It is well known that those of us with BPD often find ourselves attracted to Narcissists. But why are these personality types attracted to one another? Can a relationship between someone with BPD and a partner with NPD (Narcissistic personality disorder) really last? Well before we get into that discussion, let us find out what is classed as a “normal” relationship…
What is a “Normal” Relationship?
Someone recently emailed us a few concerns he was having with his current partner. He said: “I don’t know what normal is. You mean my wife is not supposed to rage at me in front of the kids, criticize and degrade me, spend all of our money and then some, love me, hate me, need drama, live crisis to crisis, threaten suicide, control everything, blame me for everything wrong in her/our life, and put me and our kids in no-win situations? That was all I knew for over a decade. I just wondered which partner in other relationships was the blamer and rager and which one was like me.”
You may not know what normal is. You may have grown up in households with unhealthy models—sometimes even abuse. So before talking about the high conflict relationship, let’s take a look at what defines a healthy relationship and compare and contrast it with your current relationship. Of course, no relationship is perfect. But it’s helpful to know where you stand and what you’re shooting for.
Traits of Healthy Relationships
A list of what makes for a good relationship could be quite lengthy and might differ from couple to couple. But here are some characteristics mentioned over and over by marital therapists. Ask yourself what’s important to you and whether or not your current relationship meets your needs on a scale of 0 (not there at all) to 5 (high). This isn’t a quiz; just something for you to think about as you look at the whole relationship.
Respect for Each Other: In a healthy relationship, couples need to make compromises. But neither partner should ask the other one to change things about themselves central to who they are or what they want out of life. Respect is also about treating each other in the way you’d like to be treated, even when you’re angry and frustrated. Other signs of respect include caring about the things that are important to your mate and recognizing that differences are OK.
Support and Empathy: In a healthy relationship, partners are there for each other with warmth and affection through both good times and bad. Even when their opinions differ, supportive spouses try to see things from their partner’s point of view. Without keeping track on paper and pencil, people in workable marriages attempt to be there equally for each other. Otherwise, partners can get burned out.
Communication and Sharing: Honest, direct communication is a key part of any relationship. The ability to share your thoughts, feelings and desires in an open and honest way are essential to the level of intimacy and connectedness the two of you share. People are not born knowing how to best communicate and send the right non-verbal signals. It’s a skill that can be learned like any other—if the two people are willing to learn
Mutual Trust, Honesty, and Fidelity: Honesty leads to trust, which leads to feelings of safety, probably the most important ingredients in a happy marriage. Trust paves the way for the confidence to share your feelings, emotions, and self with someone else. When someone lies to us, it erodes trust and drives a wedge between the two people in the relationship. Because trust provides the foundation for nearly all relationships, the bond is threatened.
Enjoying Time Together and Time Apart: Couples also need space for other friends, their own interests, and private time alone. This shouldn’t be threatening to well-adjusted partners—after all, they’ll want some time to themselves, too. When people don’t have enough of their own space, they begin to feel trapped and suffocated. HCPS tend to be enmeshed
Fairness/Equality: Relationships marred by power and control struggle to lose their intimacy because you can’t afford to be vulnerable with someone who might use it against you. When one or both of you are enmeshed in a power struggle, the simplest decisions (e.g. where should we go to dinner?) become fraught with angst and conflict. It often takes a therapist to unveil the real issues beneath the predictable fights
Connection/Intimacy: Emotional intimacy and connectedness happens when we feel loved, accepted, and safe to reveal who we really are, warts and all. The safer we feel, the more we’re willing to share. The rewards are great; it helps us get to know ourselves and it may be the closest we can get to another person in our trip on planet Earth. It is the essence of being loved.
A Mutually Rewarding Sex Life: The sexual relationship works well and is satisfying for the both of you. This may mean striking compromises about the frequency of sex, who initiates, and so forth. Neither partner should try to force the other to do what is beyond their comfort level—although it’s also a good practice to try new things you and your partner might enjoy.
What is a High Conflict Relationship?
These are some BPD/NPD survival strategies. Consider how they might affect whether you and your partner can have a healthy relationship. High conflict behaviours vary in their effect on you by:
• The frequency of these behaviours: the more frequent, the more hurtful
• The intensity of the behaviours: the more intense, the more upsetting they are
• The length of time you’ve been exposed to these behaviours: the longer you’ve been exposed to them, the more they will wound you
• Your vulnerabilities and general make-up: when you’ve grown up in an abusive environment, High conflict relationship behaviours seem “normal” and you’re more likely to put up with them
High-conflict relationships need others to fill their emptiness by:
Making them feel special
Carrying their shame
Waking you up in the middle of the night
Eliciting narcissistic supply
Making you part of their identity
Pulling you toward them and then pushing them away
Demanding exaggerated attention and admiration
Demanding unreasonable things
Pushing your limits in a test to see how much you love them
They need to feel good about themselves by:
Blaming and criticizing you
Considering you inferior to them
Idealizing you, then pushing you off a pedestal
Going along with their fantasies
Projecting their unwanted parts onto you
Trying to make you absorb their negative emotions
Raging at you
Embarrassing you in public
Turning children against you
Telling lies about you to friends and family
Always being right
Another person talking about relationships with BPD sufferers told us this: “Alicia would say I was her soulmate and the man she had searched for all her life and praise me for my great intelligence, wit, charm, and accomplishments. Then she would find fault with everything I did, criticize the way I looked at her, denigrate my profession as a lawyer, scream at me, tell me I had no breeding or culture, was a poor provider, had an ugly home, had no friends, was thoughtless, unaffectionate, selfish, etc.”
They need to control their environment by controlling you, such as:
Using emotional blackmail, especially fear, obligation and guilt
Keeping track of your movements
Putting you in no-win situations
Isolating you from your friends and family
Making threats to leave if they don’t get their way
Calling the police with false accusations
Breaking up with you and getting back together
Creating constant chaos
Insisting you believe their lies
Taking advantage of you
Monitoring your computer and cell phone usage
Withholding sex and affection
Forcing or intimidating you to have sexual activities
Giving you the silent treatment
Pressuring you to behave as they want you to
Threatening to hurt pets or taking your children away
Expecting you to ask for permission
Acting extremely jealous
Riding over your boundaries
Not respecting your privacy
Pushing you, poking you, slapping you or other physical abuse
Anonymous: “My friend asked me if I wanted to go on a cruise with her this summer. I was so excited! When I said I’d go, I assumed that Lew would be happy for me since I was so thrilled about it. He didn’t say a whole lot and just got really quiet and kind of sulky. I pressed for what was the matter.”
“Finally he said he was upset because I would actually even consider going on such a trip without him. How could I say that I cared about him and then go away on vacation with a friend? Since he didn’t have the money to do it, then I shouldn’t be spending my money that way either. If I have extra money then we should be saving it for our future, not going on a trip by myself.”
“He just about freaked out in his room and started pulling his clothes out of the closet, saying how he doesn’t even have decent clothes that fit him. He put on this one shirt and showed me how the sleeves were too short, so he always has to wear them rolled up. He pretty much tore that shirt off, and then ripped it up and threw it in the trash can. Finally, I said I would stay.”
Spotting the clues that you are in a High-conflict relationship is the key to understanding how to move forward in the relationship, or walk away from it. No one should feel forced into anything by their partners, no matter what sex they are or what personality disorders they/you might have.
The truth is any relationship can work if you are both willing to work hard at it, but it is not a good idea to keep giving people chances when they do it time and time again. There HAS to be a point that you stop doing so. We want anyone in a high-conflict relationship to know that there is always someone to talk to, someone to tell about your relationship problems, never feel alone because you most definitely are not.