Borderline Personality Disorder Relationships

A high-conflict couple can be defined as two people in a relationship in which one or both individuals have a mood disorder (bipolar disorder) and/or personality disorder (borderline personality disorder) (BPD). Most Borderline Personality Disorder Relationships fit this definition.  Typically the conflict is fueled by emotional dysregulation, in which the couple continually invalidates each other (Fruzzetti 2006). The relational conflict pattern will continue in this couple until the dysfunctional pattern is interrupted and new positive patterns are developed. The goal of making things better in a high-conflict relationship is to understand how to stop making things worse (Fruzzetti 2006). The Meehl Foundation residential dialectical behavioral therapy program helps high-conflict couples to develop more effective relationships through the teaching of DBT skills. The objective is to build relationships through core mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Taking steps to stop making things worse is one of the first steps to creating positive relationships. One or both of the individuals needs to make a commitment to become effective. (Fruzzetti 2006).

Through learning and maintaining a mindful approach couples can reduce triggers, reduce conflict, and improve the relationship. When triggers or urges arise, the commitment to do things differently can make a difference in how he or she now responds to the triggers and urges (Fruzzetti 2006). A common pattern in relationships is the need to be right which can be detrimental in high-conflict relationships. Mindfulness teaches that the need to be right is not effective and considers taking a step back into surrender. The idea is to imagine the consequences of continuing in the same high-conflict behavior which keeps the couple from getting what they want. Continuing this behavior prevents the couple from building communication, trust, and closeness. Mindfulness asks us to look at our own individual behavior and the behaviors of our loved one to determine the effectiveness of these behaviors. The mindful couple makes a commitment to make different choices.

Emotional regulation changes the couple’s negative emotional responses and replaces these with life enhancing responses. The couple needs to identify each of their triggers within the relationship. Identifying the triggers helps the couple to anticipate their negative emotional responses and to retrain the couple how to respond differently to the situation (Fruzzetti 2006). Emotional regulation skills include acting opposite, taking a time out, or participating in activities that allow the person to change his mood and respond better to the situation (Linehan 1993). It is key for the couple to avoid discussions when experiencing highly distressing emotions because the discussions can turn into high-conflict arguments very quickly. When the individual or couple can change their negative emotions, they have a better chance of responding differently to each other and of building a stable, healthy, and happy relationship.

Distress tolerance reduces the destructive retaliatory impulses that are common in high-conflict relationships. Alternative coping skills are important to couples struggling with impulses to react in destructive ways to their partners. It is crucial to interrupt this maladaptive pattern which leads to more conflict, hurt, and mistrust. Visualization of the negative consequences of engaging in destructive impulses, visualization of the positive consequences of not engaging in destructive impulses, and stepping out and observing the impulses to engage in destructive impulses are three methods of reducing the impulses to make things worse by retaliating. These methods can help the couple to reach a resolution by observing their negative behaviors and giving them positive ways to respond to situations instead of reinforcing previous destructive impulses which break down the relationship (Fruzzetti 2006).

The Meehl Foundation treats high-conflict couples both individually and as a couple through the Dialectical Behavioral Therapy residential treatment program. High-conflict couples experience a high level of negative emotions within the relationship and respond well when receiving treatment through a dialectical behavioral therapy treatment program. By implementing core mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness high-conflict couples can find relief, relational growth and closeness.