Dating Someone with Dependent Personality Disorder: Balancing Support and Self-Care
Dating someone with dependent personality disorder can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. You have to recognize the symptoms of the disorder, and understand how it manifests itself in your relationship. The biggest challenge is to help them and be there for them while also maintaining self-care. Often, the best way to help is to encourage comprehensive residential treatment.
“Do you like this shirt? Should I wear it?”
Such a question is asked 1000 times over the course of many a relationship. Indeed, Reba had heard it from nearly every boy she dated, as they usually presumed that she had a better eye for fashion than they did. But with Nicolai, it seemed different. The questions never stopped. It seemed like he couldn’t make a decision without her, on clothes, on going out—on anything. She really liked him—he was sweet, kind, and thoughtful. But he just seemed entirely too… dependent. That’s what Reba told her friends. Nico seemed absolutely dependent on her.
She was right, but didn’t know how right she was. Nico suffered from dependent personality disorder. People with DPD lack the self-confidence to take care of things for themselves, and rely entirely on another person to help them. This may be a parent or a friend—or, very often, a person to whom they are romantically attached.
Dating someone with dependent personality disorder can be a challenge. But DPD can also be treated, both personally and professionally in a long-term care facility staffed with compassionate and thoughtful professionals. If you are dating someone with DPD, you can help them—as long as you also remember to take care of yourself.
How Dependent Personality Disorder Works
The most basic hallmark of dependent personality disorder is low self-esteem. This doesn’t always mean self-effacement or constantly putting oneself down. In some cases, that might not happen at all. What it does mean is that someone suffering from DPD feels like they are completely incapable of accomplishing things on their own. They feel like they need the affirmation of others to complete even seemingly minor tasks. They don’t just need encouragement; they crave approval.
The flipside of that is a horrible fear of rejection and an inability to rationalize criticism. This inability can be marked with anger, sadness, or even despair.
While DPD can develop at a young age, the symptoms generally don’t manifest until adulthood, and often go unrecognized or are misdiagnosed. Some of the symptoms include:
- Discomfort or fear when being left alone, leading to a constant quest for companionship. This is especially true of someone living alone.
- The delegation of responsibility to other people, including for major life decisions.
- The inability to make choices without approval and reassurance.
- An excessive need to get care or attention, often veering into the seemingly-desperate.
- An inability to finish projects or complete goals independently.
- Moving quickly into new relationships as soon as another one ends.
There’s a reason why DPD is often very hard to diagnose: any one of these symptoms are true of most of us at some point or the other. Even the seemingly independent narcissist craves approval sometimes. Dependent personality disorder can be especially difficult to accurately identify when you’re dating the person, as Reba found out the hard way.
How Dating Someone With Dependent Personality Disorder Impacts a Relationship
When Reba would tell her friends about Nicolai’s behavior, they’d sometimes think it was cute. “He’s a little puppy dog for you!” But sometimes they’d be disturbed and judgemental, and use words like “clingy”—or something harsher. That’s because dependent personality disorder is an extreme manifestation of something we all do in relationships. Few people don’t want the approval of someone they care about. The majority of us like to hear the object of our affection praise us now and then. And most people are thoughtful enough to consult with a serious romantic interest about decisions big and small.
But with DPD, all of these things become magnified, often to an all but unbearable level for the other person in the relationship. It is difficult emotional work to always prop someone up. It can feel like your life is being overtaken by their illness. You might feel like you are always catering to their need for approval.
One of the most difficult things is wanting to leave that relationship, for reasons related to DPD or for the million other everyday reasons why relationships end. You might feel sad, even guilty, about wanting a different life for yourself, or you might worry about the repercussions should you leave. Reba, for instance, feared that Nico might be unable to take care of himself without her—or worse, that he might harm himself if she broke things off with him.
While Reba didn’t really want to end the relationship, she also resented feeling trapped. What she learned later was that dependent personality disorder was a real thing, and not just a catchphrase for someone who acts a little clingy. More than that, she learned that DPD was something that could be treated. There was help available, if they were willing to seek it out. It took time and a lot of patience, but eventually, Reba convinced Nico to find that help at a local residential treatment facility.
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Taking Care Of Yourself in a Dependent Relationship
One thing that Reba learned was that she was allowed to take care of herself. When in a relationship with someone with DPD, it is important to practice self-care. You can’t, and certainly shouldn’t, spend 100% of your time making sure your significant other feels affirmed and making their decisions for them. It isn’t helpful, it is stressful for you, and over time it can actually weaken, rather than strengthen, your relationship. It is important to set boundaries, being firm but caring. It is important to encourage them to develop on their own, to take steps on their own. It’s important to help them learn to live for themselves, and not for others.
But at the end, there is only so much you can do. The most important thing is to recognize that dependent personality disorder isn’t a “quirk” or a phase your loved one is going through, but a recognizable and treatable mental health disorder. And encouraging them to get better means encouraging treatment that is actually helpful.
The Importance of Treatment in Dependent Personality Disorder
Long-term treatment for dependent personality disorder is vitally important, due to the nature of the disorder. It takes time to help someone see themselves. It also takes expertise. Long-term care facilities with experts in DPD are skilled at not letting the patient form a dependent bond on them. That’s the danger with non-experts—your partner can easily transfer their dependence onto another figure. Instead, they need to work to have a healthy and independent relationship.
Group sessions, meanwhile, reinforce positive and non-dependent relationships. People with DPD need to learn new ways of communicating with others, starting with how they think of themselves. Additionally, while there’s no medication to specifically treat dependent personality disorder, some may be prescribed for related or co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety or depression. It is about managing symptoms, managing expectations, and managing boundaries.
That’s what Reba learned as Nico went through therapy. She learned how they could work together to make things better. In the end, it was just like any relationship—a lot of good, some bad, and some things they’d always have to work on. But now, they are doing so together.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for mental health disorders as well as process addictions and phase of life issues. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to healing.