How Can I Help My Partner With Their OCD?

Stephen Mohr, LPCC-S

Stephen Mohr, LPCC-S

September 21, 2020

OCD Affects Relationships

A person with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) will likely experience a wide range of life-altering thoughts and behaviors, from minor inconveniences to major disruptions. 

The consequences of OCD affect more than just the person with the condition, though. If you are a partner or spouse of someone with OCD, you have likely felt the effects of your significant other’s obsessions and compulsions. 

You may have found that you’re taking on more responsibilities, more stress, and more pressure as you learn to navigate your relationship around your loved one’s OCD. 

This can affect your relationship, your social life, your parenting, and even your own mental health. 

And because of the nature of OCD, you may feel as though you have no idea when it will flare up or how long you’ll need to provide support. You don’t know if things will progressively get worse or what to do about it. 

While there are no perfect solutions, you can still take steps to be a more effective support system for your partner while also minimizing the effects of their OCD and protecting your own mental health. 

3 Steps to Help Your Partner With Their OCD

Step #1: Avoid creating an enabling environment.

It can be tempting to try and accommodate your partner’s OCD by making big changes to your home, your routines, and your behavior. 

For example, if your partner has Contamination OCD, it might seem like a good idea to maintain a perfectly clean house. If your partner has Harm OCD, you may think to hide knives and avoid violent movies. 

But, these actions can do more harm than good as they simply reinforce your partner’s OCD. In the real world, it’s virtually impossible to eliminate every possible trigger. Attempting to do so simply encourages your partner to avoid learning healthier coping mechanisms.

Also, giving in to their obsessions and compulsions is a slippery slope. The more you try and clean your home in order to accommodate your partner’s Contamination OCD, the worse it will get. The same goes for Harm OCD and other subtypes. OCD can take over people’s lives as they try to pursue impossibly “perfect” scenarios.

Understanding this is key to helping your partner. Instead of attempting to avoid it, you can create a healthy environment and encourage your partner to learn to manage their OCD instead of avoiding it. (We’ll cover treatment options at the end of this article)

Partners sitting together.

Step #2: Prepare to help your partner with their OCD episodes.

OCD can ebb and flow, altering your partner’s emotions and behavior. These changes can be disruptive and stressful, especially if you and your partner are caught off guard. 

You can help your partner respond to their anxiety in more healthy ways, instead of falling back on their compulsions. 

People with OCD can slip into an obsession-compulsion cycle without realizing it. Part of your role as a supportive partner is to help your significant other learn to be more self-aware. You can do this by:

  • Keeping an eye on the compulsions your partner habitually performs;
  • Asking your partner about their feelings and emotions;
  • Encouraging your partner to regularly “check-in” with themselves and self-monitor;
  • Watching out for avoidance behaviors. Is your partner avoiding specific activities and situations?

These actions will not give you complete control over your partner’s OCD, but they can help you accept and respond to future episodes effectively. By staying aware and proactive, both you and your partner will be better equipped to handle these difficult situations.

If you don’t prepare, you are more likely to react negatively when your partner needs you the most. Reactive behaviors include lashing out, making negative critiques, and even insulting your partner about their mental condition. This offers nothing in the way of support.

Instead, by preparing for their OCD episodes, you can respond positively, supportively, and more effectively. This will help both you and your partner make better choices and manage the condition instead of being totally controlled by it. 

Partners talking about OCD.

Step #3: Avoid enabling conversations and communication.  

In addition to being prepared for the effects of OCD, it’s also important to learn to communicate in a way that’s positive and avoids reinforcing their OCD. 

Positive communication includes:

  • Avoiding personal criticism;
  • Speaking calmly;
  • Encouraging your partner to share their thoughts and feelings.

Like any other skill, positive communication should be practiced in order to improve. You can do this by setting aside a regular time to speak with your partner about their OCD. This will help both of you come to the table prepared and focused, minimizing the chances for conflict and stress

A person with OCD has a tendency to pull others into lengthy conversations as they look for reassurances about their obsessions. The more you are drawn into long, complicated conversations, the more likely you are to encourage defensive remarks and debates.

Instead, you can offer responses that shift the conversation away from reassurance. You can use phrases like:

  • “I’m not sure. What do you think?”
  • “Sorry, I can’t answer that for you.”
  • “Let’s check in on this later.”
  • “This sounds like reassurance-seeking. Is this really your OCD asking?”

This is where positive, responsive communication fits in. Instead of vague, endless loops, your conversations can be a helpful source of immediate, effective support. 

You can be involved in your partner’s treatment. 

This process also involves learning as much as possible about OCD and your partner’s theme(s) in particular. 

You can do this by reading mental health websites, forums, and blogs. You can read the rest of our blog here and also check out our Education section where we go into greater detail. 

If you’re interested in what treatment options are available to your partner, you can get in touch with our team and schedule a free call here.

Our therapists are specialists trained in Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. ERP involves a guided process in which a therapist can help the patient manage their obsessions and reduce their compulsions. 

As the partner of someone with OCD, learning the ins and outs of ERP will also be helpful to you. The more you know about how OCD is treated, the more you can help your partner improve their condition. Instead of feeling lost and confused, you both can learn to prepare, prevent, and manage the effects of your partner’s OCD.

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