed person will eat you alive if you have that attitude.
My H and I fell in this struggle for years. In the beginning he would have done anything to make me happy. Of course i leeched onto him emotionally and lost my own emotional independence. my happiness became his responsibility, and he wanted to be able to play that role. He was unsure of himself. He didnt know if he should make me happy and if it really was his fault since he had made some mistakes in the past.
What saved both of our sanity was doing boundary books. we also both went to individual counseling. im not a fan of marriage counseling. i think its too complicated and negates each person taking responsiblity for their own dysfunction. it promotes finger pointing, i think. anyway, the counseling helped and doing boundary books together really cleared things up. It was tough at first. I was so angry and my H was really resentful, too. we fought a lot in the beginning. but ive taken back control of my own emotional health and my H has stepped out of the super hero status and takes care of his own happiness now.
GTRR, I am so sorry you and your W are having to struggle with the effects of BPD. My wife and I did the same struggle for 15 years and finally divorced three years ago.
The woman I fell in love with is gone. All that's left is a depressed, bitter shell of a woman. Is it possible to get her back?
Yes, the woman you "fell in love with" is gone. More accurately, she never existed. You had fallen in love -- as I did -- with a reflected image of your best qualities. Due to heredity and childhood trauma, a BPDer is unable to integrate her sense of self at age three. She therefore grows up having only a weak and unstable sense of who she really is. This is why she tends to act differently around different people. To ground herself and provide a sense of how she should behave, she figures out how other people expect her to behave and then she acts in that manner. She has been doing this since childhood.
Hence, when she became infatuated with you, she continued doing the very same thing -- except that she pulled out all the stops and put enormous energy into it. That is, she adopted all of your preferences, suddenly liking all the people you like and enjoying all the things you enjoy. Moreover, she emulated all of your best personality features, reflecting all of the best qualities you have to offer. A BPDer typically does this so perfectly that the partner is convinced he has met his "soul mate." The result is that you came the closest you will ever come in your lifetime to making love to yourself.
It would be a serious mistake to think of that mirroring process as manipulation. If you think that way, you are greatly underestimating the damage your W suffered in early childhood because you are not understanding her need to do "acting" ever since childhood in order to survive, fit in, and be loved. Similarly, it would be a mistake to think you can ever restore that wonderful honeymoon period -- which typically lasts up to six months unless you live far apart. It cannot be restored because it could only exist while your W idealized you to the point of feeling you were a perfect man. Yes, she will still go through a cycle of idealizing and demonizing you, but the idealization will never again be that complete. Absent the idealization, her twin fears of engulfment and abandonment cannot be held at bay as they were during the honeymoon period.
If I fight hard enough can I make her see how deeply in love with her I am? Or will things get progressively worse until something breaks?
Things likely will get worse. Much worse. A therapist who has treated many BPD couples says that BPD relationships typically last either 18 months or 15 years. They last 18 months, he explains, when the Non has strong personal boundaries. The Non enjoys the 6 month honeymoon period of mirroring and then is willing to spend up to a year trying (in vain) to reestablish the honeymoon conditions. Then he bails.
The relationship lasts 15 years, he explains, when the Non has strong codependency traits and thus has low personal boundaries. Such a Non typically never bails. Instead, the BPDer leaves him because, as the years go by, she becomes increasingly resentful of his inability to make her happy or fix her. Also, she may become increasingly fearful of abandonment. This explanation struck a strong chord with me because my relationship lasted 15 years, at which time my wife had me arrested on a trumped up charge and filed a restraining order barring me from my own home for a year and a half (when the divorce was finalized).
I realize that we are going to be together for another 40 years and things are always going to be this bad.
40 years, perhaps. As I explained, however, it is more likely she will walk out on you at 15 years.
How can I make someone happy who refuses to see just how much I do for her?
It is impossible to make her happy. A person can only do that for herself. If you are thinking she will eventually become thankful for your years of self-sacrifice, please think again. That will never happen unless she undergoes years of individual treatment with a psychologist trained in treating BPDers. Exactly how long does she remain appreciative of anything you have done over the past four years?
