Taking Care of Yourself When Your Partner Has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

When your partner is diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, it can be difficult to give full attention to the challenges it presents for you. It may be easier to educate yourself but harder to accept the diagnosis with compassion. There are real, accessible ways to take care of yourself, even as you help your partner get the help he or she needs. Prioritize your own well-being and your need for support.

I’d always known that my partner was a little uptight. She’d always insist upon doing household tasks in a certain order, and on occasion, she’d actually break down into tears over dishes unwashed or socks I’d put away without being folded. She obsessed over cleanliness to the point of demanding that I wash my own hands countless times—and nearly drove me to distraction.

When my partner was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), I almost breathed a sigh of relief. Living with someone who has a mental health disorder can be overwhelming and isolating, to be sure. But at least I finally knew that it wasn’t “all in my head”—that her behavior was, indeed, not normal.

Unfortunately, as is always the case, the diagnosis itself did not solve the disorder. Individuals who have struggled with OCD throughout their lives understand this.

The truth is, a diagnosis only makes you more acutely concerned for the person who is struggling with the disorder. We hardly ever address the emotional, mental, and even physical tolls that a partner’s disorder can have on ourselves. As difficult as it might be for the sufferer to struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder, accepting your own difficult emotions is key to being able to effectively navigate the illness and its far-reaching effects.

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A Partner’s Mental Illness Brings Challenges for You as Well

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, while common (nearly 2% of the population is diagnosed with OCD), is still consistently one of the most difficult mental illnesses to understand and cope with. As the partner of someone with a serious mental illness, you yourself will face a variety of challenges:

  • Emotional stress from the initial diagnosis and/or from the unpredictability of symptoms
  • Physical fatigue from lack of sleep caused by the sudden onset of your partner’s symptoms at untimely hours, your own personal worry, or a sporadic diet
  • Mental exhaustion from a constant fixation on your partner’s needs and his or her health

Supporting and loving your partner throughout their struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder is absolutely possible. However, you both will benefit most if you endeavor to maintain proper self-care for your own sake. Learning how to effectively cope with your partner’s obsessions and compulsions is vastly different than “putting up with” or “suffering with;” rather, coping should be a series of healthy mechanisms you can use in order to both protect your well-being and strengthen the relationship between you and your partner.

Educate Yourself on the Disorder as Much as Possible

While you may already know generalized facts about OCD, it is important that you continue learning about the disorder—especially because there is new research being done every day to better understand and treat it. Consult your partner’s treatment facility and clinicians when you have questions about his or her obsessions and compulsions, visit your local library to check out books on the illness, and read studies on the disorder in online medical journals when you have the opportunity. Seeking out information can help you be an asset to your partner and yourself. With the proper education, you can:

  • Better understand and predict your partner’s manifestations of the illness,
  • Provide more valuable help to him or her during times of duress,
  • Experience self-assurance that will assist you in dealing with difficult situations,
  • Strengthen your relationship with your partner, and
  • Feel more confident to share your story with others in an honest and open way, finding a community and support when you need it the most.

Gaining information on obsessive-compulsive disorder can help you embark on this journey with your partner, and can help you more easily accept the difficulties that arise.

Accept Your Partner’s OCD Diagnosis with Compassion

There is a big difference between recognizing that the person you love has a mental health issue, and compassionately accepting the fact that he or she is ill. Especially if you are living together, obsessive-compulsive disorder can interrupt the flow of life for you and your partner. It may be very hard for you to distinguish which actions, thoughts, and patterns are symptomatic and resultant of the illness—because they can be different for everyone.

Without a true acceptance of your partner’s illness, their uncontrollable behaviors and thoughts can begin to weigh heavily on your mind, body, and spirit—potentially causing your health to wane and resentment to rise. Talking openly and honestly about your experience with your partner can help you find this acceptance and come to a mutual understanding. Compassion is the best remedy for resentment.

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Carefully Monitor Your Own Well-Being

A disclaimer is necessary here. While frequent outbursts at misplaced items, repetitive behaviors that disrupt important plans, and anecdotes about harmful behaviors may very well be manifestations of his or her mental illness, they are not things you must tolerate if they put your own mind and body at risk. If you:

  • Have genuine fear about your safety and well-being,
  • Experience ongoing physical, emotional, or mental abuse, or
  • Risk losing a job, a home, or another important relationship,

you need to prioritize your safety, and also your ability to function healthily. Use firm and unwavering language such as:

I understand that you are in a very difficult place, but I cannot accept this type of behavior.

While I can’t imagine what you’re going through, I am still a person in this relationship—and am worthy of respect from you.

Remembering and being firm about your limits will help you and your partner in the long run, even if it is difficult to do in the moment.

Seek out Support and Maintain a Healthy Self-Care Routine

As you learn to embrace and accept your partner’s journey, you must also remember one very crucial thing: Taking care of yourself is not, by any means, selfish. Though you may feel guilty for setting boundaries, making time for exercise, or carving out rest and relaxation moments, these actions are absolutely necessary. It is imperative that you recognize your health is just as important as your partner’s. Self-care is a necessity when coping and living with a difficult mental illness such as OCD.

Seek out OCD support groups and partnerships—even online—where you can talk to others candidly about what you are going through. If you still find yourself struggling with coping mechanisms in regards to your partner’s OCD, finding treatment and/or therapy for yourself can be a priority. Remember: the relationship you have with yourself is even more important than the one you have with your partner. Proper self-care can even lead to fuller, more empathetic support for him or her down the road.

Coping with a partner’s obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the hardest things you will do—and taking care of yourself first is the only way you will be able to contribute effectively to their treatment journey. Self-care, prioritizing healthy habits, and sharing your difficult emotions will not only keep you strong and stable but also help you be a rock for your partner as they face the challenges ahead.

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