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BPD Cheating: Is It Inevitable?

People with BPD are serial cheaters.”

Seems harsh, right? It’s a statement I’ve heard plenty of times – often from those who’ve been burned in a relationship with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder

But is it true? Is every person with BPD doomed to cheat?

In short: no!

Cheating is not a given in a relationship with BPD. While people with BPD may struggle more than others with impulsivity, self-sabotaging and risky behaviors, and a relationship cycle of idealization and pushing their partner away, this alone isn’t enough to brand them as cheaters.

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?

Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, is a mental health condition where people struggle to regulate their emotions and maintain healthy relationships. 

They are terrified of being alone, and their behaviors are often reactions to prevent what they see as being abandoned or rejected. Because they often struggle to control their emotions, people with BPD tend to act impulsively.

These are some of the defining characteristics of BPD and BPD relationships:

  • Patterns of intense and unstable relationships
  • A distorted self-image and deep insecurity
  • Intense fear of abandonment and rejection with extreme efforts made to avoid perceived abandonment or rejection
  • Impulsive, risk-taking behaviors
  • Desire for validation and attention
  • Self-harming and self-sabotaging behaviors
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness and feeling disconnected from yourself
  • Intense mood swings and problems regulating emotions – especially anger

These characteristics affect the person’s ability to have appropriate and healthy relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners – and in some cases, people with BPD cheat on their significant others.

Which is not to say that a person with BPD can’t overcome these obstacles.

They can!

But this is what unmanaged and undiagnosed BPD often looks like.

A BPD woman is on her phone while her partner looks over her shoulder suspicious she is cheating
Understanding BPD Cheating

The Prevalence of Cheating in BPD Relationships

Not much official research has been done on whether cheating is more prevalent in relationships with a BPD partner. 

But speaking with therapists who have experience with BPD clients – and spending any time at all on forums and support groups for BPD sufferers – we can see signs of a trend. 

Some professionals suggest that cheating in these cases results from the BPD symptoms and not due to personal shortcomings in any specific relationship. 

This is important to remember if you’ve been on the receiving end of BPD cheating. It’s not about you or your ability to be a good partner. 

This is about someone with a mental health condition that affects their ability to regulate their emotions and reactions to what they feel. Someone we know who, based on diagnostic criteria, struggles with relationships, boundaries, and rash decisions.

Perhaps a better metric as to whether someone with BPD is likely to cheat is whether or not they’re receiving treatment for their BPD and are prioritizing managing their symptoms. 

The Reasons Behind Cheating In BPD Relationships

There’s no magical warning sign that someone is about to cheat – BPD or otherwise. But if we look at the characteristics of unmanaged BPD, it’s easy to see how it could lead to unfaithfulness in a relationship:

1. Difficulties Maintaining Relationships

One of the main symptoms of BPD is a repetitive pattern of unstable relationships, and those relationships are characterized by a predictable pattern

The classic BPD relationship cycle starts with idealization, where the BPD person sees their partner as perfect. After the honeymoon phase has worn off, however, the BPD person gets caught up in the belief that they are worthless.

Thus follows anxiety and paranoia, which often manifests as clingy and obsessive behavior. 

If the BPD person continues to feel their partner will imminently see their worthlessness, they begin to devalue that person as a defense mechanism. They will often push away this person as a means of pre-empting what they deem as rejection. 

The BPD person is particularly vulnerable at this stage, and any person who comes along and distracts them – or makes them feel valued – will quickly become the ‘idealized’ partner, starting the cycle again. 

2. Frantic Efforts To Avoid Abandonment

Because the BPD person has such an intense fear of abandonment and rejection, they tend to act in a certain way that will either attempt to draw their partner back in, effectively manipulating them, or lashing out at them for the perceived rejection. 

The way the BPD person reacts to avoid what they think will happen is often termed ‘frantic efforts to avoid abandonment’ because these are often extreme behaviors that seem inappropriate and can seem out of proportion. 

Anecdotally, some people with BPD have reported actively seeking out another person to lash out at their partners or in the hopes that their partner will be devastated enough to pursue them.

3. Impulsive and Risky Behavior

Similar to these frantic efforts, impulsive and risky behavior forms part of the basics of BPD. Risky and impulsive actions are often a knee-jerk response for people with BPD who are seeking some emotional fulfillment. 

Not only is it a reaction to feeling nothing, but it’s also a reaction to feeling something.

Some BPD sufferers may feel empty and seek out activities that give them a ‘high’ – drinking excessively, making expensive purchases, or hooking up with someone new. 

