OCD & Relationships

obsessive compulsive disorder and relationships, ocd and relationship, relationships and ocd

People who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience various challenges in their lives, including their relationships. When you live with continuous, unwanted, and intrusive thoughts and impulses, this can severely impact your interactions with others – your partner, family members, friends, and colleagues at work. 

Understanding OCD and how it can disrupt relationships is the first step toward developing happy and healthy connections.

Understanding OCD

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder. Despite what you may hear in everyday conversations when people describe themselves as “OCDs,” obsessive-compulsive disorder is more than just a preference for cleanliness or doing things specific way. It is not a question of choice but rather a serious mental health condition that can cause significant pain for the affected person and their loved ones. 

Obsession, compulsions & anxiety

People with OCD experience continuous, distressing obsessions – unwanted thoughts or impulses that cause significant anxiety, which they often counter with compulsions –repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing distress but disrupting daily life. 

Compulsive behaviors don’t always follow obsessive thoughts. You can have obsessive thoughts without performing the rituals or behaviors usually linked to them. Also, the need to do certain rituals might come from a desire to ease a general feeling of discomfort, not necessarily to eliminate specific thoughts that are bothering you. In other words, people can experience only obsessions, compulsions, or a mix of the two. 

Common obsessions involve fears of contamination, a need for perfection, experiencing taboo or harmful thoughts, and an overwhelming doubt followed by the need for constant reassurance. Correspondingly, compulsions may include compulsive cleaning, checking, counting, and the orderliness rituals.

OCD can significantly impact how you manage your time, carry out your daily responsibilities, and connect with others because the mental energy required to manage obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors can completely drain you. This inability to control these thoughts and behaviors can result in feelings of anxiety, embarrassment, exhaustion, and guilt.

The ripple effect of OCD on relationships

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Imagine being constantly overwhelmed with doubt and needing reassurance and validation from others. Or, living with a persistent dread of contamination, harming yourself or others, or being late, which forces you to do things in a specific order or check on them several times before feeling relieved.

Obsessions and compulsions might make communicating difficult, resulting in misunderstandings and conflicts. You may experience challenges with intimacy and trust in your romantic relationships. Your family members and friends may suffer the emotional toll of supporting you, struggling with frustration, resentment, and burnout. OCD can influence your job performance, productivity, and interactions with coworkers. 

So, OCD can create unique challenges in relationships, affecting not only the person with OCD but also their partner or loved ones. Here is a breakdown of its influence.

The struggle for the person with OCD

If you have OCD, the intense need to dwell on obsessions or perform compulsions can drain your energy, leaving little room for meeting your and your partner’s relationship needs. You may fear judgment and rejection from your partner, loved ones, or friends because of your symptoms. So, you may pull away and build walls around yourself, fearing that your OCD is a burden to your loved ones. This can create challenges in communication and intimacy, keeping you and everyone involved in a vicious cycle of resentment, loneliness, and hurt. 

But you’re not alone. Most people who have OCD experience daily challenges in their social interactions and close relationships that commonly manifest as the following:

Intrusive thoughts

obsessive compulsive disorder and relationships, ocd and relationship, relationships and ocd

You may experience negative, unwanted thoughts about your relationship. You may constantly be tortured with doubts about your partner’s love, never-ending worries over the possibility of their infidelity, or even unfounded fears of causing harm to the one person you care about the most. These are not just fleeting concerns but persistent, unsettling thoughts that refuse to be silenced. They can be extremely disturbing, leading to endless rumination and anxiety, making it challenging to focus on the present and enjoy the moments of connection with your partner. 

In an attempt to manage anxiety and relieve some of the distress, you may engage in behaviors such as seeking reassurance.

Seeking reassurance

The continuous doubt and need for comfort can create a delicate dynamic in your relationship where you constantly need validation. You may repeatedly ask for confirmation of your partner’s feelings for you and commitment. This profound sense of insecurity may cause you to regularly check in with them with calls, texts, or messages to feel connected and ensure nothing is wrong in your relationship. Or you may constantly look for their approval of your appearance, decisions, or actions. You may need your partner to validate their feelings or commitment regularly, frequently ask for verbal affirmations of love, need frequent physical touch, or overanalyze their behavior. 

This never-ending need for affirmation may exhaust even the most patient of partners, leading to constant arguments, resentment, and emotional disconnection. 

Comparing yourself to others

If you have OCD, you may be obsessed with comparing yourself to your partner’s exes, friends, or colleagues to get reassurance and confirmation of their loyalty. You may constantly question if they could find someone “better,” whether you’re good enough for them, or whether they will leave you once they don’t find you attractive anymore. Or you might seek validation through interaction with them on social media, needing your partner to frequently post pictures together, comment, and like your posts to affirm your relationship publicly. This can be exhausting for both of you, significantly damaging your relationship. 

Mental reviewing

When you have OCD, your mind may obsessively sort through every memory, interaction, and experience, seeking clues to hidden problems in your relationship. This intense and edgy scrutiny of each past dialogue, expression, or gesture generates a great deal of anxiety and insecurity, leading not to clarity or peace but to an ever-deepening cycle of worry, blame, and resentment. 

Avoidance

Intrusive thoughts are exhausting and distressing. So, you may use avoidance as a tactic to keep away from triggers that arouse these unwanted thoughts. For example, you might avoid shared activities, mutual friends, or intimate moments with your partner. This can separate you from shared experiences, leading to a breach of trust, intimacy issues, and a gap in your genuine connection. 

