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Questions and Answers

I appreciate your writings on Borderline Personality Disorder. But I have not seen anything on your website specific to spouses of BPD individuals. Would the advice you gave to the young lady whose mother had BPD also be appropriate for a spouse?
     I have long suspected my husband suffers from BPD. He can be sweet and loving at times, but all I have to do is disagree with him about something and a mask of rage and hatred comes over him. He then viciously attacks and devalues me, and afterward never shows any remorse for the wounding he caused me. Like the young lady’s mother mentioned above, my husband is unable to care about my feelings. If I try to tell him, “You really hurt my feelings,” all I do is open myself to another attack, which may come in the form of verbal insults, hateful glares, or as passive-aggressiveness.
     Sometimes when I have greatly offended my husband—especially if I try to set a boundary with him—he will openly burn with anger and hatred against me for weeks or even months at a time. After many years of marriage I am feeling very worn down and exhausted with the constant put downs and hostility I endure. No matter how hard I try to be the perfect wife, raise the perfect family, cook the perfect meals, he treats me with scorn and contempt. Although there are rare times he is affectionate and kind, it is more common for him to tell me that I am useless to him, a burden, that we are in no way equals, and that I should grovel at his feet for everything he gives me. Recently I tried to tell him that due to his scornful treatment of me I no longer felt comfortable with marital relations, and he became so enraged that he tried to kick me out of the house, telling me that he would not pay for me to live here if he got nothing in return.
     I believe I should also mention that my husband has many addictions, including cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, television, and pornography. He takes very little interest in our children but spends the majority of his time watching TV and becoming intoxicated.
     I cannot endure any more of the rage and abuse, and I do not want the children to be raised in a home with these ugly addictions and behavior present. Yet I do not believe in divorce. Also, I feel certain in my heart that my husband is a good man deep down, under all the layers of ugly rage and hatred. Is there anything I can do to help this situation? I am seeking God with all my heart, trying to live a holy life, and praying constantly. I also try my best not to be afraid of my husband and to speak the truth in love. But I don’t know what else I should do. I just can’t take the rage anymore.
     Thank you on behalf of all the spouses of BPD individuals out there. I know there are many of us suffering and confused.

Outline of the Answer
• The Core
• It’s Not About You
• Boundaries
• Sexuality in Marriage

 
Tefore addressing any of the issues about your husband, it’s important to understand the core dynamic of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is based in the rage of being—or feeling—unnoticed and emotionally abandoned in infancy. That rage then takes over a person’s whole being, and all of his or her actions—consciously or unconsciously—become directed throughout life to inflicting hurtful revenge on others for any perceived neglect of his or her emotional and physical needs.

Consequently, notice carefully that even though BPD rage may be inflicted on others, it is really “aimed” psychologically at the source of the original wounds: the BPD individual’s parents. This, then, points to the most important concept of coping with a BPD spouse: the drama and the rage is not about you.

 
It’s Not About You

Although many persons can be legitimately diagnosed with BPD, many persons have BPD characteristics without meeting all the psychological criteria for a diagnosis of BPD. Nevertheless, all of these persons, diagnosed or not, have the same tendency to react to emotional hurt with a melodramatic rage and abuse that the hurt does not justify. In fact, no hurt justifies anger, but the BPD individual stirs up the anger so as to stew in a resentment that punishes others and at the same time demonstrates unconsciously that he or she is a despicable person who really deserves the cruelty and neglect experienced in childhood. (That internal self-loathing is the psychological reason for the alcoholic behavior, drug use, cigarettes, and pornography that possess your husband.) It’s truly a pathetic state of mind, and so, when you are on the receiving end of the rage, the only way to preserve your psychological and spiritual sanity is to remember that the drama and the rage is not about you.

Keep in mind here that even if you ever do something that hurts a BPD individual, you can repent your mistake, tell that person that you’re sorry, and ask God in His mercy to teach you to not make the same mistake again. But that won’t be enough for a BPD individual. Forgiveness will be thrown to the wind, and old resentments will blow up into melodrama.

So, when this happens, to protect yourself from getting worn down and exhausted, you don’t have to try to be perfect, and you don’t need to blame yourself and feel like a failure; instead, tell yourself, that yes, the abuse hurts, but “It’s not about me.”

Then you can work on setting healthy boundaries.

 
Boundaries

You say that your husband is a good man deep down, and that’s in accord with Catholic theology. The Church has always taught that God creates all of us good, and that through our free will we can choose to accept the redemption given to us in Christ if only we repent our offenses against love and return to God in chaste purity.

Therefore all BPD individuals are good, deep down, and so it’s important to understand that BPD individuals want someone to stand up to them rather than run from their rage; they want someone to refuse to be pushed away by the hostility and to have the courage to face the BPD rage with compassion and love.

Nevertheless, it’s also important to keep in mind that BPD individuals are very sensitive to rejection, so anything you say to them that has an accusatory tone will provoke intense shame, such that they will stew in resentment and, sooner or later, explode in rage.

Consequently, consider the following points when you set boundaries to protect yourself.

  

Express yourself in the passive tense.  Rather than say, “You hurt my feelings,” say, “I’m feeling very hurt right now.”

  

  

Be careful not to tell your husband what to do.  Set boundaries by stating what you will do under specific circumstances. For example, instead of saying, “Stop cussing!” say, “If I hear cussing, I’m going to leave the room.”

  

  

Be willing to teach.  When your husband speaks to you with hostility, smile and say calmly, “I’m not going to listen to anything said with rudeness, but if you speak to me kindly I will be glad to listen to you. So go ahead, try saying it again, but with gentleness.”

  

 
Sexuality in Marriage

The matter of sexuality in a marriage applies to any marriage, not just to a marriage in which one spouse is a BPD individual.

So, regardless of what any man might try to claim, a husband has no right to treat his wife like a prostitute. Saint Paul tells us that a husband’s obligation is to sanctify his wife so that she might be “holy and without blemish” (see Ephesians 5: 26–27). Once lust enters a marriage the husband and wife are both on a path to doom.

In such a case, the wife has a difficult choice to make. Should she take a stand for holiness, or should she capitulate to her husband’s demands, thereby condoning sin, so as to make things easier for herself? Although many women through the ages, such as Saint Maria Goretti, have gone so far as to choose the path of martyrdom, it’s a choice a woman must make according to the depth of her love for God.

 


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