Regardless of whether you knew your partner had obsessive-compulsive disorder before you married, my guess is life together hasn’t always been easy. Neither my husband nor I have OCD (our son Dan does) so I’m not writing from firsthand experience, but rather from my own observations and years of connecting with people who have OCD.
For the person with OCD, issues might include feeling as if your spouse doesn’t care enough or support you enough. Perhaps he or she gets easily frustrated with you, and doesn’t even begin to understand how tormented you are and why your lives (and possibly the lives of your children) have been turned upside down because of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
For the spouse of someone with OCD, maybe you feel as if your husband or wife is being selfish, following OCD’s directions with no regard for you or your children. Perhaps you feel your spouse isn’t trying hard enough to get well, and you resent him or her not only for all the slack you’ve had to pick up around the house, but also for allowing OCD to obliterate whatever joy you might still have in your lives.
You are both emotionally and physically exhausted.
To make matters worse, couples who deal with OCD might feel isolated, as it’s not the easiest subject in the world to talk about with others. If couples do reach out for help, either individually or as a couple, well-meaning friends and relatives might take sides or offer bad advice. OCD is tough to understand. Add all this to the fact that social lives tend to be negatively affected when OCD is in the picture, and you likely have two people who feel alone.
But you’re not alone. You have each other. Remember? For better or for worse.
From what I’ve seen, couples who have thrived despite OCD see themselves as a team. They work together against OCD, not against each other. What this means is that if you’re the one with OCD, you need to commit to getting proper treatment, which includes exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Part of that treatment is accepting the fact that your spouse and your children will no longer accommodate or enable your OCD.
If you are the spouse of someone with OCD, you need to learn everything you can about obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even occasionally accompany your partner to his or her therapy appointments, if appropriate. Also, it’s very important to learn the correct ways to respond to your spouse when he or she is dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder. One thing I know from personal experience is we cannot rely on our instincts when dealing with OCD. We want to naturally reassure and comfort our loved ones, but, in terms of OCD, that’s the opposite of what we should be doing.
I know I’m making it sound easy, but as most of us know, the truth is, OCD is messy. Progress is rarely linear, and there will be many ups and downs. Still, it is possible to overcome OCD. Open communication is important for couples in general, but even more so when dealing with OCD. It’s not uncommon for misunderstandings to arise. Cognitive distortions often come into play, and OCD will twist and turn things around every chance it gets. Couples need to be as open and honest with each other as they can possibly be.
Maybe the best thing couples can do is remember why they married each other in the first place. Both those people still exist, though they might be currently hidden by OCD and all the damage it has caused. But relationships can be repaired, and as you take one day at a time and move toward recovery, couples might find their marriage becomes even stronger than it was before.
Teamwork photo available from Shutterstock