Communication difficulties

Open and honest communication is the pillar of healthy relationships. However, the anguish and concern with OCD can make it difficult to talk openly and honestly with your partner or loved ones. You may hesitate to reveal your obsessive thoughts or compulsions for fear of being judged and rejected by those you love.

obsessive compulsive disorder and relationships, ocd and relationship, relationships and ocd

Low self-esteem

When your mind is overwhelmed by OCD, constant doubt can sprout into feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. You may believe you don’t deserve your partner’s affection, your friend’s trust, or recognition at work. This distressing sense of not being good enough erodes your self-esteem, affecting trust and security within your relationships.

The challenges for partners and loved ones

Your partner and loved ones can also experience their set of challenges. They may experience a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from sadness and helplessness to even anger while watching you struggle with OCD. They may become enablers of your compulsive behaviors, which may further complicate the dynamics of your relationship. 

Additionally, the repetitive need to provide assurance and validation can put your loved ones’ patience and understanding to the test. Navigating the balance between providing support and managing the weight of their emotional distress might cause tension and conflict in your interactions with your partner, family, and friends.

Furthermore, the lack of understanding and awareness about OCD can lead to misconceptions, causing your loved ones and coworkers to misinterpret your symptoms as personal traits or problematic behaviors rather than manifestations of a disorder. This can create misunderstandings, emotional distance, and other issues in personal and professional connections. 

Your partner or loved one may go through the following challenges:

Frustration and resentment

obsessive compulsive disorder and relationships, ocd and relationship, relationships and ocd

Witnessing the challenges of OCD and the toll it takes on the relationship can cause frustration and resentment to bubble up beneath your everyday interactions. Your loved ones may struggle, unable to alleviate your distress despite their best efforts. Or they may feel disturbed and powerless witnessing the distress OCD causes you each day. Additionally, your constant need for reassurance and the limits on activities and closeness that OCD puts on people can strain the relationship, causing anger and sadness over the apparent loss of a spontaneous, fulfilling connection.

Feeling helpless

Your partner, parent, or close friend may feel utterly powerless when they try to help you but can’t improve things. This can lead to constant worry, frustration, and tension, further complicating the dynamic of your already challenged relationship.

Impact on personal life

The time and emotional energy necessary to provide ongoing support can impact your partner’s life. They may neglect self-care, turn to alcohol and other substances to cope or seek, struggle with anxiety and depression, or turn to other people outside the relationship for emotional connection, support, and intimacy. 

Relationship strain

The pervasive nature of OCD symptoms can create distance and strain in the relationship dynamic, diminishing intimacy and overall satisfaction. If not addressed early, these challenges can erode the foundation of your relationship, causing communication breakdown, withdrawal, and unmet needs that challenge the relationship’s stability and future.

Relationship OCD

Relationship OCD, or ROCD, as its name suggests, means that the relationship is a source of distress. So, what happens when the relationship is a trigger for your OCD symptoms?

We build our relationships on trust, respect, and affection. We all have certain expectations of our relationships and experience some uncertainty and insecurity when it comes to connecting with others. When you have relationship OCD, it means that you struggle to accept this inherent uncertainty, which leads to an obsessive preoccupation with questions about commitment or whether your partner is truly “the one.” Despite your partner’s reassurances of affection, you may find it difficult to trust their words. Your continual monitoring of the relationship might lead to conflicts, emotional disconnection, sexual problems, and trust concerns, ultimately pushing you apart.

While realizing that OCD is at the foundation of these fears brings some relief, navigating these issues can still be tough for both partners.

How can therapy for couples help?

obsessive compulsive disorder and relationships, ocd and relationship, relationships and ocd

When one partner is dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder, therapy for couples plays a significant role in alleviating the harmful effects of OCD on a relationship. In addition to raising awareness and understanding of how OCD affects your relationship, a trained therapist may also assist you in mitigating these effects by:

  • Helping you improve communication, allowing both of you to express your feelings and concerns more effectively
  • Fostering deeper understanding and empathy
  • Establishing clear boundaries that will prevent your partner from enabling compulsive behaviors
  • Developing coping strategies to manage OCD, reducing the impact of its symptoms on your relationship
  • Encouraging vulnerability and support to strengthen emotional closeness 
  • Improving intimacy and sex life
  • Addressing and resolving underlying relationship problems aggravated by OCD
  • Encouraging teamwork and partnership in overcoming OCD-related issues
  • Encouraging your partner to seek individual support if needed
  • Increasing your relationship’s resilience

Intrusive thoughts, sizzling anxiety, overwhelming insecurity, and compulsive behaviors can strain even the strongest bonds. It is crucial to understand this and not blame yourself. Couples therapy offers targeted interventions that focus on the particular issues that OCD causes in relationships. By focusing on open communication, empathy, and strategies for managing symptoms, couples therapy will equip you with the tools you need to reestablish closeness and trust so that your relationship can get through the challenges of OCD.

Conclusion

Understanding and addressing the complex challenges OCD creates in relationships is not only about managing symptoms but also about nurturing the bond between partners or loved ones. Therapy for couples fosters an environment of communication, empathy, and support, which is crucial in mitigating these challenges. By focusing on strategies that boost understanding and resilience, therapy can guide you toward a stronger connection while overcoming the obstacles created by OCD together.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priscilla is a therapist, psychoanalyst, and the practice owner of Imagine Emotional Wellness, a culturally responsive online therapy practice in New York, New Jersey, and Washington DC. 

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