Help! I’m Married to OCD
Marriage is tough enough without the added stress of OCD.
Posted Mar 30, 2013
OCD is a third person in a marriage
Most of you know that the day you get married you inherit a whole suitcase worth of additional stressors in your life. In addition to the positives of companionship and romance, getting married certainly has its negatives. There will be communication problems, petty arguments, disagreement over household responsibilities, issues surrounding sex, dirty socks on the floor, in-laws, and of course who gets to hold the remote control while watching television. But what if you were married to not only your spouse but also your partner’s obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as well?
OCD is a disabling and distressing brain-based disorder, which, according to the World Health Organization, has made it one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. When you marry someone diagnosed with OCD then you are not only inheriting the usual suitcase worth of stressors, but you may also be inheriting a dump truck too – and we are not just talking about hoarders! Previous research has found that about 60% of family members are involved to some extent in rituals performed by an individual with OCD (Shafran et al., 1995).
Sometimes it feels like OCD runs the home
It’s even harder when you have OCD
Not only is it hard to be married to someone with OCD, but can you imagine how hard marriage would be for the person diagnosed with OCD? That person may have been struggling with OCD for several years and is now taking on the additional stressors of marriage. The OCD sufferer must now cope with someone that leaves contaminated fingerprints all throughout their home, moves items out of their proper place, criticizes for refusing to take out the garbage (that could be covered in the Ebola virus), or even blamed for ruining all of their friendships. Obviously, we all have basic problems that need work, but if your spouse has OCD, not only does that person have those basic problems but obsessions and compulsions to stress over too.
Understanding your partner with OCD
What can you do if you are married to someone who has OCD? Try to put yourself in the your spouse’s position as much as possible. People with OCD don’t do compulsions because they want to, but because they are terrified of what will happen if they don’t. The compulsions are often misguided attempts to keep loved ones (like you) safe from harm. The more you empathize with that struggle, the better you will be able to demonstrate compassion, communicate efficiently, and show that you truly care. Focus on the positive attributes of your partner and provide praise for any attempt to resist OCD symptoms. Do not scold, criticize, or participate in their OCD rituals (when possible).
If you feel completely lost, then one good first step is to learn more about the disorder. Read some good books about OCD or join the International OCD Foundation to get support from other people who have been there. Gently encourage your partner to go for treatment and offer to go to therapy too. When you are feeling very frustrated because of the OCD symptoms, you ask yourself, “Am I going to let my spouse’s rituals ruin our marriage, or am I going to find strength to be supportive and compassionate so that we can have the marriage that we have always wanted?” This is not easy, and if your spouse has OCD, you may need your own supportive therapist to cope with the situation.
If your spouse is being treated for OCD, it might be helpful to tag along and have a family session about the problem. Unfortunately, very little research has focused on how OCD affects those around the afflicted individual, especially their spouses. More work is needed to provide information that would be most helpful for therapists assisting couples experiencing difficulty with this disabling disorder.
If you are married and either you or your spouse has OCD then consider participating in an online study to help researchers better understand this issue. For more information and to participate, please click here.
by Nicholas Bach, B.A., and Monnica Williams, Ph.D.
Calvocoressi. L., Lewis. B., Harris. M., Trufan. S. J., Goodman. W. K., McDougle. C. J., & Price. L. H. (1995). Family accommodation in obsessive-compulsive disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 152(3), 441-443.
Riggs, D. S., Hiss, H., & Foa, E. B. (1992). Marital distress and the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder. Behavior Therapy, 23(4), 585-597.
Shafran, R., Ralph, J., & Tallis, F. (1995). Obsessive-compulsive symptoms and the family. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic 59(4), 472-479.