Partners of Individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder: A Systematic Review of the Literature Examining Their Experiences and the Supports Available to Them

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Abstract

Over a third of individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are in long-term romantic partnerships, yet little is known about the experiences of their partners. Because difficulties in interpersonal relationships are a hallmark of BPD, it is especially important to understand the support needs of their romantic partners. This systematic review investigates the experiences of romantic partners of adult individuals with BPD and the interventions designed to support them. Twenty-two articles were found, 13 of which pertained to partner experiences and 9 to interventions. Thematic analysis was used to identify three main themes in the descriptions of partners’ experiences: emotional challenges, dual roles as both a romantic partner and parental/therapeutic figure, and lack of control. The available interventions, which consisted of educational and skills-based programs with limited efficacy data, addressed only a small portion of the subthemes identified in the literature describing partners’ experiences. The discrepancy between the needs identified in the partner-experience literature and the interventions available suggests a need to develop and evaluate more partner-oriented programming. Such programming should use psychoeducation, peer support, and individual- and relationship-based skills development to address and therefore improve the experiences of partners of individuals with BPD.

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