Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) stands alone among psychological conditions for its devastating impact on romantic relationships. 
Marriages involving a BPD partner often lack mutual trust, which, alongside love and commitment, forms one of the three cornerstones of a healthy relationship. 
Research characterizes these marriages as highly dysfunctional, often featuring (1) short-lived bonds, (2) tumultuous cycles of separation and reconciliation, (3) emotional dissatisfaction for both parties and (4) disturbingly high levels of psychological and physical violence.
The data only confirms this narrative:
- 52% of women and 29% of men with BPD are married.
- 33% of BPD marriages end in divorce, slightly lower than non-BPD rates. (!)
- Only 10% of divorced BPD individuals remarry - half the general population's rate.
- 25% of BPD women and 15% of BPD men have children, contrasting sharply with the broader demographic.
- 20%-30% of individuals with BPD are currently engaged in some form of romantic relationship
- 68.6% exhibit insecure attachment styles
- 51% of women and 60% of men in BPD marriages report being happy
- 6.8% of recovered BPD individuals have faced child custody loss, 7.5 times less than the 51.2% in the non-recovered BPD group
This paper aims to explore the complex terrain of BPD marriages through statistical analysis and real-world examples, providing valuable insights for therapists, couples, and researchers alike.
As always, all graphics are 100% free to share under the CC BY-NC-SA license.
Definition of BPD
First, let’s define BPD:
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition categorized under Cluster B disorders. It's distinguished by an individual's extreme sensitivity to perceived rejection. This sensitivity often leads to instability in interpersonal relationships and fluctuating self-image, emotional volatility, and variable behavior. BPD can pose significant challenges and distress for those with it, and it's not uncommon for these individuals to have other coexisting medical and mental health conditions. 
Diagnostic Criteria for BPD
To fully grasp BPD, let's look at the specific diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-5, a tool professionals use to identify and diagnose BPD:
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), outlines specific criteria for diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
An ongoing pattern of unstable relationships, self-image, emotions, and significant impulsivity characterizes the disorder. These characteristics typically manifest in early adulthood and occur in various contexts. The diagnosis is made if an individual displays five or more of the following symptoms:
- A desperate effort to prevent actual or perceived abandonment. However, this does not include self-harming or suicidal behaviors, which are covered separately in number 5.
- Unstable and intense relationships with others, often swinging between idealizing someone one moment and devaluing them the next.
- Persistent and significant instability in one's self-image or sense of self, leading to an identity disturbance.
- At least two instances of impulsivity that could potentially harm oneself, such as reckless spending, substance abuse, reckless driving, promiscuous sex, binge eating, etc. This, too, does not include self-harming or suicidal behaviors.
- Emotional instability, demonstrated by extreme mood reactivity. This can include intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, or irritability that generally last for a few hours but rarely more than a few days.
- Persistent feelings of emptiness.
- Difficulties managing intense anger, resulting in frequent outbursts, constant feelings of anger, or recurrent physical altercations.
- Occasional paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms. 
- In the general population, the prevalence of any personality disorder is around 9.1%, with BPD specifically accounting for 1.4%. 
- However, when we examine the psychiatric inpatient population, the prevalence of BPD escalates to about 20%. 
- In comparison, the most prevalent personality disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), has rates around 5% in the general population. 
- It's important to note that around 75% of those diagnosed with BPD are women (a 3:1 female-to-male gender ratio). 
- However, recent research suggests that men may be equally affected but are often misdiagnosed with conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression. 
- Furthermore, individuals with BPD commonly struggle with other co-existing disorders:
- Rates of these comorbidities range from 80% to 96% for mood disorders, 88% for anxiety disorders, and 64% for substance abuse disorders. Eating disorders are also present in about 53% of individuals, and 10% to 30% have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Additional comorbidities include Bipolar disorder in 15% of individuals and somatoform disorders in 10%. 
See the chart below for more details:
Unfortunately, the struggles associated with BPD often lead to severe consequences.
- For instance, 10% of BPD patients end their own lives, a suicide rate that is 50 times higher than in the general population. [6, 7]
- Strikingly, interpersonal factors trigger 75% of the most lethal suicide attempts in people with BPD. 
- Besides these clinical features, BPD can impact cognitive functioning. One analysis indicated that individuals with BPD tend to perform lower on neurocognitive tests assessing attention, cognitive flexibility, learning and memory, planning, speed processing, and visuospatial abilities. 
The gravity of these statistics becomes all the more apparent when discussing the challenges faced in marriages involving a partner with BPD, which we will explore in subsequent sections.
