The Mighty Logo

3 Ways My OCD Has Torn Apart My Relationships

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Being with someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can sometimes feel like being in two different relationships — one with the person you know, and one with the monster in their mind. Anyone can be understanding and caring, but the reality of spending your life with your partner and their mental illness can come with a plethora of challenges.

I have spent the past four years with a number of kind, thoughtful men, and my OCD has found a way to destroy each and every relationship. Here are a few of the reasons I’ve observed:

1. It can put your partner in a difficult position.

My past partners occupied two groups: those who didn’t get it, and those who tried to get it. Most were some combination of the two — full of good intentions and misguided information.

When a partner doesn’t understand your OCD, their initial reaction is often frustration. Why is someone they care about damaging herself? When I tell her she doesn’t need to perform that ritual, why doesn’t she trust me? Or, the most common response to my severe contamination OCD: Why won’t she let me touch her? Trying to understand irrational behavior can be a strain on the most caring of partners, especially when it forces physical distance between a couple.

When a partner tries to “get it,” the consequences can be worse. In a tragic twist of fate, I’ve found it is often those you are brave enough to confide in who can facilitate the worsening of your condition. I have had partners do all of my laundry because they know I’m afraid to touch it. Worse still, I have had partners follow my strict hand-washing rituals after doing my laundry, because they know it’s the only way I’ll allow them physical contact with me afterwards. When your partner is overly accommodating towards your condition, they can become an enabler: a person to whom OCD’s lies have spread. And when the lies spread, they can gain legitimacy and power in your own mind.

2. Physical contact can feel impossible.

How do you explain to your partner that you might not be able to hold their hand tonight because you feel like you have germs crawling out from under your skin and you don’t want to make him sick? How do you explain your more taboo compulsions, such as the need to take a 30-minute shower after having sex? My experiences have taught me that even the most informed partners will, at some point, ask themselves: “Is it me?” Physical contact is a cornerstone to many relationships, so when your OCD suddenly denies you the opportunity to be close to your partner, the relationship can suffer.

3. It can be painful to watch.

Your partner knows you. He knows you’re smart, funny, ambitious and kind. So when you devote huge chunks of your day to self-destructive behavior, it can cause him pain. I have had a partner grab me away from the sink because he couldn’t stand to see my face scrunch up in a silent scream as I put my hands under near-boiling water. I have witnessed a grown man burst into tears because he simply doesn’t understand. And how could he, when I’m catering to the demands of a monster inside my own mind? For some, the pain of witnessing a loved one destroy themselves can simply be too much — and who can blame them?

I met my current boyfriend after I’d made leaps and bounds of progress with my OCD. I no longer need someone to do my laundry, and I can hold his hand whenever I want. There’s more to this than good timing, though: I have fallen in love with my best friend, with a man who has changed the way I see myself. When he touches my face and tells me how soft my skin is, I no longer think about the germs that might be crawling out of my skin and onto his fingertips. When he tells me he loves me, his voice echoes through my mind and overpowers the dangerous obsessions that usually reside there. He has encouraged me to believe in myself, and not in the lies my brain tells me. I’ve found someone who means more to me than every toxic thought that’s ever crossed my mind, and I vow to fight back every time my OCD tries to take that away.

Image via Thinkstock.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Originally published: January 12, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home