Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition associated with uncontrollable obsessive thoughts, coupled with repeated behaviors called compulsions that a person carries out to try to manage these obsessive thoughts. For instance, a person who has obsessive thoughts related to a house fire may repeatedly check the stove to ensure it is not turned on.
When a person lives with OCD, obsessive thoughts and compulsions are uncontrollable, and they interfere significantly with daily functioning. Relationships are one area in which OCD symptoms can lead to dysfunction. If you are living with a significant other who has OCD, it’s important to understand the condition, as well as how you can offer support.
The Difficulty of Having a Partner with OCD
OCD can make relationships difficult, because a person who lives with this mental health condition will spend a significant amount of time coping with obsessive thoughts and engaging in compulsions to try to control these thoughts. Research has explored the challenges that come along with having a partner with OCD, and findings have revealed that people who live with OCD tend to have a need for excessive control within a relationship.
This need for control, coupled with OCD symptoms, can lead to the following problems in romantic relationships:
- Intrusive thoughts about the partner’s shortcomings, which the person with OCD may frequently share with the partner
- Firm rules and the need for certainty within the relationship
- Excessive jealousy
- Need for frequent reassurance
- Communication that involves hostility, lack of empathy, and repeatedly asking the same questions
- The person with OCD displaying excessive dependence upon their partner, which can lead to the partner feeling confined
- Lack of sexual intimacy in the relationship
All of the above problems can lead to distress and reduce relationship satisfaction between a person with OCD and their significant other.
How to Support a Significant Other with OCD
Living with a partner who has OCD can be challenging, but with some patience and understanding, you can learn to support your partner and develop a healthy relationship.
Below are tips for making life easier while managing OCD:
Learn About Your Partner’s Mental Health Condition
Gaining an understanding of OCD will help you to develop more empathy for your partner, and you’ll be able to recognize that their symptoms are indicative of a mental health condition, and not a personality defect. When you understand symptoms of OCD, you’ll be able to recognize when your partner is struggling.
Offer Reassurance and Encouragement
A significant other who lives with OCD will likely need some extra support and encouragement. Keep in mind that requests for reassurance may be bothersome to you, but your partner is not trying to upset you. This need for reassurance is a symptom of OCD, and not something you should take personally.
Help Them Develop Coping Strategies
Stress can be a trigger for OCD symptoms, so it’s helpful if your partner can develop healthy coping strategies. You can support them in finding effective stress management strategies, such as getting regular exercise, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, and practicing relaxation techniques like yoga or deep breathing.
Learn Their Triggers
When someone lives with OCD, certain situations and events can trigger symptoms. If you learn your partner’s triggers, you’ll know when to offer extra support. You can also help your significant other to avoid certain triggers, within reason. Some common triggers that may lead a person with OCD to seek reassurance include anxiety, threats to physical safety, and doubts about personal competence.
A supportive environment is essential for someone who has OCD, and one of the most supportive things you can do as a partner is encourage them to seek treatment. OCD treatment can help your significant other to overcome symptoms so they have less of an impact on daily functioning. You might even consider attending counseling or therapy with your significant other, as research shows that couples therapy is beneficial for improving OCD symptoms.
Help Them in Their Recovery
Once a person with OCD enters treatment, they benefit from having support during their recovery journey. It’s important for you to assist them through setbacks and tough days, and help them to stay committed to attending appointments with a counselor and participating in their treatment plan. Give them some extra understanding during this time, as overcoming obsessive thoughts and giving up compulsions can be challenging.
If your significant other has OCD, it’s helpful to understand how the condition is treated. Treatment can make life more manageable and reduce the negative effect that OCD symptoms have on the relationship.
OCD is typically treated with the following methods:
- Behavioral treatments: Counseling and therapy can be beneficial for treating OCD symptoms. Specific forms of counseling, called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and habit reversal training are both beneficial for treating OCD symptoms. CBT can help patients to change distorted patterns of thinking, and habit reversal training can be effective for reducing compulsions. A type of therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention can also be beneficial. This treatment modality exposes patients to situations that tend to trigger compulsions, and then prevents them from engaging in the compulsions.
- Medication: OCD can also be treated with medication, and in some cases, patients participate in counseling while also taking medication. A class of medication called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) is mostly commonly used to treat OCD. Antipsychotics may also be beneficial, but there is not as much research supporting their use with OCD.
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS): For patients who do not experience adequate relief with counseling and/or medication, TMS may be used as an add-on treatment. TMS is a non-invasive treatment that uses an electromagnetic coil placed over the head. This coil stimulates areas of the brain responsible for mood.
If you’re looking for TMS services in the Southern California area, Pulse TMS offers this service. Contact us today to learn if you or someone you love is a candidate for TMS treatment.