The first rule is – don’t fight, talk. When you are in an argument with your borderline partner and it is not at a very advanced or full-fledged state, there are things you can do to prevent it from blowing out of proportion. Here are 12 factors to keep in mind:
- Body Language & Voice: Make sure you’re not smiling nervously or have an angry expression on your face. Keep your expression calm and neutral. Don’t point with a finger or hand. Preferably sit down even if your borderline partner is raging and walking up and down.
- Tone of Voice: Speak at a slightly low volume. Speak slowly. Don’t rush through your sentences as this will aggravate the borderline. Take time to get your point across in a caring and soft tone of voice.
- Choice of Words: Avoid trigger words such as “Because of you…”, “I have told you before…”, “Why don’t you understand…”, “I did not do that…” etc. you get the point right? Avoid ‘argument’ words.
- Avoid the Blame Game: “This is all because of you” is perhaps the worst thing you can say. Also pointing out to your partner that they are Borderline is asking for major trouble. They do not want anything and everything blamed on their disorder. Completely avoid blaming anyone or anything to avoid a blown up conflict – remember, the aim here is to calm down the borderline and prevent a flare-up.
- Don’t bring up Past Events: Don’t bring up past events or arguments even if you’re only trying to give an example. Focus on the present and what you have on hand right now. Bringing up the past will only extend the timeframe of the argument and lengthen it – we want to end it, not extend it.
- Don’t try to explain BPD to them: If you think you can simply explain that they are exhibiting a BPD symptom and it will calm them down, you’re in for a shock. BPDs do not want to be called or treated like they are abnormal or have a disorder. Yes, they are aware of it, but bringing it up during an argument can blow their fuse.
- Don’t compare them to someone else: BPDs hate this! They are as it is insecure about their identity and who and what they really are. So when you compare them to someone else in any way they can completely lose it. Focus the talk on what is happening and not on how other people handle their lives.
- Be compassionate: So far, you’ve mostly been reading about what not to do. Here’s what you should do. Listen to what your partner is saying (or shouting) and let them vent. Respond in simple, short, positive sentences. They can’t go on forever and sooner or later they will run out of steam and get tired. Allow that to happen. They are like a pressure cooker on gas that needs to release steam. Also, it would be good to apologize even though you may not be at fault – apologizing does not mean you are to blame; it’s simply a way to calm your partner.
- Ask the right questions: Rather than asking “Why are you angry with me?” Ask: “What happened that upset you?” In this second question there is no suggestion of blame. Ask questions in a way that show them you care and want to help them: “What can I do to make you feel better?”
- Listening v/s Agreeing: Remember the pressure cooker example – your partner is letting out steam, venting – allow them to do so. When you stay quiet and don’t argue, it does not mean you are agreeing with them. It simply means you are listening. Sometimes all a BPD wants is to scream and shout when they are upset, and to have someone listen to them.
- Don’t always try to find a Solution: There may not be a solution to what is bothering the borderline. So don’t try to find one. Just be patient and respond in a calm way. For example, if you are angry because Amazon sent you the wrong product and are yelling at the customer care executive, what will happen if he simply says “Okay, we’ll send you the right one”? Will your anger subside? No, it won’t – although the solution is presented! Sometimes when we are angry we just want to vent the anger and release it – so listening is important when the borderline is angry – let them vent.
- Don’t try to bargain or offer alternatives: For example, you arrive later than you said you would. You now tell your partner you will take them out to dinner to make up for it. This makes the borderline feel like you think you can buy or dominate them. They will feel cheated and angrier than they were to begin with!
Summary: Simply listen well, watch your tone, words and body language and focus on ending the flare-up rather than trying to win. Remember, you only win, if the crisis ends.