How do OCD and relationships mix? Whether you’ve just met someone or been partnered for a while, mental health disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can cause disruption and confusion and interfere with your bond. What should you do? Where can you go for help?
Statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) show that about 2.3 percent of adults in America have OCD in their lifetimes. About 1.2 percent experienced OCD in the past year. Almost half with OCD in the past year had serious impairment, while nearly 35 percent experienced moderate impairment.
Introduction to the Complexities of OCD and Relationships
When one or both partners have OCD, navigating the relationship is complex. It is also confusing, frustrating, and a constant challenge for family members when one person has OCD. But OCD affects relationships of all types, including those with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and casual acquaintances.
Understanding What OCD Is and Its Impact on Relationships
OCD is an anxiety disorder. Classic symptoms of OCD involve obsessions and compulsions. At times, obsessive thoughts may be dominant, while compulsive behaviors are prominent at other times. But this is a cyclical and unhealthy symbiosis, with ideas and behaviors repeating and reinforcing themselves.
There is a subset of OCD known as relationship OCD or ROCD. In this form of OCD, the association is rooted in obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors focused on the relationship.
On the other hand, when someone has OCD, they:
- Spend a great deal of time daily on obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors, respectively
- Cannot control their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors — even if they recognize that what they’re thinking and doing is excessive
- Derive no pleasure from doing their compulsive rituals, yet they may feel a brief respite from the anxiety their obsessive thoughts create
- Increasingly experience daily life problems that become more significant — all due to their obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors
How Does OCD Affect Relationships?
When OCD is present in a relationship, there will inevitably be a dramatic increase in stress, doubt, worry, and fear about being rejected or abandoned, as well as identity loss. The non-OCD partner has much to contend with as they see what’s happening daily.
Someone with OCD begins avoiding anything that serves as a trigger, such as people, places, events, situations, or even mentions on TV that sparks obsessive thoughts or behavior. This can initially be off-putting to their partner, but as these instances continue, it disrupts the relationship.
Divorce, separation, discord in the family and the marriage or partnership, and extreme dissatisfaction become more likely with OCD in relationships.
Meanwhile, the partner with OCD, feeling embarrassed and ashamed, becomes more isolated and rapidly loses self-esteem.
None of this is healthy. With OCD and relationships, both partners need help recognizing, coping, and overcoming obsessive and compulsive thoughts and behaviors.
Common Challenges Faced by Couples Involving OCD
With OCD and relationships, couples face several common challenges. These can include:
- Obsessing about whether their relationship is correct. The person with OCD constantly worries about their partner or how the relationship is going.
- Overemphasizing problems in the relationship, seeing small or insignificant problems as severe or overwhelming.
- Focusing on the perceived flaws in their partner. This often involves ignoring positive characteristics, skills, and attributes and instead focusing on perceived imperfections or bad traits.
- Compulsively needing reassurance: Do you love me? Are we going to stay together?
- Looking for signs that the relationship is the “right one” or a good fit.
- Engaging in behaviors to self-soothe. This may entail remembering happy times to reassure themselves that they and their partner were happy.
- Constant comparison of the current relationship with other partners and relationships.
How OCD Affects Relationships
When you’re in a relationship, the dynamic is constantly in flux. However, OCD in relationships presents some unique challenges.
Dating Someone with OCD
There’s no denying that OCD and dating can create challenges. Red flags may appear after the initial glow of meeting and getting to know a potential romantic partner, signaling mental distress. The individual may display behavior that may be confusing but acceptable at first. Later, however, the repetitive nature of consistent behavior may be cause for concern. Whether diagnosed or not, the individual may have OCD.
What Can You Expect When Dating Someone with OCD?
Whether you think your dating partner has OCD or it’s merely a suspicion, knowing what you can expect is essential. The best way to proceed is to learn as much as possible about OCD, including common symptoms, causes, and how the condition is treated.
Common OCD Symptoms
Someone with OCD may experience the following common symptoms:
- Obsessive thoughts that are overly intrusive and unwanted
- Extreme fear of contamination or dirt
- Constant need for things to be in a particular order or symmetrical
- Distressing, frightening thoughts about self-harm or hurting others
- Actions that are compulsive and repetitive to lessen anxiety brought about by obsessions
Strategies for Building Healthy and Supportive Relationships
OCD in relationships isn’t a deal-breaker. It is possible to enjoy supportive, healthy relationships even if someone has OCD. However, building healthy relationships or repairing dysfunctional and non-supportive ones will require work.
For those living with someone with OCD or who’ve just begun dating or recently learned their new dating partner has OCD, there are effective strategies that can help strengthen and build your relationship.
Respect the person’s Privacy
Just because the individual with OCD is willing to discuss their condition with you doesn’t mean it’s permissible for you to talk about it with others. Your partner may not have disclosed this information to them. For this reason, it is wise never to assume others know your partner has OCD.
Even a casual comment to a family member or friend of your partner could result in embarrassment and hurt, eroding the relationship trust you’ve worked so hard to build.
Be Honest and Supporting
Are you feeling overwhelmed by the symptoms your partner experiences? Or do you have concerns that are increasing? When it comes to how these obsessions and compulsions involve you and your sexual intimacy together, it’s doubly important to talk honestly about it.
While you may not feel comfortable mentioning your doubts and concerns with your partner, finding someone you trust to speak to in general about the topic is crucial. A different perspective may help ward off misunderstandings that could jeopardize the relationship.
Build Trust to Strengthen the Relationship
Many individuals with OCD may take extreme caution to hide how much the disorder affects them. This means downplaying symptoms and their severity. They don’t want to be embarrassed or rejected by their new dating partner, spouse, friends, family members, and co-workers. This is especially true regarding intimate relationships and sexual performance since sexual difficulties are one of the symptoms of OCD).
- Reassure your partner that you want to understand OCD and are willing to talk about it with them.
- Acknowledge how difficult it was for your partner to discuss their obsessions and compulsions with you.
- Remember that acceptance and empathy can be crucial for intimacy and trust.
The Role of Therapy and Professional Guidance in Relationship Management
OCD and relationships can result in the termination of the relationship without professional help. It doesn’t have to mean the end of a marriage partnership, friendship, or working relationship, but OCD in relationships is not going away without outside help.
The partner in an OCD relationship, or family members, friends, and others who interact with the individual experiencing OCD must deal with the fallout. They become overly frustrated by the strain and limitations OCD brings to the relationship.
OCD Is Highly Treatable
This is a mental health disorder that is highly treatable. Psychotherapy has proven to be successful in treating OCD. Often, the recommended treatment includes a type of exposure therapy, along with prescribed medications. Other therapy for OCD may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based CBT.
With counseling, therapies, and medications, the treatment regimen can help the individual with OCD experience symptom reduction or elimination. They’ll also learn how to manage symptoms and develop coping strategies to be more productive.
Couples therapy or family and group therapy may also be helpful to mend the relationship and help reduce the disruption that OCD and relationships cause.
If you and your partner have difficulties because of OCD in relationships, our experts at Restore-Mental Health can help. Contact us to learn more about our comprehensive behavioral treatment programs. Remember, OCD and relationships don’t need to mean the end of your bond.