Published On: October 20, 2021
Reviewed On: October 20, 2021
Updated On: July 17, 2023
Let’s face it. Dating can be hard. There are ups and downs in any relationship, and if it’s going to work out, you need to be willing to put in the work. If you’re dating someone with OCD, you might have to put in a little bit of extra effort to build your relationship. The good news is that many people learn how to nurture thriving partnerships when someone they love has OCD.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is fairly common. In fact, more than 2 million adults in the United States have one or more of the different types of OCD, including relationship OCD. Dating with OCD may feel challenging as you try to navigate the relationship at first, understand what causes OCD to get worse, and how to help. Yes, you’ll face some obstacles, but that’s true in any relationship, isn’t it? The more you learn, the better chance you’ll have at maintaining a healthy, successful relationship.
If you’re dating someone with OCD, it might help to remind yourself that their condition does not define them. It’s something they have, not something they are. Try to refrain from making judgments, remember to be kind, and keep in mind some of the thoughts and behaviors they have due to their OCD are outside of their control.
Above all, remember that with some understanding about the condition, patience, and the tips we’ll give you here, you can have a long-term, fulfilling relationship.
One of the most important things to remember if you’re involved with someone with OCD is that their habits, routines, and ways of doing things may seem very different to you. You might view some of their actions and obsessive tendencies as being excessive, unnecessary, or repetitive.
However, realizing that their obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are typically beyond their control can help you come to terms with, and be accepting of, their condition.
Some of the most common challenges couples face are:
“Patience, psychoeducation, good communication, and understanding are four main ways to address them to maintain a healthy relationship.”
You should be aware of — and even expect — any or all of the following symptoms if you’re dealing with OCD in a relationship:
Behavioral compulsions are common with OCD. This could look like excessive hand washing, repetitive tapping, or excessively cleaning.
How to help: Figure out what some of their behavioral compulsions look like. Once you’re aware of them, you can learn how to navigate times that you see your partner begin to engage. Sometimes it can help if you know what to expect. It’s important to not reinforce those compulsive behaviors.
Unlike behavioral compulsions, mental compulsions aren’t necessarily physical acts. Rather, they can be seen when somebody with OCD silently counts, overanalyzes different scenarios or situations, or repetitively says things (like a prayer) to convince themselves nothing bad will happen.
How to help:
Sometimes people with OCD fear the stress of an intimate relationship. All of us fear rejection on some level. It can stem from past failed relationships, body issues, or fear about the loss of our identity, among other things. Those with OCD often have some of the same fears, but they may be significantly amplified.
How to help:
Sex can always be complicated in relationships. When one partner has OCD, it can be even more so because of the relationship between mental health and sex. Try to remain aware of the fact that OCD may interfere with sexual intimacy and functioning.
This can be due to certain medications, a low sex drive, difficulty becoming aroused, fear of sex, or in extreme cases, varying levels of disgust about sex. The latter can be particularly common when someone with OCD has contamination obsessions (fear of germs or bodily secretions).
How to help: Again, patience is going to be key here. Sex-related issues can be tough in any relationship. When someone has OCD, it can become more complicated. Keep the lines of communication open and be sure to work on building trust. Treatment, including therapy, psychotherapeutics, or pharmaceuticals may be very helpful in establishing a healthy sexual component to your relationship.
OCD and anxiety go hand-in-hand. If you’re dating someone with OCD, just knowing that their emotions can swing and their anxiety can go up and down might mean you won’t be as caught off guard if they begin to feel anxious. By understanding this you might even be able to help them during intrusive experiences and stressful situations.
How to help: Never assume or suggest that your partner isn’t trying hard enough. Do not blame them for their anxiety.
If you’re experiencing any of these or other challenges in a relationship with somebody who has OCD, be sure to get the help you need too. In-person or online therapy can be very beneficial and drastically increase the chance of your relationship surviving.
The very best thing that you can do when dealing with OCD in a relationship is to learn about the mental health condition yourself. Beyond your own understanding, try to understand how it affects your partner. This way, you can learn how to help someone with OCD better.
OCD does not have the same effect on everybody and not everyone has the same OCD experience. For this reason, it’s important to try and understand exactly what your partner is going through, so you can help him or her. If they’re already seeking therapy, be sure to ask about and understand their treatment plan. Additionally, support groups can also be a great resource — for both of you!
Learning as much as possible about your partner’s OCD means you can have a more compassionate, deeper understanding of what your partner might be experiencing. This can go a long way in building trust and showing that you’re a safe place for them when an intrusive thought or anxiety creeps in. Knowing how to support or how to help stop intrusive thoughts is valuable in a relationship.
It might seem silly to even bring it up, but a reminder to be patient is worth mentioning. Offering empathy and acknowledging what your partner is feeling can make it easier for them to open up to you.
“Be nonjudgmental. Try to understand what your partner is thinking and feeling by educating yourself and showing kindness.”
Being supportive can also mean helping someone find an OCD treatment. Whether you go to couples therapy, individual therapy, or a combination of the two, working together to seek treatment can help you build a bridge of understanding that can be valuable to you both.
“Help your partner find treatment, or better yet, look for that and combine it with joint sessions as well.”
Making an effort to keep respectful lines of communication open is valuable in any relationship, not just when one of you has OCD. Too often, we find ourselves being dismissive simply because we don’t know how to communicate. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can help you learn effective communication skills, especially if OCD is part of the equation.
It’s true: dating can be hard. Though, dating with OCD doesn’t have to be that much harder than any other relationship. When you have the right information and resources, you can focus on creating a healthy, strong bond that endures the test of time. It absolutely is possible to be in a relationship with someone who has OCD, and now you have the tools to achieve it.
Cynthia Catchings is a trilingual licensed clinical social worker-supervisor, mental health consultant, professor, and trainer for federal law enforcement agencies. Cynthia has over 15 years of experience in the mental health profession. She is passionate about women’s mental health, life transitions, and stress management. Her clinical work, advocacy, and volunteer service have focused on working with domestic violence survivors and conducting mental health research in over 30 countries.