I'm in love with a borderline personality

He's unstable, he's abusive, but I can't just let go of him

Published July 9, 2010 12:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

On the heels of the dissolution of a long-term marriage, I became involved with a business associate. We're both 47. Actually, he is the editor of a health publication that I freelance for. It's the proverbial and perhaps trite tale of friends becoming lovers. And as my divorce slowly waged on, this man provided a kind ear and good advice. Despite our differing beliefs and social standings (he an atheist, me a Christian; he a progressive, me a conservative; he a slave-wager, me a business owner; him living paycheck to paycheck, me earning 10 times his annual wage; he with no kids, me with three children), we enjoyed many of same things including language, travel and British humor. I lavished money on him and he lavished words on me. He said he wanted to marry me and took me to meet his family on two occasions. His family loved me and they said they'd never seen him so happy, though my family wasn't too impressed with him.

So where did it go wrong? After a year I found out he had cheated on me with several women early on in our relationship for a period of four months. Though the relationships were not physical (he is stymied by E.D. issues), they represented a gross emotional betrayal. Ironically, I've had a good amount of male attention while in his company, which he blamed on me though I never once did anything inappropriate.

But because he had been a "good" boy for about a year, we agreed to go to couples counseling and work through it. I didn't want to negate a year of fidelity by living in the past and I desperately loved him. Still do.

In the process, it became clear he really wasn't contrite and I would never be able to trust him. I continued counseling and he didn't and the therapist suggested he probably suffers from borderline personality disorder. A mutual friend of ours who is also a psychologist concurred with the therapist's findings. I also found out that he has some rather unusually angry sexual penchants that weren't uncovered until I snooped. (I know I shouldn't have.)

We broke up recently. In fact, he broke up with me in a rage-filled, pedantic rant about my emotional, physical and intellectual inferiority. It was plainly cruel. It also made me suspect he had another honey in the wings and indeed he did -- a very nice P.R. gal and colleague of mine.

Apparently one of the characteristics of a borderline personality is their ability to make their partner think she is the crazy one. That certainly has reset my bearings, so that I'm not sure what's the most appropriate thing to do next. I'm devastated though also very relieved. His family has offered me their condolences and continued friendship, as has his ex-fiancée!

I've made no contact nor do I want to, but should I warn his new girlfriend and risk looking like the bitter ex? This man also owes me significant money and is now refusing to give me writing assignments despite the fact that I am his most reliable writer. I don't want to make this messier, but I depend on these assignments and have been writing for this outlet long before he took the helm. His family has also invited me to visit them. How do I traverse these minefields and maintain my integrity? I do not like to fight but I am a warrior at heart when pushed and I am furious.

This is my hometown and he has only been here a few years, so I have deep connections to many people including his bosses. I've striven to take the high road but lately the low road looks the most appealing and I certainly have the ammunition to make his life miserable.

Am I crazy, am I hurting, or both?

Involved with a Borderline Personality

 Dear Involved,

"People with BPD often have highly unstable patterns of social relationships," says the National Institute of Mental Health site on this disorder. That's a nice understatement. It certainly sounds like your man, no? (Strange name for a psychological disorder, don't you think? See Stephannie's blog on where the name came from, and some good background.)

So what should you do? If you ask me, it's time to change your life.

But first: About the money, I would be strictly business. Invoice him and demand payment as you would with any other client who owes you money. As to warning his ex-fiancée, warning her will mean further entanglement. What you want to do is disentangle! So IMHO, it's not the right thing for you to do. If she needs to be warned, someone else can warn her. It's not your role. You have more important things to do.

You have to change your life.

For you, it is time for a big, big moment of clarity. It is time to ask how, precisely, you are going to completely change your life now.

That's it in a nutshell. A bell has rung. It's time. It's time to change your life.

Why now?

Think about it: You got into this relationship on the heels of your divorce. You went from one troubled relationship to another. Now you are tormented. But you are still concentrating on others. You are thinking about his ex-fiancée, about families, about people in your town. You are thinking about your desire for revenge.

It's time for you to think about yourself. Not in a selfish way. It's not selfish to run out of the house when it's on fire. It's just common sense. It's not selfish to realistically assess your situation. It's just common sense. Nor is it such a tall order to "change your life." Your life has changed already whether you like it or not. You have reached a crisis. That is why you wrote to me.

Who are you and what do you really want? That's what I want to know. I hear you are Christian and conservative and a business owner and you have three kids but I do not hear why your long-term marriage broke up or how you feel about that or what your life dreams are. I do not hear what you are looking for in life.

It's time to find out what you're looking for and where you're going.

How? Start by turning your life upside down and looking underneath. Right now the job and the money and his family and your family look important. But turn your life upside down and you will see that what is important is what is going on inside you. You will see that the little things you think are not important are important and the big things you think are important are not important. That is what I mean by turning your life upside down.

What you do in the next 10 seconds may be the most important thing in your life. What are you going to do with the next 10 seconds? How about taking a deep breath? How about looking around you? How about contemplating the miracle of your life?

You're going to need some time alone. Can you take a trip somewhere? Could you take a month off and live by the sea in a small room with a few books and some writing paper? Since you are a Christian, is it possible to go to a spiritual retreat?

You need to change your life and you cannot change your life while still living it, any more than you can do major maintenance on a machine while the machine is still running. What you need is solace, retreat and renewal.

Why am I saying all this and who gives me the right and what do I know anyway? Truly, I know little. But my approach is simple. When people write to me, they want change. They don't know what that change will look like. Neither do I. But I have faith. So I prescribe big change. Crack your shell. If you crack your shell, the world will come in. The world has things to tell you. All you have to do is quiet down, open up and listen.

So find time to reclaim yourself.

Amid all this drama, find yourself. Amid the conflicting demands of others, find yourself.  Amid your concern for how you will be judged, find yourself. Blindfold yourself and find out where you are. Set out on a journey along your own skin. Walk two fingers up your arm and see where they end up. Go somewhere and be a stranger. Wander in a forest.

Find yourself. 

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