Ten Tips for Supporting Your Partner with OCD – By Dan Jones

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be debilitating for those suffering with it, but it can also be difficult for family members of the individual with OCD. Here are ten top tips that a partner of someone with OCD can do to help. Carrying out all of these tips is the ideal scenario, but like many things, it is often easier said than done. There is nothing wrong with doing your best to stick to these tips, and yet occasionally having a lapse. For example, if you have had a tough day, it may be difficult to remain calm when you get home, or you may go along with the obsessive compulsive behaviours for an easy life because you are tired. When these times occur you can recognise what happened that led to the lapse, and look at what you can do to try to avoid that happening in the future.

  1. Join your partner against the OCD – we can tackle this together

OCD can be frustrating for your partner, and for you. For many, this frustration can all too often lead to arguments and anger towards each other, when the symptoms which are leading to the frustration or arguments aren’t either person’s fault, it is the fault of the OCD, so it is best to both unite against the OCD rather than against each other. Work together collaboratively to find ways of beating the OCD.

2. Relax, And Help Your Partner Relax

High levels of stress shut down the rational thinking part of our brain and make us think in a black and white way. This increases the chances of arguments occurring, and OCD symptoms getting worse. The antidote to stress is relaxation, by both of you learning and using mindfulness and relaxation techniques like 7/11 breathing, where you breathe in deeply counting to 7, and then breathe out counting to 11, you can support each other in generally being more relaxed, and relaxing in situations that are causing anxiety. To beat OCD your partner needs to learn to be able to tolerate the uncertainty of not carrying out OCD symptoms. Relaxation helps with this.

3. Look For What Is Different When The OCD Doesn’t Happen, Or When It Is Less Severe

Even in the worst cases there are times when the symptoms aren’t as bad, and even times when symptoms don’t occur. You can work with your partner to identify these times, and identify what is different about those times. They can then be helped to find out how they can use this knowledge to do more of what reduces the symptoms.

4. Encourage Your Partner

Encouragement and praise can help the person with OCD to keep on tackling their OCD symptoms. Showing that you believe in them, and believe that an OCD free future is possible can help them to stay on track and to stay motivated at times when they are struggling to tackle the OCD. You can also praise their efforts, regardless of whether they succeed or not, and praise that they have managed to get through difficult times, even if in these times they challenged the OCD symptoms, but eventually gave in to the OCD.

5. Scaling

You can encourage your partner to use scaling. They can use scaling in a diary to rate 1-10 (with 10 being the worst the OCD can be, and 1 being OCD free) how the OCD was on any given day. They can also be asked “on a scale of 1-10 how is the OCD currently” to help them see over time that the OCD’s hold over them isn’t static, there are times it is weaker, and times it is stronger. Often during the obsessive compulsive behaviour it feels as bad as it has always felt. It is only by engaging the rational brain and reducing the involvement of the emotional brain that they can recognise it varies over time. By writing scaling answers in a diary they can look back at other days and see how the OCD fluctuates over time, and think about what they were doing differently on the days it wasn’t as bad.

6. Avoid Collusion

It is easy to accidentally collude with your partner over the OCD. It could be that they ask for your reassurance, like asking for confirmation that they definitely turned off the oven, or locked the front door. By giving them this confirmation they may feel better short term, but they can become reliant on you rather than learning to accept the uncertainty of the situation, and learning to trust themselves. Likewise, helping them with the obsessive behaviours, or facilitating the obsessive behaviours may lead to an easier home life, but it also reinforces the OCD and keeps the OCD in place. The aim should be to have home life as normal as possible, and do what you can to ensure OCD isn’t becoming a dictator in the home.

7. Educate Yourself About OCD

It is helpful to educate yourself as much as you can about OCD to help with understanding what OCD is, how OCD takes hold, and what helps to treat OCD, and to understand what OCD is like for people with it. This will help you to know what you can do and when, and what support is available. It will also help you to recognise the obsessive compulsive behaviours your partner does as being due to the OCD, not a reflection on your partner as a person, which can help you remain calmer with them when supporting them.

8. Give Yourself Me-Time

If you don’t look after yourself then you will struggle to support your partner. It is important to take time out for yourself, to spend time with friends, and other family members where you don’t talk about OCD, to do activities or hobbies that help you relax. The temptation is often to be too busy to take time for yourself, but doing so will help you to be better able to cope.

9. Reduce The Focus On OCD

It is easy for relationships where one partner has OCD to become focused on the OCD rather than on everything else your partner has to offer as a person. You don’t want to dismiss the fact that they have OCD, but you don’t have to encourage the focus, and you can discuss making time when you won’t talk about it, or even better, agree on specific times when you are happy to talk about it. It is common for people to ask “how has the OCD been today?” The old saying that you get more of what you focus on is true. If you frequently ask about the OCD, and talk about the OCD, you will keep the OCD at the forefront of their mind. If you ask questions and engage in conversations about non-problem related areas this will begin to shift their focus from the OCD, even if that shift in focus is just giving them relief during the conversation.

10. Support Them In Receiving And Engaging With Appropriate Support

It is important that they engage in appropriate support to tackle the OCD. They may need help and encouragement to attend and engage with that support, and they may need you to play a role in the support, which could include attending therapy sessions with them. This can be really helpful, especially if they are being taught specific techniques for managing stress, or for challenging their thinking. If you know the techniques they are being taught you can help them put those techniques into practice at times when they are becoming emotional and struggling to remember the techniques they have been taught. You can also help and support them with tasks they are set, like perhaps having to remain in a situation where they would normally have carried out obsessive compulsive behaviour, but without carrying out the behaviour, and gradually getting used to being in those situations to get more comfortable with not doing the obsessive compulsive behaviours.

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