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Divorcing the Spouse with Borderline Personality Disorder

Posted by Jason Rapp | Nov 07, 2019 | 0 Comments

It may have been months, but it has probably been years.  You feel like you are on this roller coaster where the ride not only has its ups and downs, but the tracks feel like they are not secured properly.  Counseling started and just as quickly stopped.  You are loved and just as quickly loathed.  He/she engages in irrational and high-risk behavior.  The kids are on edge.  What do you do when you have tried everything?  Is it worse to stay or leave?  What will happen to the kids?  What is best for them?

These are all of the issues and questions that are certainly zinging around in your head when you are married to someone suffering from mental health issues.  In today's blog, we will be focusing on people with Borderline Personality Disorder.  I am not here to tell you what you should do or what is best for you and your kids.  Only you know the answer to that.  I am offering today some helpful tips and advice should you decide to file for divorce.

The best starting advice I can give you, and this applies to every divorce action but particularly those in this scenario, is to accept that there is very little that you can actually control.  We want people to change for the better.  We want them to admit their wrongs and apologize.  We want them to see our way.  You cannot MAKE that happen.  Simply put, there is nothing you can do to force the situation.  You can offer and demonstrate truth and love, but it is up to the other person to accept this.  Quite often, they will not.  Usually, the more you try to force it to happen, the greater the conflict will be.

The following is a list of symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder from The National Alliance on Mental Illness "(NAMI").  NAMI details as follows:

People with BPD experience wide mood swings and can feel a great sense of instability and insecurity. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual diagnostic framework, some key signs and symptoms may include:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment by friends and family.
  • Unstable personal relationships that alternate between idealization (“I'm so in love!”) and devaluation (“I hate her”). This is also sometimes known as "splitting."
  • Distorted and unstable self-image, which affects moods, values, opinions, goals and relationships.
  • Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes, such as excessive spending, unsafe sex, substance abuse or reckless driving.
  • Self-harming behavior including suicidal threats or attempts.
  • Periods of intense depressed mood, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days.
  • Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness.
  • Inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger—often followed by shame and guilt.
  • Dissociative feelings—disconnecting from your thoughts or sense of identity or “out of body” type of feelings—and stress-related paranoid thoughts. Severe cases of stress can also lead to brief psychotic episodes.  

Between the history of your marriage and a study of these symptoms, you can easily see that forcing things or arguing over who is right or wrong rarely work.  "Well, that sounds hopeless," you might say.  Do not be afraid, because it is not.  You just have to be prepared.

The VERY first thing you do, should you decide divorce is the road you are heading down is to make sure that you and your children are physically and emotionally safe.  If there is any physical abuse or threats of abuse, please look into the need to file for a protective order on behalf of you and/or your children.  If there is an immediate risk of harm, do not contact family or an attorney, call the police first.

From there, and hopefully that is not necessary, your next step is to make sure all of your financial and personal documents are secure.  Make copies of everything, including any proof regarding your spouse's behavior history.  Often times, people with BPD are excellent actors when they want to portray themselves a certain way.

The next step is to research for and consult with attorneys that handle family law.  A consultation will not involve actual legal advice as that is impossible to do without a full and complete undertaking of the case.  However, a consultation will usually involve a discussion of your marital background, your financial history (asset/debt situation), matters involving your children and any other historical background information that you feel is important.  There will be a discussion on procedure, such as, what is filed when and how divorce cases proceed.  Usually, these consultations will also include information that the attorney believes may be important for you to collect and maintain.  You will also discuss initial retainer, hourly rates, billing and any filing fees associated with your case.  If you are involved in a situation with someone with mental health issues, make sure the attorney understands this and is comfortable with handling such matters.  As for which attorney to choose, go with the one who you feel most comfortable with and who you intuit will do the best job for you.

For the following, let us assume there is no protective order in place and the two of you (and your kids) are still in the house together: When do you tell them you are filing for divorce?  If you have come this far, I am going to assume there have been steps in the past or communicated threats of divorce between you.  Someone may have even gone as far as reaching out to an attorney.  Yet, The Rubicon of actually filing was never crossed.

This is a tricky situation that you must discuss in detail with your attorney.  No one knows the psychology and history of your marriage like you do.  It may be best to tell the person first and you give them the Petition for Dissolution (this is not "service" in the legal sense) and explain what you are doing and the different manners you can have them served (your attorney will explain these to you).  This may let them maintain a feeling of some control over the matter and keep the peace as best as possible.  Sometimes, it will have the opposite effect and your situation will require not saying anything and having them served by the sheriff/constable and/or certified mail.  Or, it may be best that your attorney sends them a Petition and a document called an Entry of Appearance.  This is another method of service that they sign in front of a notary and return to the attorney for filing.  No matter which way is best to handle it, please make sure as best as possible to never have the children around when these discussions or any such service is taking place.

Once the divorce starts in earnest, you can expect the rickety roller coaster to intensify.  There will be begging for reconciliation and promises to go to counseling in earnest.  You will also most likely be vilified, cursed out and threatened.  Often these polar opposites will happen in the same conversations.  There may also be attempts to turn the kids against you.  

This is where you MUST resist diving into the abyss with them.  Do not get the kids involved, even if you feel you need to in order to "set things right."  Document everything and let your attorney know.  He or she will help you come up with a plan of action through the courts.  You will best protect your children by demonstrating stability and reliability to them.  Kids are not given enough credit for how much they pick up on.  

If your spouse attempts to manipulate the children through techniques commonly referred to as "coaching" or "alienation," document and pursue remedy through court and counseling for the children.  There are also ways to get third parties involved to undertake independent custodial evaluations.  The main message I want to get across is that you should never stop trying to protect your kids or advocating for them but that you should never play the BPD person's game.  You may also have to seek court intervention to have the BPD person undergo a comprehensive mental health and/or parenting evaluation.  This is why you want to have as much of your history ready and available for your attorney so they can draft an effective motion for such requests.

Do not expect it to be smooth and easy.  Most likely, everything will be met with resistance.  There will be flat-out lies and attempts at control and manipulation.  I do not write this to worry you.  Quite the opposite.  I write this to inform you, so when it does happen, you are prepared for it and not surprised.  If you know it and are prepared for it, you will be able to deal with it and come out on the other side.  Here is an example of a simple question and answer exercise I have undertaken with many clients in your situation:

Me:  Have you been dealing with these types of behavior throughout the marriage?

Client:  Yes.

Me:  Has it been downright awful at times?

Client:  Absolutely.

Me:  Does divorce magnify or lessen bad feelings and emotions?

Client:  Magnifies.

Me:  So, should you expect their behavior to get worse or better during a divorce?

Client:  Worse.

Me:  Then why are you surprised or upset that it did?

Client:  Because they shouldn't do this.  It is not right.

Me:  Absolutely understood.  However, if they have always been this way and a divorce will only worsen the behavior and you expect and understand this, aren't you kind of just yelling at the wind, trying to get it to change direction?  Your job is to maximize the protection of your kids and your financial resources, not get your spouse to see or do what is right.  You have tried that and they have chosen to ignore it.  By giving so much time and thought to what they should do, you are losing time and energy with what you need to do.  Whether they ever "get it," is beyond your control.  The steps to protect your kids and your finances is not.

Cases like these will take so many twists and turns and are so fact sensitive, that writing about every possible option and permutation is impossible here.  I hope that I have communicated that, while your situation is going to be taxing and stressful, you do have options and ways to protect you and your children.  If you are reading this, please feel the relief that you are far from alone.

--Jason Rapp       

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