What Can You Do to Help Your Partner Cope with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Your partner’s obsessive-compulsive disorder might manifest in various ways – rituals and actions that you have no idea how they could come up with. This debilitating anxiety disorder really ranges widely as each individual suffering from it builds their daily life around obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. No case, or experience, can be exactly the same. Living with OCD is extremely difficult in itself, but the feeling of isolation that the mental disorder brings really makes things even more intolerable. Your partner is likely to feel powerless at the mercy of their obsessions, alone and possibly even ashamed. No doubt, it’s difficult for you as well to watch them suffer. But your role is important, and you definitely can help (significantly!), by building a strong support system and creating a calm, open environment which will help them feel less vulnerable and strong enough to face their condition.

Prepare yourself with knowledge

It’s important to talk to your partner about what they’re experiencing, but even if they have good knowledge of their condition, it will be difficult and intimidating for them to explain everything to you. Either way, armoring yourself with the facts about OCD and its treatment is a good way to prepare for the conversation. It will be easier for you to understand what they’re going through once you’ve learned how obsessions and compulsions work. Knowledge is power, and in this case, it will give you more control of the situation. Also, your awareness of the disorder will make them feel less detached.

Encourage your partner to communicate openly

No doubt your partner feels worried about your reaction, so it’s up to you to exhibit patience, stay calm and refrain from any judgment. Keep this in mind, because some of their obsessive thoughts might sound frightening and unsettling. Creating an open, supportive environment which encourages them to talk about their experience is the first step to coping with OCD together. It will undoubtedly present a huge relief to them to not have to keep their irrational thoughts a secret, and as time passes and you maintain open communication, it will bring them closer to facing their fears. Beware of the rookie mistake: don’t, under any circumstance, try to present them with instantaneous solutions. It doesn’t work like that, and treating mental disorders is a process, so for starters – just listen.

Support your partner – not their rituals

This is the difficult part because it’s natural you feel inclined to help your loved one avoid anxiety, which in this case entails participating in their compulsions. This is called accommodation, and it’s proven to only be detrimental in the long run. Make sure you’re aware of these situations (such as when you offer to check things for them or reassure them they didn’t cause an accident). It’s important to be strong-willed and say “No” because participating in compulsions reinforces the standpoint that the compulsion is the only way for them to get relief from anxiety.

But, there are other forms of OCD which are more pervasive and have a very direct effect on your environment – such as accumulating junk. If your partner is an obsessive-compulsive hoarder and your house has already been overstuffed, work out a way to deal with the given situation which will not disrupt your family life. Anything, from googling together “storage units near me” to writing down an extensive list of everything they’ve accumulated presents a mutual effort. It doesn’t seem like much, but they will be involved in your efforts to keep life normal, and this kind of involvement will give them confidence for future actions. You have to start somewhere, and working as a team, however small the steps may be, is crucial to finding solutions.

Ways to manage compulsions together

OCD can be managed and professional help is crucial in this process, but your partner may find it intimidating to seek treatment. If they’re undergoing treatment already, prepare for challenging afternoons because some parts of it will leave them very anxious and agitated. Remind them that their therapy is confidential, offer them emotional support (even a simple hug goes a long way) and hope with stories of those who have recovered. If it makes things easier, go with them.

At home, have a talk where you will agree on an approach to managing compulsions that is comfortable for both of you. That way, when they seek reassurance or help with rituals, you can say things like “I love you but remember that we agreed we will fight OCD together, and reassurance will not help you.” Another thing that’s proven to be helpful for many is slowly introducing other activities in your life – things such as exercise, meditation, art etc. Slowly but surely, you can help enrich their lives with things that will matter to them, and present activities that can take their mind off the compulsions.

Offering emotional support for someone with a mental disorder is no small task, and it’s only natural that you will feel exhausted or even frustrated at times. This is normal, but make sure you don’t keep it all in. Take care of your mental health and well-being as well, in whichever way you can. Maybe you’d want to join a support group for people with similar problems, see a therapist yourself, or just have a weekend alone once in a while. Look after yourself, and try to take things with a grain of humor.


Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash