When your spouse lives with OCD, you gain an intimate glimpse into the unique challenges this condition presents for them.
As the saying goes, there’s a place for everything, and everything in its place. But obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) isn’t just a fancy label for being particular about organization.
OCD can mean obsessing over minor details of daily life or engaging in compulsive behaviors when stressed.
Every plate in the cupboard may need to be oriented the same way, and the shampoo bottles in the shower might need to be lined up from tallest to shortest.
OCD affects approximately 1.2% of adults in the United States each year.
While many people associate OCD with repetitive behavior, that’s only one classic symptom of the condition. Your spouse may also experience:
- unwanted obsessive thoughts or urges
- an obsessive focus on tasks or minor details
- high levels of anxiety
These symptoms can lead to many secondary challenges that might affect you and your spouse, such as:
- sleep issues
- changes in eating habits
- emotional ups and downs
- chronic lateness
Your spouse may feel added anxiety about how their actions are perceived. To those around them, it may sometimes feel like they’re being controlling, even though this isn’t their intention.
Living with OCD is often about stress relief. Your spouse’s compulsive behaviors are their brain’s way of trying to manage the obsessions they’re experiencing.
In most cases, your spouse doesn’t want to engage in compulsive behaviors any more than you want them to. They can’t help it — their behaviors have nothing to do with personal preference.
Unfortunately, when one partner lives with OCD, it can impact a relationship.
A 2017 study that looked specifically at partner relationships found that OCD was linked to a sense of mental and physical distance between partners.
The study authors noted this was likely because the support and accommodation that the partner with OCD received made them feel monitored and pathologized, and in turn they may have monitored their partner to ensure they followed the rituals as well.
Living with OCD may also mean your spouse:
- needs a high level of reassurance
- has fear or anxiety around trying new things
- has some
problems with sex
- overanalyzes minor relationship details
These OCD-related challenges may give you feelings of rejection or inadequacy.
You might wonder why your spouse won’t go to new places with you or why they’re worried that your different musical tastes will one day end the relationship.
Even when you understand that much of what you’re experiencing stems from OCD, it can still get in the way of your happiness in your relationship.
Learning how to help a spouse living with OCD can also mean helping yourself.
The more skills you can develop toward understanding OCD in a relationship, the less likely you may be to experience resentment or emotional distancing.
When you educate yourself about OCD, you can gain the power to recognize the difference between OCD-influenced behaviors and those that are deliberately manipulative and controlling.
This allows you to approach situations with understanding and compassion. It can also help you practice mindfulness toward behaviors that might initially come off as controlling or uncaring.
Remind your partner that it will get better
OCD isn’t in full force all the time. Your spouse may experience episodes of high stress, during which obsessions and compulsions become much more intrusive.
Episodes can vary in severity, and there’s no way to know whether one will be more challenging than the last. While this can be unsettling, reminding your spouse that it will get better, and that they’ve overcome worse, can help reassure them.
Encouraging your partner to engage in OCD treatments and supporting them in self-care routines can also be helpful.
Celebrate the small things
It can be easy to fall down the rabbit hole of retaliation when it comes to OCD. If your spouse is constantly looking for reassurance, you might find that you’re less likely to give it, simply out of frustration.
However, you don’t have to indulge approval-seeking behavior to make your spouse feel celebrated.
Acknowledging their small accomplishments may do much more for them than constantly reassuring them with, “Yes, I love you.”
For example, if you notice that your spouse has taken a step toward avoiding a compulsion, cheering that success can build their confidence.
At times, you may engage in what are known as “family accommodation behaviors.” This happens when you give in to the demands of a spouse living with OCD.
Enabling OCD behaviors may make life easier in the moment, but it doesn’t help your spouse manage their condition in the long run.
In some situations, accommodation behaviors can make OCD worse.
To avoid accommodation behaviors, asking your spouse to sit down with you and set boundaries can be helpful.
This can mean agreeing on family rules with your spouse, such as:
- No participating in OCD compulsions. For example, don’t wash your hands every time your spouse washes their hands.
- No encouraging compulsions. For example, don’t put up extra shelving so your spouse can reorganize the pantry daily.
- No sacrificing family activities. For example, don’t avoid having family over for a holiday dinner because it interrupts an OCD ritual.
Having agreed-upon boundaries allows you to remind your spouse of the importance of ongoing OCD management.
Avoid focusing on the OCD
When your spouse lives with OCD, they can be constantly focused on and aware of how it’s impacting daily life.
They’re likely already worried about it, and the last thing they may want is for you to treat them like they have a “problem.”
You can make room for understanding your spouse’s OCD behaviors without making them feel like they’re different from everyone else.
You’re the best support system for your spouse when you’re also in a positive state of well-being.
Self-care can do wonders for your mental health. It can help you relax and can provide a way for you to focus on the things that make you happier and healthier.
Self-care might mean a daily walk alone, or it might mean playing a game of cards with your friends.
It may also mean speaking with a mental health professional about how OCD affects your life.
OCD is a condition linked to anxiety and stress. It’s not about control or being the dominant person in a relationship.
If your spouse lives with OCD, there are ways you can help them without enabling OCD behaviors. Educating yourself, setting boundaries, and practicing self-care can all make a difference in your relationship.
If you feel OCD is driving a wedge between you and your spouse despite your best efforts, a mental health professional can offer guidance and insight.