OCD impacts more than just the lives of the people who suffer from it—it can have a major effect on the lives of those around them, as well. If your partner has OCD, it can make you feel hopeless and lost, too, trying in vain to help them get better and suffer less. You may be confused and unsure what to do in order to help the person you love.
There’s no one-size-fits-all way to be a good partner to someone with OCD. OCD looks vastly different in each person struggling with it, and it can continue to change over time. Remember that it’s not your responsibility to “save” your partner from their suffering—just do your best to support them along the way. Here are some effective ways to do just that:
Good news! This is what you’re doing right now, and it’s one of the most important things you can do. There are so many misconceptions about OCD, so educating yourself is crucial. You may think that you know what OCD is; you may have seen it on popular television shows or heard it mentioned countless times, but it’s rare that someone truly understands what OCD is like.
You don’t need to become an expert in the field, but to help your partner make treatment decisions and manage OCD, you need to become informed enough to recognize what their symptoms are. You probably already know a lot about your partner themselves, so you can be an invaluable resource as they navigate OCD recovery. The earlier you can learn more about their experiences and symptoms, the more you can help your loved one get better and walk with them on their journey.
You may be frustrated by certain aspects of your partner’s symptoms—that’s okay. OCD is frustrating, and it often doesn’t make sense. You can’t force yourself to stop feeling frustrated, but you can provide your partner with support when they need it.
I’ve worked with so many people struggling with OCD, and I know how much their recovery can benefit from having a partner who supports them. As simple as it may sound, that is what the majority of people with OCD want from their partner, above all else. They want to know that they will be loved and respected in spite of what they may be dealing with. Holding them as they cry, listening as they tell their stories, and simply being present with them in their pain and suffering is enough to help them throughout their recovery journey.
People who suffer from OCD did not choose their experience—they didn’t do anything to deserve it. If they’re tortured by intrusive thoughts, they would do anything to stop them. If they’re consumed by constant compulsions, they wish for nothing more than to regain control over their lives. None of it is their choice, and none of it is their fault.
It’s important for them to know that you don’t judge them for their thoughts or compulsions, or for the toll OCD has taken on their life. At the end of the day, they need to know that you love them and you know them, even when they feel they don’t know themselves. Unconditional love and respect can help them feel secure in their own values and identity when OCD tries to rip them away. Being non-judgmental can help you establish trust with your partner, and they will know that they can come to you when they are struggling.
Your partner may feel hopeless—OCD often convinces people that there’s nothing they can do to get better. That couldn’t be less true. Help your loved one understand that treatment can help them recover from OCD. Research exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with them. Let them know that you will be by their side throughout the process to help in any way that you can.
They need to know that you are encouraging them to get treatment for themselves, for their own well-being, so that they can live the life that they want to live. Remind them that they will not always feel the way that they feel in this moment. Help them to understand that they are able to do difficult things and achieve lasting results. When they are tempted to give up, embolden them to push forward. OCD will try to make them give up and keep living in fear, doubt and shame. With your encouragement along the way, your partner can beat OCD.
You likely find yourself being roped into many of your partner’s obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. This can mean helping them avoid situations that might trigger anxiety, helping them complete rituals to erase uncertainty or feel perfectly safe, or providing reassurance about their fears every time they ask you.
Your heart is in the right place, but this is actually one of the worst things you can do for your partner to obtain long-term relief from OCD. This enables the power OCD wields in your partner’s life and adds to their own distrust in themselves. Ask yourself these questions: Am I rearranging my schedule or life excessively to help my partner feel reassured or certain? Is my constant accommodation negatively impacting me or the rest of my family? When they ask that I do something, do I just do it to keep the peace? Do they need to get this reassurance from me to move on or feel less anxious? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are likely accommodating your loved one’s OCD.
Support yourself, as the partner
It may seem counterintuitive, but if you want to help your partner as well as possible, you’ll have to look after yourself as well. It is imperative that you are seen and heard. Your experience matters, and your feelings matter too.
We mentioned that your partner’s suffering is not their fault—it’s not yours either. If you need extra support and are feeling defeated by this illness please seek out your own treatment and help from people that you trust. Your feelings matter and are just as valid. OCD can cause intense distress for the loved ones of sufferers, too, and you are not responsible to fix your partner. They are not broken. They just need you to walk beside them on this journey.
Supporting your partner through ERP
If your partner is struggling with OCD, I truly hope you will work with them to reach out for treatment. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the most effective form of treatment for OCD, backed by decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness. ERP therapy was developed specifically for OCD, and requires intentional buy-in and dedication, a willingness to feel discomfort, and honesty with a therapist about obsessions and compulsions.
ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. If you have questions or think that your partner may need ERP therapy for OCD, speak to someone on our team on a free 15-minute call.
If your partner is worried or uncomfortable about discussing their symptoms and thoughts with anyone else, keep in mind that a therapist won’t judge them, and a trained OCD specialist (like the ones at NOCD) will deeply understand all themes of OCD. Your partner doesn’t have to suffer in silence, and many people find relief in sharing their experiences. They can regain their life from OCD.