Don't freak out when your partner tells you they have OCD

Don't freak out when your partner tells you they have OCD

You think you finally found “The One.” S/he really seems to get you, love you, and you can even begin to imagine spending the rest of your lives together. And then “the conversation” happens. Your significant other tells you that you need “to talk” because s/he thinks it is getting serious and wants to be honest an open. S/he tells you that s/he has been suffering from OCD and wanted you to know. How can you process the news? What is okay to think? To say? To do?


Do

Do learn about OCD

Relationships are about getting to know and love the other person. When it comes to someone with OCD, that includes getting to know about OCD and how it affects your partner specifically. Certain “quirks” or “rigidity” or “annoying habits” that you may feel are interfering with your relationship may be better understood. Knowing about the OCD will clue you in on how to manage the anxiety and what your partner is doing when working on his/her issues. In turn, this can have a positive impact on reducing the overall stress in your relationship.

Do build trust

No one likes to talk about personal challenges in a relationship. If you are dedicated to the relationship, make it clear to your partner that OCD is something you want to hear and understand more about. When your partner is sharing details of his or her personal struggles and obsessions, acknowledge how hard the self disclosure must be. Empathy and acceptance are critical early steps to building trust and intimacy.

Do encourage seeking professional help

Reminding partners that OCD is not “their fault” and that treatment is not “a punishment” is an important role for a partner. Encouraging partners to seek the help that they need, to stick with it when it gets hard and perhaps even assisting with treatment where requested is often a great place for partners to help. It also provides a big assist in building a bond in relationships.

Do accept your partner just the way s/he is

Acceptance of the person you are in love with includes an understanding that the same person has challenges with anxiety. It delivers the message that you want to be closer. Conveying the message about acceptance of your partner will provide him with the sense of safety necessary for him to take risks, be vulnerable and make mistakes - all of which are a critical part of successful therapy. Support and acceptance are great gifts that a partner can provide.

Do be honest

All relationships require a sense of honesty. When you are in a relationship with someone with OCD, be honest about your concerns about your partner’s obsessions and compulsions and their effect on you. Communicate your stresses in the relationship openly. This is especially crucial if the object of the obsessions is you or the relationship. Openness and honesty will help your partner balance his own personal issues with those of the relationship.


Don't

Do not assume that everyone knows

Although your partner has shared his/her obsessions and struggles with you, don’t assume that s/he has shared the same with friends or even family. A simple comment could end up being an inappropriate boundary violation.

Do not ever say “just get over it”

The fact is OCD is not something that one can “just get over.” OCD is a thinking condition that has been ingrained into someone’s life. It needs support and understanding not demands.

Do not reassure

Because OCD obsessions generate fear, people suffering with them will often turn to loved ones for reassurance that the fears are irrational. However, reassurance provides only temporary relief and in the not so distant long run can be extremely harmful. Providing reassurance blocs exposure to the fear which is necessary for elimination of the fear. In addition, in relationships, the demands for reassurance can become more intense and hurtful to a relationship as demands go unmet and relationships suffer.

Do not rush

People suffering from OCD often suffer from obsessional thoughts about those most close to them or themselves. This can challenge attempts at physical and emotional intimacy. Be patient and do not rush your partner but be open to discussing your feelings about the challenges in order to encourage growth in your relationship.

Do not make it all about the OCD

Sometimes we get so focused on the OCD and combatting it together, that the relationship is often stifled in the process. While it is ok to ask “How are you doing with the OCD today?”, setting limits on the talking about the OCD will help establish a more normative routine between you. It also makes the statement that your relationship will not be governed by OCD.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

Three letters “OCD” can seem to shake the bedrock of a solid relationship. However, many OCD sufferers have their condition under control due to a willingness to identify and treat the problem. So long as a person is willing to treat himself and contribute to a relationship, there is no reason to assume that s/he will not make an ideal life partner. We all have flaws, but the fatal ones in a relationship are the ones that the couple cannot acknowledge and address together.


More expert advice about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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Dr. Jonathan Schwartz PsyDLicensed Clinical Psychologist and Anxiety Specialist

Dr. Jonathan Schwartz, Clinical Director at the Center for Anxiety Relief in Union, NJ has been a mental health provider since 1995. He specializes in working with a wide spectrum of anxiety and mood disorders including: Obsessive Compulsive Dis...

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