12 Warning Signs Of An Emotionally Unstable Partner And How To Cope

Unhealthy Relationship | | , Researcher & Content Writer
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signs of emotionally unstable partner

Is your partner showing signs of an emotionally unstable woman/man? Maybe they recently lost a parent or still haven’t healed from their childhood traumas. Or maybe, life, in general, has just not been easy for them.

But, author James Dobson wrote, “Those who are the happiest are not necessarily those for whom life has been easiest. Emotional stability results from an attitude. It is refusing to yield to depression and fear, even when black clouds float overhead. It is improving that which can be improved and accepting that which is inevitable.”

However, the above quote takes an idealistic view of struggles that are anything but. Dealing with emotional instability is much more complex than that. That’s why, we’ve turned to psychologist Ridhi Golechha (Masters in Psychology), who specializes in physical, mental, and emotional health counseling, for insights to help you understand how to cope with your partner’s emotional instability.

What Does It Mean If Someone Is Emotionally Unstable?

According to research, Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD), also known as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), is a mental illness that severely impacts a person’s ability to regulate their emotions. 

This loss of emotional control can increase impulsivity, affect how a person feels about themselves, and negatively impact their relationships with others. However, not everyone who’s emotionally unstable suffers from EUPD or similar disorders. But every person who has personality disorders is likely to have unstable emotions.

Ridhi says, “When you don’t have a functional family growing up, you learn those same patterns in your emotional world. For example, if a child experienced abuse/neglect, saw the impacts of parents’ divorce, or grew up with a parent who struggled with addiction, they learn these patterns from the get-go and they think that those are normal ways of living.” With this, we arrive at the signs of an emotionally unstable woman/man.

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12 Warning Signs Of An Emotionally Unstable Partner

According to studies, emotional instability/immaturity points to an individual’s failure to develop a degree of independence/self-reliance, with the consequent use of immature adjustive patterns and the inability to maintain equilibrium under stress. Let’s look at more signs of an emotionally unstable individual:

1. Misplaced anger

Ridhi says, “Misplaced anger is one of the tell-tale signs of an emotionally unstable partner. They don’t know how to deal with their emotions. So, they lash out very easily in daily life.” But, why do they get so angry?

Research points out that the evolutionary roots of your partner’s anger issues can be traced back to animals preparing for an attack to ward off opponents. Anger is a response to survival threats and it serves to suppress emotions like intense fear, pain, and shame.

Related Reading: Your Guide To Dealing With An Angry Person In A Relationship

2. Suicidal thoughts

A Reddit user wrote about unstable emotions, “Threatening to kill myself, acting irrationally out of rage, then going into a shaming cycle about it and medicating myself with drugs, repeat. Sometimes I do actually attempt to kill myself but obviously, I haven’t succeeded.”

In fact, research says that people with borderline personality disorder have a significantly higher rate of self-harm (such as cutting) and suicidal tendencies than the general population.

3. Low accountability 

Ridhi explains, “When somebody does not take accountability in relationships for their behavior/mistakes and constantly blames the other person, it is a huge sign that they are immature and cannot stand up. 

“They cannot fathom that they are capable of making a mistake. So, they will always have an external source to blame. For example, a spouse or a colleague, or even external factors, like a traffic jam. They leave no room for improvement/growth, unaware of the fact that the problem is inside, not outside.”

4. Constant tests to check you

What are the signs of an emotionally unstable woman? A Reddit user wrote, “They are constantly testing you. I dated one girl that would “test” me with comments about meeting up with ex-boyfriends, missing her period, restarting her dating app, etc. All to test my reaction.”

5. Inability to take criticism constructively

Ridhi says, “When someone is not able to take criticism constructively and instead lashes out or gets angry/abusive, it means that their emotional intelligence/emotional maturity quotient is low. They need to get help to understand that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn to accept constructive criticism.”

6. Impulsive behaviors

What are the signs someone is emotionally unstable? Research says BPD symptoms include impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, such as:

  • Spending sprees
  • Unsafe sex
  • Substance abuse
  • Reckless driving
  • Binge eating

Related Reading: 8 Ways You Can Help Your Partner Get Over Drug Addiction

7. Need constant reassurance

Ridhi says, “If they don’t know how to manage their distress/anxiety, it is one of the signs that someone is emotionally unstable. They might come out as constantly seeking reassurance/answers.”

8. Gaslighting

The following gaslighting statements signify unstable relationship signs:

  • “You are a psycho. You are always imagining things”
  • “We talked about this. Don’t you remember?”
  • “You can’t even take a simple joke”
  • “I criticize you because I love you”
  • “You are always overthinking”
am i being manipulated quiz

9. Lack of commitment

Looking for another sign of an emotionally unstable partner? Lack of commitment or inability to hold their end of a commitment can be a definitive warning sign. Ridhi explains, “They do not keep to their commitments, might even forget or not show up.” The reasons could be chronic social anxiety or even low self-esteem. 

10. Disassociation from the self

What are the other signs of a troubled person? Research says that EUPD/BPD may manifest as feelings of dissociation, such as feeling cut off from oneself, observing oneself from outside one’s body, or feelings of unreality. So, if your partner is experiencing an intense disconnect from their own self, it could be a sign of emotional instability.

11. Hot and cold behavior

Ridhi points out, “Hot and cold behavior is one of the signs of a troubled person.” This is why it becomes extremely important for them to check their attachment style. People with a disorganized attachment style swing between mood extremes. One moment, they are extremely trusting. The next moment, they are cynical. One moment, they would show enthusiastic interest. The next moment, they would withdraw completely and act cold and ignorant.

12. Lack of empathy

Showing disregard for your problems and calling them ‘petty’ are the signs of an emotionally unstable woman. She will always try to one-up you, by showing you that she is going through bigger challenges.

Similarly, an emotionally unstable man may pay no attention to what you are saying. Every conversation about you eventually ends up becoming a conversation about them. How to help such a person? Let’s find out. 

How To Help An Emotionally Unstable Partner?

A stable relationship can help your partner in healing from their past unstable relationships. But not everyone can manage a relationship like that. So, ask yourself/your therapist if you’re stable enough and have the required emotional skills. If you do, then here are some tips to help an emotionally immature person:

1. Listen to them

Let them share things with you, at their own pace. Don’t pressure them into sharing something they don’t want to. Also, don’t make assumptions or offer them solutions/diagnoses. You’re not a trained counselor.

Related Reading: What Does ‘Holding Space For Someone’ Mean And How To Do It?

However, as somebody who cares for them, you can encourage them to eat healthily, get adequate sleep, and exercise every day. These are sure-shot ways to achieve better mental health. Also, don’t engage in binge-drinking sprees with them.

2. Encourage them to seek help

There are doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, helplines, forums, and a huge variety of other mental health resources. You could help them connect with experts or suggest that they talk to someone who has been trained to handle emotional issues. Going into therapy can help them feel good, calm, and healthy. If you’re looking for resources to help your emotionally unstable partner, skilled and experienced counselors on Bonobology’s panel are here for you.

Support them to keep up with treatment. Keep pushing them to continue treatment if they decide to start. If they wish to quit/stop taking medications, suggest that they first consult with a licensed professional. You can even tell them how much of a difference you’ve already seen in them during treatment.

3. Create a vision board together

Ridhi advises, “For uninspiring relationships, creating a vision board together/planning a future helps. Sit together and ask yourselves this question, “Where would you like to see yourself three/five/ten years from today?”

“Once you create a vision board, it will create inspiration for a relationship to which you can work together. A pessimistic attitude can always be overtaken by a positive approach in life. So, having something to look at every day will help rather than trying to visualize it in your head, where there is already so much emotional instability and panic.”


4. Give them assurance 

If you can relate to the unstable relationship signs, then it’s safe to say that your partner is struggling/having a hard time. So, empathy should be on top of your list. You can use the following encouraging questions/phrases more:

  • “Why don’t you tell me how you’re feeling?”
  • “I want to let you know that I respect your feelings”
  • “I get it. It’s not easy to go through what you are going through”

Keep a calm attitude and say things to reassure your partner. You can say something like, “I love you and I’m not going anywhere” or “It’s okay. I am there for you. We’ll get through this together”. But at the same time, paying attention to how you’re feeling is equally important.

How To Cope Being With An Emotionally Unstable Partner?

When dealing with someone with unstable emotions, here are some tips for you:

  • Self-care: Take care of yourself through yoga/meditation, or even talking to your friends over a cup of tea or going for a swim (you can only be a safe space for someone else if you’re grounded enough)
  • Set boundaries: Set boundaries by saying, “I am not willing to be yelled at. I want to understand where you’re coming from. But now is not the right time”. You can also say, “I get that you are upset. But my attention is all over the place at this moment. Can we reconnect at a better time?”
  • Recognize and stand up against gaslighting: If you’re being gaslighted, Do NOT (even for a second) believe that something is wrong with you or that you need to change for them to be less abusive.

Be supportive but assertive that they should consult a mental health professional. You can reap the benefits of therapy too. Suffering in silence may end up hampering your physical and mental health. Don’t shy away from seeking the help you need to cope with an emotionally unstable partner.

Key Pointers

  • There could be a lot of reasons behind emotional instability, from depression to the use of prescription drugs, from anxiety to BPD
  • Be gentle and keep having conversations to check in on your partner
  • Seeking professional help can help you both lead a fulfilling life
  • If your relationship is affecting your other areas of life, breaking up can also be an option worth considering

Finally, if you try all this and it still doesn’t work out, don’t feel guilty for leaving your partner. It’s not a bad thing to look out for yourself. Protecting your mental health is a sign of self-love. Make sure you break up in a public place to ensure your safety and express everything to them with sincerity and honesty. Don’t expect the breakup to be easy.

Also, remember that your job is not to change your partner or “fix” them. All you can do is influence them, and enable an environment of cooperation, instead of control. At the same time, you don’t have to be submissive and fearful of your partner. Treat your partner with respect but also be assertive so that you can get the respect that you deserve.

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