Causes of BPD
A blend of genetic, environmental, and social elements can influence the likelihood of developing BPD.
Here are some key risk factors:
- Familial Ties: Genetic predisposition plays a role in the development of BPD. Individuals with a close family member, like a parent or sibling with the disorder, are more susceptible due to shared genetic factors.
- Brain Structure and Function: Studies indicate that people with BPD may exhibit brain structure and function changes, particularly in areas responsible for impulse control and emotional regulation. However, the directionality of this relationship remains to be seen. It is yet to be determined whether these alterations cause or a consequence of the disorder.
- Environmental, Cultural, and Social Elements: Many individuals with BPD report having undergone traumatic experiences during their childhood. These experiences often encompass instances of abuse, abandonment, or severe adversity. Others have had experiences with unstable relationships or endured conflicts, further contributing to the likelihood of developing the disorder. 
BPD Marriage Statistics
- Among those with BPD, 52% of women and 29% of men have married. This means BPD women are nearly twice as likely to marry as their male counterparts.
- In contrast, non-BPD women and men have marriage rates of 90.9% and 89.2%, respectively.
- Non-BPD women are 1.75 times more likely, and non-BPD men are 3 times more likely to marry than those with BPD.
This highlights a significant discrepancy between the two groups, with approximately 90% of non-BPD individuals entering into marriage, compared to much lower rates among those with BPD. 
BPD Divorce Statistics
Within the BPD group who married, 33% have experienced divorce. This is slightly lower than the 37.3% of non-BPD women and 35.7% of non-BPD men who have divorced.
Intriguingly, BPD individuals have slightly more resilient marriages than non-BPD women despite the challenges often associated with the disorder. While the divorce rate is somewhat higher in the non-BPD community, those with BPD are close behind, questioning some assumptions about the stability of relationships involving someone with BPD. [12, 13]
BPD Re-marriage Statistics
When exploring remarriage, only 10% of divorced BPD individuals choose to marry again. This is half the rate of non-BPD individuals, who remarry at about 20%. Thus, non-BPD individuals are twice as likely to remarry post-divorce.
These figures underline the pronounced difficulty BPD individuals might encounter when considering remarriage after a divorce.
BPD Parenthood Statistics
Regarding parenthood, 25% of BPD women and 15% of BPD men have children, suggesting BPD women are 1.67 times more inclined to become mothers than BPD men are to become fathers. In contrast, 84.3% of non-BPD women and 76.5% of non-BPD men have children.
This equates to non-BPD women being over three times and non-BPD men being over five times more likely to become parents than their BPD counterparts.
In broader terms, while the majority (around 80%) of the non-BPD populace experience parenthood, the likelihood drops significantly for those with BPD. 
Relationship Outcomes Among Recovered BPD Individuals
Recovery rates for BPD individuals are surprisingly high, with one study reporting 25% of BPD participants having a BPD diagnosis 15 years into the research and only 8% 27 years in. 
And luckily, relationship outcomes seem to improve together with remission significantly:
As you can see:
- Marriage/Cohabitation Rates: Recovered BPD individuals have a 78.7% rate of marrying or engaging in long-term cohabitation, nearly double the 39.3% of non-recovered counterparts.
- Relationship Termination Rates: 42.4% of recovered BPD individuals have ended a significant relationship through divorce or cohabitation termination. This is notably lower than the 74.6% termination rate in non-recovered BPD individuals, who are about 1.7 times more likely to experience relationship breakdowns.
- Parenthood Rates: Almost half of the recovered BPD population (49.3%) has become parents, either biologically or through adoption. This contrasts with the significantly lower 30.7% parenthood rate among non-recovered individuals. Overall, recovery from BPD enhances the likelihood of embracing parenthood by approximately 61%.
- Child Custody Loss Rates: Only 6.8% of recovered BPD individuals have faced child custody loss, 7.5 times less than the 51.2% in the non-recovered group. 
But why the stark differences in relationship outcomes?
The key factor:
Let’s break it down by comparing relationship outcomes by age among recovered and non-recovered BPD individuals:
- Recovered BPD individuals tend to initiate serious relationships, such as marriage or long-term cohabitation, later in life, typically around 29. This correlates with a higher likelihood of such commitments, at 78.70%, almost double that of their non-recovered counterparts who start earlier at 25 and have a commitment rate of just 39.30%.
- Despite starting their relationships later, recovered BPD individuals tend to end them slightly earlier, at around 31.5 years of age. This might seem counterintuitive given that their relationship termination rate is only 42.40%, much lower than the 74.60% rate seen in non-recovered BPD individuals, who typically end their relationships later, at 32.8 years.
