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How Does OCD Affect Relationships?

How Does OCD Affect Relationships?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can impact many areas of a person’s life. OCD presents with distressing symptoms that sometimes can feel hard to manage. One area that can be impacted by OCD but is often not focused on is relationships. When an individual is struggling with OCD it is often pervasive throughout their daily lives, especially in their relationships. OCD often not only impacts the individual, but also their friendships, romantic partners, coworkers, and family.

Through distressing intrusive thoughts OCD influences the way someone thinks and thus behaves in life. When an individual is struggling with OCD they often ruminate, engage in compulsions, and feel paralyzed by anxiety and uncertainty. This undoubtedly impacts their relationships. First, we will focus on how OCD can impact specific relationships and, most importantly, how one can manage this.

How Does OCD Affect Relationships

Romantic Relationships

When someone is dealing with OCD, they often feel that they need constant and repetitive reassurance. They may continuously ask their partners for reassurance that the feared outcome of their intrusive thoughts will not occur. For someone struggling with contamination OCD this may look like asking their partner if someone or something is clean, to engage in excessive cleaning behaviors beyond what is normative, and to avoid certain situations that are perceived as high risk (e.g., public places). For someone with harm OCD it might be asking their partner to provide reassurance around the likelihood of a negative event occurring or whether an uncertain event could have happened in the past.  As reassurance reinforces OCD and causes more anxiety and increased reassurance in the long term, this can become exhausting for both partners.

When there is relationship strain, regardless of the cause, it’s not uncommon for physical and emotional intimacy to diminish, further complicating matters.


Family Relationships & Friendships

OCD can also impact family members, whether that is children, parents, or grandparents. An individual’s compulsions and behaviors can also impact close friends. Family and friends are often expected to understand and partake in the person’s compulsions (e.g., cleaning for the person, engaging in checking behaviors to increase certainty, and doing things repeatedly until the person with OCD feels less anxious). Or, at the very least, ensure that the person with OCD can complete them. Whether that is a change in schedule to accommodate or avoidance of previously enjoyed activities due to the presence of triggers, it can be a frustrating experience for family and friends.


Other Effects of OCD

Many people who deal with OCD often must contend with issues such as anxiety or depression that occur because of consistent and heightened levels of anxiety. The impact of anxiety and depression alone is widespread enough to impact a person’s relationships. Coupled with OCD, these issues can put a great strain on the relationships a person has.

Keep in mind that OCD is a very manageable condition. It’s never the person’s fault that they are dealing with something challenging. In fact, it might be surprising to hear, but OCD is more common than many people think.

How to Deal With OCD

First, if you are the person who is dealing with OCD, know that you can learn to manage it, regardless of how it manifests in your life. While your relationships may be unintentionally impacted by having OCD, that does not mean they are broken or that people in your life are upset with you.

If you know someone who has OCD, you might be struggling to find ways to support them while maintaining your own sense of peace. Thankfully, there are many ways that you can manage OCD or help a person deal with it.

If your loved one has OCD, be patient and direct. Provide validation to their emotions while also refraining from behaviors that accommodate and reinforce their OCD like checking, providing excessive reassurance, and avoiding certain situational triggers. Encourage them to seek treatment so that they can learn to gradually face their fears and be more present in their daily lives. As challenging as it may be for you to watch your loved one struggle, it’s likely even more frustrating for them.

Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP) is the gold standard and the evidenced based treatment for OCD. In ERP therapy clients will learn how to defuse from unhelpful thoughts, approach meaningful and functional activity instead of avoiding, and learn tools to successfully manage their OCD. 

The clinicians at the OCD and Anxiety Center are trained in ERP. We not only include the client in treatment, but their support system as well. Reach out to us to learn more about ERP for OCD. We are here to help support you.


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