There’s nothing cute or funny about OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). It’s defined by the International OCD Foundation as “a disorder of the brain and behavior [that] causes severe anxiety in those affected. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions that take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities.”
People often jokingly say “I’m so OCD!” or “That was so OCD of him.” However, the actual disorder is no laughing matter. Imagine being stuck, fixated on an idea and unable to pull yourself out of it. Living with someone who suffers from this condition is also incredibly challenging. It can be overwhelming to see a loved one struggling with the symptoms. I lived with a partner who suffered from severe OCD, so I understand.
It’s always best to consult a therapist and work with a professional to help your loved one get better. In the meantime, here are a few pointers for coping with an OCD partner.
1. Objectify OCD
I’d often alleviate tension by discussing my partner’s OCD as a separate entity. Instead of saying things like “you need to stop checking the stove”, or “why do you take ninety minutes in the shower?” it’s helpful to say “Don’t let OCD control you—you’re in charge.” By reminding your partner that the condition doesn’t define them, you create an opportunity for them to view it as separate from them. Gentle reminders and encouragement to not let the disorder govern them go a long way when your partner is on the path to healing.
2. Spend time apart
We may think that spending every free moment monitoring someone with OCD could help heal them, but we all need time alone. Nobody wants to feel like they have a babysitter, and it’s exhausting to constantly be on guard. Plus, your partner is probably going to hide some of the more overt symptoms from you while you’re around. You can’t stop someone’s OCD overnight—it’s going to take time. So it’s far healthier to let everyone breathe, and continue your life and activities outside of your home. Self care and time apart are imperative; don’t lose yourself to the disorder as well.
3. Gradually build trust
Be empathic and communicate to your partner that you’re willing to work through this together. Remind them that you’re not there to judge or ridicule. Let them know that you’re committed to seeing this through as a team. Early on, partners may hide their OCD from you for fear of rejection and embarrassment. Share that you’d like to help them overcome it. It’s not easy to show someone what may be seen as an unattractive trait, so create a safe, supportive environment in your home. Be gentle, be patient, and be there for them.
4. Respect their privacy
Be mindful that your partner may not want you to openly discuss their OCD in public. Communicate that you respect their privacy, and don’t assume that friends or family members are aware that they suffer from the disorder. Most people hide their symptoms from friends and coworkers. Remember, you’re working to build trust and don’t want to lose any footing by making an offhand remark or joke in a social setting. Nobody wants to be embarrassed, so take care to use discretion when discussing OCD.
5. Don’t blame
Be certain of this: nobody suffering from OCD wants to be. They literally cannot help that they need all of the prongs on all of the forks to be facing north, and I’m sure they’d rather be out enjoying a beautiful day than scrubbing the walls of their home with antiseptic wipes for hours. Be careful not to blame anyone for their disorder or symptoms. Doing so will only alienate you and cause a divide in the relationship. Communicate the message that having OCD is not their fault, and consistently be there for your partner. Blaming never makes anything better and will only make the person who is already suffering feel worse.