In my case, my exW would be thrilled for a few days -- a week tops -- when I would spend a lot of money on her. For example, I bought her $5,000 worth of sewing machines and spent another $6,000 on fabric. Over the 15 years, she made one dress, a vest, and a cat collar. Similarly, I bought her a piano and massage chair, both of which she dearly wanted and begged for. She played the $3,500 piano five times and sat in the $3,000 chair maybe four times.
The problem, of course, was not my exW but rather my foolish willingness to do those things. Untreated BPDers cannot appreciate anything for very long. For one thing, BPDers like my ex have an unstable sense of who they are, so they don't know today what they will want in two weeks. For another, strong emotions sweep through them, pushing aside feelings they had before. This is why, with untreated BPDers like your W, you cannot build up a reservoir of good will on which to draw during the bad times. Moreover, she cannot trust you. Her ability to trust was destroyed in early childhood. That means -- and I learned this the hard way -- that you can never really trust her. As you have found out once again, a person who does not trust you can turn on you at any time -- and will.
She makes me justify myself to her for not making her feel happy
No, she doesn't make you do anything. Rather, you choose to do it. Like I did for 15 years, you choose to walk on eggshells all the time to avoid triggering her childish tantrums. Because you've doing that for several years, you may have forgotten what the "real you" is like. It therefore is important that you stop doing that and bring your "old self" back.
I feel like I'm slowly being poisoned and I have to just sit there are take it.
You are being poisoned because you are in a toxic relationship. But it is not something that SHE is doing to you. Rather, it is something BOTH of you are doing to each other. Her contribution is obvious. Yours is less so. Essentially, you have become an "enabler" who spends so much time trying to calm your W that she never has to confront her illness and learn how to do self soothing for herself -- a skill that the rest of us started learning at age three. Probably due to heredity and/or an emotionally unavailable parent, your W never learned how to control her emotions. Your #1 role, then, is being a "soothing object" for her.
Your #2 role is to be a trash can in which she can dispose of all selfish thoughts, thereby escaping the guilt associated with such thoughts. She accomplishes that by projecting all bad thoughts (as well as all her mistakes) onto you. Because projection works at a subconscious level, she is actually able to believe most of the outrageous things she accuses you of. Believing the allegations is essential because she otherwise would not be free of the associated guilt. Stated differently, your W refuses to let go of the notion that she is a perpetual victim and, as a "victim," she sorely needs to have a "perpetrator" always close at hand -- that is your role, which I call being a trash can. This is why she blames you for everything -- and why she usually believes the baseless allegations.
She always says that she tries to wake me up in the middle of the night [for sex] and I didn't respond. I think that is a crock.
It is a crock. If she genuinely wanted to have sex with you, she would have taken you into the bedroom instead of staying up late sitting on the couch on all those evenings. And, if she had actually tried repeatedly to wake you up, you would have woken up.
Her mother lives with us and ... is a crotchety old woman who yells at our kids because they never do a good enough job at chores or whatever else she manages to blame them for.
Like I said above, BPD is believed to be the result of heredity and stress in early childhood (e.g., abuse or an emotionally unavailable parent). It appear that a substantial share of BPDers get the illness only from heredity. In any event, if her mother has BPD, she likely got it in the same way. Nobody deserves to suffer from this pernicious disorder.
[My W's mother] complains about feeling abandoned.
A hallmark of BPD is a strong fear of abandonment. The other great fear BPDers have is a fear of engulfment, which is triggered by intimacy.
I told her that we need to go into counseling together to work out our issues. She said no flat out.
Marriage counseling -- which only teaches communication skills -- would be a total waste of time and money. A BPDer has damage to her emotional core and has been that way since age 3 or 4. Your W therefore cannot trust, cannot control her emotions, cannot tolerate much intimacy, cannot appreciate your sacrifices, cannot love you in a mature way, cannot have a stable sense of who she is, and cannot stop hating herself. None of those problems can be addressed by marriage counseling.
Childhood trauma and heredity arrested your W's emotional growth, leaving her stuck with the emotional development of a four year old -- hence all the tantrums you are dealing with. That sort of core damage cannot be cured. She nonetheless can learn to manage it through years of therapy with a psychologist who is trained in treating BPDers. The chances of her wanting to do that, however, are very small. BPD is very pernicious in that it makes the victims so shameful of having a flaw that they are unwilling to stop thinking of themselves as victims. They therefore will not take responsibility for their own actions, which is necessary for treatment to begin. Moreover, codependent guys like you and me just make it worse because we rush in to sooth and calm them down -- enabling them to continue acting like four year olds for the rest of their lives.
Before we were married she told me she ... suffers from depression and borderline personality disorder.
Of all the things you said, this by far is the most encouraging sign. It is rare for a high functioning BPDer to be willing to go to therapy, much less admit that she "had BPD." The fact that she is able to admit it suggests that she may have a chance of staying in therapy long enough to make a difference in her behavior. Yet, if she is now adamantly refusing to go to a psychologist, that door is closed. Significantly, the therapy will not work if she does not want it badly for herself.
That is, if you insist on it as a condition of staying married, she likely will go and then just play mind games with the therapist. That is what my exW did. I took her to weekly visits with six different psychologist over a 15 year period, spending over $200,000. All to no avail. It did not make even a dent because she was too fearful to work on her issues. Unlike your W, my exW never did concede that she has BPD.
In this situation -- where the BPDer has no interest in therapy -- I normally encourage the partner to leave because the BPDer will never confront her illness as long as he stays around to sooth her. Hence, the toxic marriage can be as harmful to her as to him. When children are involved, however, I never advise a thing about leaving or staying. Of course, your children's welfare is paramount. Only you can decide what is in their best interests.
I love her and she doesn't believe me, she doesn't "feel" it despite everything I've done.
First of all I wanted to thank the two of you for your responses, it's reassuring to hear that I'm not going crazy and that it's not "all my fault" as my W would put it.
A BPDer typically does this so perfectly that the partner is convinced he has met his "soul mate."
This particular line struck close to home for me. You're absolutely right, I fell in love with my soul mate, we were perfect for each other. But again you're absolutely right in that it was a face she just put on. I've seen her do it with just about anyone we ever meet, she's great at disguising her feelings around others. She is the queen of glad-handing people when it suits her. And now that it's been pointed out to me I assume that's what she does with me as well. There are days at a time when she seems really happy and content, but she's probably just hiding her true feelings so she doesn't have to let them out and make herself vulnerable.
The relationship lasts 15 years, he explains, when the Non has strong codependency traits and thus has low personal boundaries. Such a Non typically never bails.
Again this describes me to a T, there have been many opportunities for me to leave and I've walked out the door a couple of times only to come crawling back. Which puts me in a worse position than before, she holds it over me as in "you tried to leave me before, it's only a matter of time until you do it again" We've been together almost 4 years total, and I'll be the first to admit that I am totally codependent and an enabler. Whenever she throws one of her tantrums I know exactly how it's going to play out, she will find something to get upset over and yell and scream and tell me how she feels neglected and unloved. I will sit back and listen and say I'm sorry and it'll never happen again and promise to change and fix it. And then once she calms down a bit she will give me an opening or a sign as to what it is that I can say or do to end the argument and I'll do it, every single time. I'm totally non-confrontational and I have arguments, I'll find the fastest way out and take it if at all possible. A great way to deal with my BPD W, I know... sighs.
In my case, my exW would be thrilled for a few days -- a week tops -- when I would spend a lot of money on her.
Sounds very familiar, my W calls it "shopping therapy." I came into this relationship with a net worth of over $600,000 and now I'm about $160k in debt. Yes I realize I have a family to support now, 3 teenagers are not cheap to feed and cloth and spoil. But most of it has gone to clothes that she has never worn, or purses that get replaced after two weeks, or shoes that just sit in the closet or knick knacks or... well I'm sure you know what it's like. This is the first relationship I've been in that lasted more than a month so to me it's normal, I hear men complaining all the time about how much money their wives spend. Having a big collection of purses is normal for women no? But it's getting to the point that all our credit cards are maxed out and our bills are behind. I've been bringing up this issue ever since we moved in together and it always starts a fight, every single time.
