Many of us desire and seek a romantic partner with whom we can share our lives. We want to find someone with whom we can mutually exchange love, respect, support, and encouragement. We want to make memories with this person, share the good times, and help one another through the bad. This undertaking can require a lot of effort and investment, as we may encounter people who care for us more than we care for them, or vice versa. People with whom there is a lot of connection, affection, and attraction but very different lifestyles or life goals. No relationship is a flawless, magical journey that comes easily and happily without effort put in.
It can be tricky for all of us. For individuals living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the journey of navigating love can be a bit more complicated. As OCD tends to latch on to things you value, you may experience Relationship OCD. Other times, opening up about your OCD to a new partner can be intimidating. You might feel like the people around you who don’t have OCD will never understand your experience. If you don’t have a support network of others who have OCD, you may feel very alone as a result of your OCD and wonder how to make your way through your relationship from this perspective.
What It’s Like Navigating Love with OCD
- Constant Intrusive Thoughts: A new relationship can trigger Relationship OCD, a subtype of OCD. These thoughts can interfere with dating by causing anxiety and doubt.
- Fear of Judgment: The fear of being judged by a partner can be paralyzing for someone with OCD. This fear can make it difficult to share one’s experiences and can lead to avoidance of intimate conversations.
- Relationship Doubts: OCD can lead to relationship doubts, causing individuals to question their feelings or their partner’s commitment. You can experience an increase in compulsions to do with the relationship or that seem primed to sabotage the relationship.
- Concealment: Many individuals with OCD initially hide their condition from their partners due to the stigma surrounding mental health. This concealment can lead to misunderstandings and strain the relationship.
5 Ways to Open Up to Your Partner About OCD
1) Understand how your OCD is showing up in your relationship:
Before talking with your partner, it is important that you have learned and practiced all the right tools in managing Relationship OCD in therapy. OCD treatment looks at situations and scenarios that you encounter or are likely to encounter and works to build thought processes and behaviors around that information.
Like any mental illness, OCD is likely to be showing up in your relationship. You may be acutely aware of your thoughts and compulsions and how they impact your partner directly and indirectly. For example, if a compulsion holds you and your partner up and makes you late for an event, that is a direct impact. If you are struggling with your routine and lost in thought, that indirectly impacts your relationship as you spend time and energy on that instead of in connection.
This doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to continue your self-care routine, nor does it mean that you shouldn’t be your first priority when it comes to making a list of what you should look after. You cannot show up for anyone if you are running on empty, dis-regulated, and/or overwhelmed and distracted. What is important to note is how and when you have to set your relationship aside, if there are manageable triggers that are contributing, and how you would both like to reconnect afterward. It is important to figure out how you will show up afterward, as there will likely never be a time when you are completely free of all OCD symptoms. Accepting that and working from there allows for you to problem-solve with your therapist; hoping your OCD suddenly fades away will not prepare you to tackle what you need to address.
Understanding how your OCD is showing up is a first step that you should undertake as neutrally as possible. Gather your information without judging yourself (as much as you can). This will allow you to have an ongoing and ever-evolving resource about yourself. If you begin to hold judgments about what you discover, you may find yourself avoiding doing the work or not being as honest with yourself as you could be. Neither of these things will help you in the long run.
2) Open up about your OCD:
Is this your first time sharing with a partner about having OCD? If not, how have the past disclosures been received? How others have treated you and your OCD will definitely impact how you feel about telling someone new. It is to be expected that if your last partner used your OCD as an excuse to assign blame and fault to you at any opportunity, you would be a little hesitant to disclose again. However, you will never know until you try, and if having OCD and the behaviors and ramifications that come with it are going to be a deal breaker, then you will find out at some point, anyway.
As with any communication in a relationship, there are a few steps to follow. The first step is choosing the right time and place. Make sure both you and your partner are relaxed and in the right mindset to talk. This means that you put aside distractions and that you’re not trying to squeeze it in between other appointments or that one of you hasn’t just had a really tough day. In the event that some surprising events have truly blindsided one of you, feel free to pivot to a relaxing date night instead. Just don’t delay too many times; it’s one thing to make a decision about an extraordinary circumstance. It’s another to avoid something you’re apprehensive about because you “want the timing to be perfect.”
You likely attend therapy for OCD, where you invest in making sure you are keeping a handle on your OCD. You may or may not have already shared with your partner that you attend therapy. You have the right to share that you attend therapy without divulging exactly what you talk about there. Honesty doesn’t mean a complete lack of privacy.
Remember that you are allowed to explain what is going on with you; an explanation is not an excuse. When you open up about your OCD, you are inviting your partner to understand you better. If you are worried that you will come across as trying to give yourself permission to do and say whatever you want, know that that isn’t what you are doing. Decide for yourself how you want to approach the conversation, which language you think is best, and how you will take accountability for what you share so that your partner knows what your intentions are.
