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OCD and Romantic Relationships

OCD Can Put a Damper on Your Love Life, But There are Ways to Cope

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Updated August 23, 2010

If you have OCD, you know that your symptoms can often get in the way of establishing and maintaining romantic relationships. Indeed, many individuals with OCD are single, and those who are in a relationship or married often report a significant amount of relationship stress. Of course, not every person with OCD is the same. But if symptoms of your OCD are posing a serious challenge to your love life, there are ways of coping.

OCD Symptoms Can Create Barriers to Romantic Relationships

There are many ways in which OCD can get in the way of romantic relationships. For example, you may have challenges maintaining your self-esteem and may struggle with feelings of shame around your symptoms, which can lead you to avoid contact with others.

In addition, you may feel that you have to conceal the nature of your obsessions and compulsions to avoid rejection by a potential or current romantic partner. Your obsessions or compulsions may even revolve around your romantic partner, which can make it especially difficult to reveal the nature of your symptoms. Clearly, this secrecy is going to stand in the way of an open, honest and intimate relationship. Symptoms of depression, which are not uncommon in OCD, can also make it difficult to establish and maintain intimate relationships.

Of course, for many individuals, sexual intimacy is a crucial aspect of any romantic relationship. However, as you may have experienced, OCD symptoms can often interfere with sexual relations. For example, you may experience obsessions related to contamination (like the cleanliness of your partner’s genital area) or disturbing sexual themes (e.g., sexual assault) that make it very difficult to engage in sexual relations with your partner. Not surprisingly, people with OCD are often sexually avoidant and sexually dissatisfied in their relationships.

How to Cope

Although OCD does pose many challenges to forming, maintaining and enjoying a romantic relationship, there are ways to cope:

  • Manage Your Symptoms - The severity of OCD symptoms is positively associated with the inability to establish and maintain a romantic relationship. As such, an important and necessary first step toward working a little romance into your life is to effectively treat your symptoms. Be sure to review your treatment plan with your doctor, psychologist or other mental health professional to ensure you are undertaking the best possible course of treatment.

  • Consider Psychotherapy – In addition to managing symptoms of OCD, psychotherapy can provide a useful framework for working on areas of challenge such as low self-esteem, difficulty being assertive, poor social skills and a lack self-confidence that could be impeding your ability to start or maintain a stable, long-term relationship.

  • Get Your Partner Involved – If you are already in a romantic relationship, it may be helpful for your partner to take a more active role in your treatment. The doctor or therapist’s office can be a safe and neutral venue to discuss the symptoms you are experiencing, particularly those that might be embarrassing or standing in the way of establishing or building intimacy. The more your partner understands your symptoms, the more you will be able to will trust one another.

  • Maintain Open and Honest Communication – Whether you have OCD or not, open and honest communication is the foundation of any romantic relationship. This is especially important when your symptoms are intensifying or have changed. Your partner needs to know what you are experiencing. Not being aware of the challenges you are facing could lead to misunderstandings (like "he/she doesn’t find me attractive anymore") that get in the way of building intimacy and trust.

  • Join a Support Group - Community support groups for OCD can be excellent sources of social support and provide an opportunity to hear how others are dealing with feelings of isolation or embarrassment. Although it may be tempting to date someone you have met through support group, proceed with caution. Many support groups have rules in place to protect the confidentially of attendees and may actively discourage relationships (even casual friendships) outside of the group setting. In addition, if you find the support group to be of value and the relationship ends, it may be difficult for one or both of you to return to the group.

You can also find support from people just like you right here on About.com by visiting our OCD Forum.

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