The problem, of course, was not my exW but rather my foolish willingness to do those things. Untreated BPDers cannot appreciate anything for very long.
I know I've let it go on too long, I know that I need to man up and fix the situation and that if I leave it things are only going to get worse. I have my own insecurity/codependency issues though. I can't be the one to put my foot down or end the relationship, as stupid as it is to write it out I'd rather be miserable than hurt my W or my kids.
Your #1 role, then, is being a "soothing object" for her.
Your #2 role is to be a trash can
This is the typical push/pull cycle for BPDers, and I know I'm caught up in the center of the storm. My W either clings on to me very tightly, saying I'm the perfect man for her and she's so happy to be with me and she's so lucky, etc. Or I'm the piece of crap that neglects her and makes her feel stupid and useless. I know I don't do anything to "make" her feel any way, I am completely supportive of her and she is responsible for her own feelings, logically. But when someone has a bad opinion of me I have to work to make it right, I'm a fixer.
BPD is very pernicious in that it makes the victims so shameful of having a flaw that they are unwilling to stop thinking of themselves as victims.
This is the exact reason she gave me for refusing to go into therapy. She's afraid that we're all going to gang up on her and tell her that there is something wrong with her, that she is flawed. I just want to help her but I'm starting to see that i can't help her if she doesn't want to help herself. When we met she told me that she had BPD, that she had been in therapy for years and years for it and that she was managing it and it didn't affect her any more. Clearly I can see that is not the case.
I've heard of a book called Stop Walking on Eggshells, a book for spouses of people with BPD, maybe I'll see if my local bookstore has a copy. But any other articles that you could suggest I would be happy to read. Thanks a lot for your help, I don't have any more answers than I had before but I have a lot more insight into what I'm actually dealing with versus what she tells me.
I've heard of a book called Stop Walking on Eggshells... and any other articles that you could suggest I would be happy to read.
GTRR, that is an excellent book targeted to us Nons (i.e., the nonBPD partners). Another is I Hate You, Don't Leave Me! As to articles, I recommend all of the articles at T9 Surviving a Break-up with Someone Suffering with Borderline Personality Disorder - Columbia University, New York, especially Article 9 on "Surviving a Breakup with Someone with BPD." Although you apparently are still intending to remain with your BPD wife, that article will go a long way to reducing your sense of guilt and obligation so that -- if you ever change your mind and want to leave -- you are more likely to be able to do so.
Another good article explains how we codependent men learn to be that way in childhood. Indeed, it is the best explanation of it that I've seen. It is by therapist Shari Schreiber and is available at AT ANY COST: Saving your Life after Loving a Borderline.. It is fairly technical but is excellent, and the last half is the best part. If you select "Articles" at Schreiber's site, you will find other excellent articles about BPD behavior.
Finally, GTRR, I highly recommend that you start participating at BPDfamily.com, the most active forum I've found that is targeted to us Nons (not BPD sufferers) who have BPD partners or family members. It is so large that it has a dozen message boards. The two that you likely will find most helpful are the "Staying" board and the "Raising a Child when One Parent Has BPD" board. If you copy and paste your story there, a dozen guys likely will step forward to help you. But please don't forget about those of us here at TAM. We will continue trying to be supportive as long as you find it useful.
I've been married to a high functioning BPD for 22 years. She didn't display the harsher symptoms until our wedding night. I began to realize that she was sick, but like you, I saw the real person beneath the layers.
We've discussed divorce for the first time recently, but her response was very scary. She looked at me really hard, then smiled. Said we would work on things. I am attending marriage couseling, but also planning an exit strategy for next year, just in case.
For me, the decision came when I was sitting alone at the Mayo Clinic for a week, having just been told that I had a terminal illness. For the first time in my adult life, I became depressed. The motor neuron damage stopped, and a year later, I have healed except for extreme cramps.
