Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has a huge impact, not only on the individual with the disorder, but also on the person or persons living with the OCD sufferer. Being married to someone with OCD can be hard. In some instances, the partner of the person with OCD simply denies that the disorder exists, but in most cases, spouses report that their loved one’s OCD greatly affects them. Spouses and other family members often report feelings of frustration, isolation, shame and guilt.
Often spouses and other family members have to adhere to rituals around eating or cleanliness. Or they may have to allow significant time to leave the house so rituals can be completed, or repeatedly provide reassurance or make excuses for their spouse. These types of behaviors by spouses and other family members of those with OCD are called “accommodations” and it has been found that nearly 90% of individuals with OCD live with a spouse or other family member who accommodate their symptoms in a considerable way. Over 80% of family members know that their loved ones obsessions and compulsions are unreasonable and 66% realize that making accommodations does not help to alleviate OCD symptoms. Spouses who participate in or help with compulsive behaviors often become emotionally over involved and frequently neglect their own needs. This tends to worsen the cycle of obsessions and compulsions and recent studies have found that avoidance and accommodations made by spouses serve as an indicator of poorer treatment outcomes.
Things spouses (and other family members) do to accommodate their loved one with OCD include:
- Giving reassurance (e.g. reassuring spouse that he or she is not contaminated)
- Waiting until rituals and compulsions are completed
- Helping to complete a ritual or compulsion (e.g. checking the door for the individual with OCD)
- Providing spouse with items needed to perform compulsions (e.g. purchasing excessive amounts of soap)
- Doing things so the spouse with OCD doesn’t have to (e.g. touching public door knobs)
- Making decisions for the spouse with OCD because the spouse with OCD is unable to do so
- Taking on additional responsibilities that the spouse with OCD is unable to perform
- Avoiding talking about things that could trigger the spouse’s OCD symptoms
- Making excuses or lying for the spouse with OCD when he/she missed work because of OCD
- Putting up with unusual conditions at home because of OCD
The good news is that there are effective forms of treatment that can help the person with OCD to lead a normal life and can teach spouses of those with OCD to learn what to expect and how to respond to the waxing and waning cycle of OCD.