- The decision to have children is also staggered between the two groups. Recovered BPD individuals, with a parenthood rate of 49.30%, tend to wait until 29.6 years of age. In contrast, the non-recovered group, with a lower rate of 30.70%, tend to become parents much earlier, at 22.6 years.
- The grave issue of losing child custody shows a stark difference between the two groups. Though the ages are closely matched, recovered individuals typically face this at 29 years and the non-recovered at 28.6 years; the rates are deeply contrasting. Only 6.80% of recovered BPD individuals lose custody, whereas a harrowing 51.20% of non-recovered individuals face this outcome.
Understanding these age gaps provides insight into the pronounced differences in relationship outcomes:
- Maturity & Growth: By delaying the initiation of relationships, recovering BPD individuals allow themselves the luxury of time. This time is used to mature, foster personal growth, acquire social skills, and establish a stable career foundation.
- Economic Stability: Career establishment provides personal satisfaction and ensures economic stability, which is crucial for supporting their future families.
- Relationship Skills: As they age, recovering BPD individuals gain invaluable social skills, enhancing their chances of forming bonds with healthier, supportive partners.
- Impulsivity Reduction: Age inherently decreases impulsivity, a known BPD symptom, presenting fewer emotional hurdles.
- Selective Partnering: The extended timeframe for partner search enables recovering BPD individuals to prioritize supportive relationships and partners with fewer pathologies.
- Emotional Energy: Recovering BPD individuals have learned to manage their symptoms effectively, which leaves them with more emotional and mental energy, aiding in managing conflicts, expressing genuine affection, and providing unwavering support to partners. [11, 15]
BPD Marriage Satisfaction
Studies indicate that 51% of women and 60% of men in BPD marriages report happiness. 
This relative satisfaction rate might be unexpected, given that unstable and chaotic romantic relationships are central to interpersonal dysfunction in BPD. 
- Attachment Issues: 68.6% exhibit insecure attachment styles. 
- History of Assault: Females with BPD report significantly higher instances of physical and/or sexual assault (50%) compared to males with BPD (26%).
- Cyclical Patterns: Many BPD relationships experience tumultuous cycles of separation and reunions, which can affect emotional well-being even before a definitive split. 
- Aggressive Communication: Individuals with BPD often exhibit passive-aggressive communication styles. 
- Misinterpretation of Situations: Those with BPD tend to misinterpret neutral or even favorable circumstances within romantic relationships in a negative light. 
- Short-lived Relationships: One study found 68% of relationships involving a BPD individual ended within the first 6 months, and another 28.6% ended by 18 months. 
- Divorce Rates: 36% of people with BPD were divorced by the end of a 27-year study. 
So, what's the explanation?
There are two categories of BPD relationships:
- Type 1: Short-lived Relationships: Typically lasting less than 18 months, these relationships frequently dissolve due to conflicting, insecure attachment styles. To illustrate, consider a healthy, independent partner who expects emotional support, is confident in setting boundaries or ending a relationship when discomfort arises, and doesn't inherently mistrust others, which will not align with the perspectives and needs of an individual with BPD. This misalignment will put a quick end to their relationship.
- Type 2: Longer-lasting Relationships: These rare BPD relationships persist beyond 18 months. In these unions, both the partners' insecure attachment styles, though dysfunctional and toxic, actually complement each other, fostering long-lasting relationships, albeit with somewhat lower satisfaction rates. [16, 24]
The dichotomy between short-term and long-term dynamics in relationships with BPD individuals is well-supported by research:
- One study indicates that while BPD symptoms are initially linked with decreased marital satisfaction and heightened marital challenges, they don't adversely affect the quality of the marriage in the long haul. 
- This is echoed in another study, which discovered that significant BPD symptoms did not increase the likelihood of divorce over 10 years. 
- Conversely, a 4-month follow-up investigation found that those with BPD traits were less emotionally content in their relationships than their counterparts. 
- Interestingly, research highlights that insecure attachment, frequently observed in BPD patients, may paradoxically be tied to prolonged romantic unions. 
These findings collectively underscore our assertion:
In the initial stages, BPD can potentially have a detrimental effect on the duration and satisfaction of a relationship.
Over an extended period, the unique attachment styles in BPD couples interlock, fostering notable marital contentment and endurance.
It's also essential to recognize that other factors, besides interlocking attachment styles, such as age (age inherently decreases impulsivity) and adaptation (be it learning to manage symptoms, devising conflict resolution strategies, supporting a partner with BPD, or re-calibrating relationship expectations), could also influence marital satisfaction and longevity. 
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