3) Be authentic:
While it is important to educate your partner about OCD, you also want to make it personal and vulnerable. Explain how it affects your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Be honest and vulnerable about your struggles and your progress. Any clinical information about OCD can be looked up on the internet if your partner wants; what really matters is how OCD impacts you, how it can manifest, and how that might affect the relationship.
If you struggle with harm OCD or experience taboo thoughts due to your OCD, it can be terrifying to consider being open about that. It may be a deeply guarded secret of yours, one that comes with feelings of shame. Hopefully, you have an OCD therapist who can help you navigate how and when to share some of the parts of your OCD that you feel the most vulnerable to disclose. Remember that you are not alone in experiencing taboo thoughts related to your OCD.
Being authentic means that you are open in the disclosures that you feel are appropriate and also that you have boundaries. If you don’t want your OCD to be joked about, you have the right to communicate that. Conversely, if well-intended inside jokes might help you to feel more at ease, you can give some examples of how a lighthearted comment can make you feel more accepted and understood.
Talking about your OCD and how it is specific to you is similar to talking about any aspect of yourself that is unique and that you appreciate being able to share and have understood by others. Every single person has personality quirks, preferences, needs, wants, dreams, struggles, behaviors, and habits that intersect in a unique way. Every single person requires authentic communication in order to be well-understood by others. Having OCD is not the only thing that can require this kind of authenticity and mutual respect. Don’t settle for the idea that it is.
4) Express Your Needs:
Clearly communicate what you need from your partner in terms of support and understanding and what you need in general. You are the expert on you; you will be the person who best knows what is required to keep you feeling stable and secure. Remember, every single human being has needs. Just because your needs may be impacted by your OCD doesn’t make them any less valid than anyone else’s.
Expressing your needs isn’t about requesting that your partner meet (all or some of) them. Often, you will find that your needs have a lot to do with your self-care routine and are mostly depending on you to complete them. When you advise your partner as to what they are, you are inviting your partner to understand when and why you might be busy, where challenges may arise, how you are viewing situations, and where your partner might be able to step in and help.
When it comes to the needs you have from your partner, you may have found that some are already being met. Tell your partner that! “Having a consistent morning routine is really important to my self-care; thank you for always being on top of your own morning routine. It helps me so much.” Expressing your needs isn’t only about asking for them to be met but also acknowledging where they are already being tended to. In this way, you are having a positive and educational conversation.
If there are needs not being met that you have tried to ask for, this may be a time to be very clear about how you feel and what you need. Use “I” statements as opposed to talking about what your partner does or doesn’t do. Your needs are not a negotiation. All you can do is express them, be realistic about them, and see what happens. If your partner cannot or will not meet them, that will be a different situation.
5) Encourage Questions and Dialogue:
After sharing your story, encourage your partner to ask questions and express their feelings and concerns. This is a great time to lay the foundation for how these conversations will go; there will be times in the future when you discuss your OCD again because it will always be a part of you. Like everything in life, OCD will come with changes and specificities that require communication. No, that doesn’t mean that it has to be the main topic or even a daily conversation. But being able to talk about it, to ask and answer questions from places of mutual respect and understanding, will facilitate solutions, collaboration, and support for one another.
Make it clear that you don’t expect your partner to become an OCD expert overnight. Give them permission to do their reading and come back with curiosity. Invite them to participate in therapy if you feel a neutral space and professional guidance will benefit you both. The two of you may want to set aside regular time to touch base, have a code word for when something triggering is occurring, or play it by ear.
People who have OCD tend to be hyper-aware of how intrusive it is because it is a constant battle of the mind. It can sometimes exaggerate the idea of how it impacts the people around you and cause fear of abandonment or worry that you can’t be loved. This is something I hear a lot while providing OCD therapy in Woodland Hills. While it is great to be aware of your impact on others, don’t get caught up in assuming you are causing problems when you are not.
While OCD does come with challenges, they don’t inherently equate to a life of solitude. People love people from all walks of life, in all places on their journey, with all backgrounds and mental health statuses. You are worthy of being loved and received exactly as you are. Your OCD does not make you less than in any way. Staying on top of your therapy will not only help to ensure that you are showing up the way you want to but that you know that you are doing everything you can in your OCD treatment. This is not something you do for your partner (or for anyone) but for yourself.
OCD Treatment in Woodland Hills
OCD doesn’t just appear in your personal life; it can also affect your professional, romantic, and social life! Understanding the way your intrusive thoughts and compulsions can show up in relationships is another important part of the OCD Treatment here at Embracing You Therapy. We want to help you break the OCD cycle through effective ERP, ACT, and CBT tools so you can get back to living your life!
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