4. Self-sabotage and Unstable Self-Image

Similar to risk-taking, people with BPD often engage in self-sabotaging behavior in an attempt to feel relief, gain control, or manipulate others – and this isn’t limited to physical self-harm like cutting, binge eating, drinking, or driving recklessly.

Imagine the BPD person believes their partner will break up with them because they aren’t good enough. Any person that then gives them attention will likely be an easy trap for them to fall into.

But BPD people also self-sabotage in an attempt to punish their partner, in some cases, or because they think it will make them regret any perceived rejection. 

This is also called preemptive cheating, and here’s a great video explainer on it:

5. Desire for Intimacy and Attention

The BPD person is also terrified of being alone, yet their desire for intimacy is juxtaposed against their fear of intimacy. Which is a horrible internal conflict to have to wrestle with, when you think about it. 

Imagine being trapped in a constant tug and pull of wanting desperately to be loved by someone but getting freaked out by the emotional proximity as soon as you experience it. 

This is what it’s like for some people with BPD. 

This yearning for being validated, loved, or wanted can easily translate to seeking comfort with someone else. It’s the main catalyst behind BPD monkey branching.

6. Splitting

One of the core thought patterns in the mind of a person with BPD is called splitting. This is a black-and-white type of thinking where the person cannot see the bigger picture, where every aspect of life has good and bad elements.

Instead, the person with BPD sees everything – and everyone – as either all good or all bad. 

It’s what also prompts the various phases of the BPD relationship cycle. 

Initially, their partner is perfect. No one is better. 

But as their fear and anxiety set in, or some perceived slight makes them feel like rejection is inevitable, they abruptly see their partner as the antithesis of good.

BPD splitting can lead to cheating. 

It’s a way to validate their feelings. This person was perfect, but now they’re bad and bad people don’t deserve loyalty. 

They inevitably regret the infidelity and will wallow in guilt about it, but tie this in with impulsivity, and it’s easy to see how the BPD person can get caught up in these cycles.

7. Lack of Boundaries

BPD is often associated with other mental health issues like codependency or enmeshment, trauma-bonded relationships, depression, anxiety, and paranoia. 

Many of these share a common denominator: a distinct lack of boundaries.

For the BPD person, boundaries are a perceived rejection – it’s seen as evidence of their partner not wanting to be near them, even though boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships

The BPD person generally struggles to adhere to boundaries and will often be in your space, in your face, and take up all your time, especially in the early stages of a relationship. This is the love bombing phase of the BPD relationship.

A lack of boundaries within a relationship can also trigger cheating if the BPD person either doesn’t respect the boundaries and expectations of a relationship or as they are moving between their Favorite Person (the individual their focus, attention, and emotions are centered on).

How To Address Cheating In a BPD Relationship

Dealing with cheating in any relationship is an intensely personal thing because, for many, it’s a deal breaker – the one boundary that shouldn’t be crossed. 

However, people can move past an affair, especially if they feel the incident occurred due to explainable circumstances and not as a negative reflection of their worth as a partner. 

And perhaps that’s the place you find yourself in currently. 

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to know whether cheating in a BPD relationship should mean the end or not.

Therapeutic Interventions for BPD

Couples therapy is an easy suggestion for those dealing with the fallout from cheating, but it’s not that simple when BPD is involved. 

Therapy that would usually help a couple move through this issue is compounded by the fact that the BPD has their own trauma and healing to do.

We do know that both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are effective in changing the harmful thought patterns and behaviors at the heart of BPD. 

By finding strategies that allow the BPD person to cope more appropriately and actually manage their emotions in a healthy way, some of the more problematic symptoms of BPD can be addressed.

Whether or not these changes are permanent depends on the person. 

It also depends on you.

Is it worth the risk of remaining in a relationship that may or may not see a re-occurrence?

Personally, I would not say ‘yes’ to that statement unless there’s a strong commitment to getting help and working on recovery, and evidence that both of you intend to follow through on that.

There’s nothing wrong with sitting with ‘maybe’ for a while until you’re sure it’s the right decision for you both. 

Myth or Truth?

So, is there any truth to the idea that people with BPD are more likely to cheat on you than someone without BPD? 

While there’s no evidence to suggest people with BPD are more likely to cheat, their struggle with impulsivity, self-sabotage, preemptive splitting, and managing emotions can make it harder.

And, if you’re wondering whether BPD people can be trusted not to cheat, you’re not alone. 

Most people assume the worst – but many people with BPD are self-aware and have done the work to prevent their symptoms from overwhelming them. 

Recovery from BPD symptoms is possible and so is having a healthy relationship.

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