It was the first time she ever complimented me and said I was a good husband and father, and then told me that she found me disgusting, and had always harbored a hatred of me. Admittedly, this was only after I told her repeatedly that I didn't believe her when she said nothing was wrong.
Okay, so I'm 225 lbs, with very low body fat. Very muscular. Our kids love us. I had gained ten pounds in the fugue. She's very overweight now. She admitted that I utterly spoiled her romantically, but I don't think I'll ever overcome her feelings.
Point is, if you'll always be strong and need no affirmation, then congrats. Otherwise, do alot of research before staying with it.
I am attending marriage couseling, but also planning an exit strategy for next year, just in case.
As I discussed with GTRR, my experience with years of MC was that it was a total waste. At the same time, I was paying for individual therapy and group therapy for my BPD exW. That went on for 15 years. I found that, if a BPDer does not learn to control the disorder in individual therapy, MC will not make a dent in their behavior problems. I hope your experience is much different.
For me, the decision came when I was sitting alone at the Mayo Clinic for a week, having just been told that I had a terminal illness.
Like you, Takris, I started reassessing my priorities (i.e., mainly, of her needs over mine) when I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and went through 8 months of aggressive treatments. After surviving that, I started building stronger personal boundaries and this scared my exW so much that she left me after we had been together for 15 years (and had known each other for 40 years).
Point is, if you'll always be strong and need no affirmation, then congrats. Otherwise, do alot of research before staying with it.
I agree that, if GTRR is determined to stay with his untreated BPDer W, he will need to be strong and willing to forego affirmation of his feelings. Yet, affirmation is just one thing on a long list of things he will have to give up for his entire lifetime.
He can also kiss goodbye to being loved in a mature way, to being appreciated for the sacrifices he makes, to being trusted, to being able to know what is on the other side of the door when he goes home each day, and to having a W on whom he can rely when times get tough.
I'm sorry if my previous post came across as bleak. There are good times, although her sister tells me that I am really stretching it to call some of them good (her sister tries to encourage her to maintain perspective about the relationship). But I think you need to seriously assess the situation. My advice would be to move forward while constantly reminding yourself that many of the hurtful words are only a reflection of what she sees in the mirror.
In my case, on her good days, my wife tells me that she would never marry again, because she could never do that to another man. Two of her aunts have BPD, and they have both lived single since divorces 20 years ago.
This has me thinking hard... kinda floored but I can't tell who in my marriage is the BPD... what if we both are?? How toxic could that be. I am the enabler but I swear some of those traits fit me as well but all of it fits DH... to a tee. I have so much reading to do, thank you all for sharing so I can start sorting.
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Whoa, this is really interesting. I didn't know anything about BPD before now. I realized that I rely on my husband too much, but I do not have BPD. I have my own interests, dreams and ideas. My downfall is not believing my husband loves me. i know i have issues with my dad leaving me when i was 13, got remarried and doesn't talk to me anymore. i want to read more about BPD. really really interesting.
I can't tell who in my marriage is the BPD... what if we both are?? How toxic could that be. I am the enabler but I swear some of those traits fit me.
Shianne, keep in mind that everybody occasionally exhibits all nine BPD traits. They become a serious problem when you have most of them at such a strong level that they undermine your personal relationships. I am glad to hear that you found the information useful. For good articles by professionals, please take a look at those at T1 How a Borderline Personality Disorder Love Relationship Evolves. I especially like Article 9 at that site.
My downfall is not believing my husband loves me. i know i have issues with my dad leaving me when i was 13, got remarried and doesn't talk to me anymore.
Candy, I suggest you see a professional and ask about it. From what I've seen and read, it is extremely unlikely -- if not impossible -- for BPD to originate from abandonment at age 13. Typically, that disorder is deeply entrenched before age 5, which means it wrecks havoc on the child's ability to form a coherent, stable sense of herself. The resulting lack of a stable, strong sense of self identity leads to the black-white thinking, immature personal defenses, and inability to trust -- all of which undermine the person's ability to form lasting close relationships. Moreover, although proof is not yet established, psychologists widely believe that heredity plays an important role too.