Being in a romantic relationship is no cake walk. Having Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is undeniably difficult. The interaction of the two – being in a relationship when one or both partners suffers from OCD – can be a recipe for disaster, especially if you’re not aware of how OCD can impact your relationship, and what you can do about it.

How OCD Might Show Up In Your Relationship

OCD often injects frustration, misunderstanding and hurt feelings (on both sides) into partnerships. For starters, it’s just tough to overcome the learning curve and begin to understand what’s happening when, thanks to OCD, partners face new challenges they haven’t experienced before. It can be a brand new experience to watch your partner struggle with the anxiety and intrusive thoughts that characterize OCD, and it makes it tempting to offer constant reassurance.

Physical intimacy can become complicated when someone’s OCD is a factor. Not only can fear of the loss of control, abandonment, or germs be a factor – but anxiety and depression play a role as well. They are a demotivator for intimacy for anyone, and OCD sufferers can deal with both. With OCD, shame and self-consciousness can be intense at times. Add a new relationship to the mix, and it’s especially important that trust and affection happen at a pace both partners are comfortable with.

Relationship OCD (ROCD) is a particular subtype of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that causes you to fixate on a significant others’ flaws (and/or your own), question whether the relationship meets the bar, and obsess over past partners and comparisons to other people’s relationships. With ROCD, you may constantly weigh the pros and cons of your relationship or partner. Whether or not someone with OCD goes into the relationship with ROCD specifically, a new relationship (or any event for that matter) can trigger OCD to take on this new form.

Delivering the hard truth without a solution is just cruel. So what can you do about it to protect your mental health and your relationship? Here are a few ways that OCD sufferers and their significant others can cope. 

For Someone with OCD and Who’s in a Relationship 

Communication, communication, communication. I know, it’s difficult to be open, and trusting is a process. However, accepting a certain level of discomfort early and often can pay dividends in your relationship and help avoid future frustrations. Talk about your story, your symptoms, and normalize checking in on how you’re doing emotionally. Not only can it put you in the driver’s seat of the relationship rather than OCD taking control, but open communication helps build intimacy.

At the same time, don’t treat your partner like your therapist. Open communication is great, but you don’t need to tell your significant other about every single thought that passes through your head. Take your OCD to a therapist who specializes in OCD, and let your partner be your partner.

Speaking of therapy, it’s great for couples too! While doing your own individual therapy is crucial, it can be incredibly helpful to speak with a couple’s counselor – even early on in the relationship, before OCD has completely overtaken your relationship. Working with someone who specializes in OCD isn’t just important for individual therapy, either. It’s also helpful to find a couple’s therapist who knows a thing or two about OCD and can bring that specialization to your sessions.

Remember that you aren’t broken. You aren’t deficient or lesser in the relationship. Don’t give shame an inch in your relationship. Peer support and community with others who have OCD can be a powerful tool to help combat any shame or anxiety you’re feeling in your relationship.

For Partners of Someone with OCD

Partners and family members of someone with OCD sometimes want to know right off the bat, “What can I do to help support them?” That’s a beautiful question to ask, but the first step to supporting them is having an understanding of their disorder. You can start with some basic internet research and listening to experiences of others with OCD. Chances are, your partner has faced similar symptoms and struggles as other people. 

And, of course, encourage open conversation by asking questions and fostering a sense of openness to learning about their OCD experience and how it impacts them. You don’t need to press for details, as trust is critical for becoming vulnerable. They’ll open up at their own pace, so be patient and stay open.

Don’t expect them to do all of your education for you. Do your own research, and also get involved in friends and families groups for additional support. Don’t forget that support isn’t just for the OCD sufferer – it’s there for you too. Relating to other loved ones of someone with OCD is a powerful thing, as you share your own struggles and experiences.

Don’t offer reassurance. Period. It sounds harsh, but one of the most helpful things you can both establish in your relationship is to embrace uncertainty. Help your loved one with OCD by embracing the uncertainty and unknown right alongside them. ‘I don’t know if that means you’re sick.’ ‘That sounds very difficult.’ ‘Maybe you will, maybe you won’t.’ Such responses can be frustrating to hear, but perpetuating the OCD cycle by offering reassurance is a much more difficult alternative. Have a conversation about it and set expectations you’re both okay with.

Looking for a safe space to discuss your thoughts with peers who understand?

To share your experience without guilt, shame or fear, browse our safe and confidential OCDPeers groups here.

We’d love to hear your story!

The OCD community needs brave voices who are willing to share their experience. If you’re interested in sharing your OCD story, contact us here.