Although any intimate relationship has its ups and downs, dating someone who is affected by a chronic mental illness such as OCD can present some additional challenges as well as opportunities for growth. Above all, it is important to remember that an illness is what a person has, not who they are.
Work at Building Trust – It is not uncommon for people with OCD to hide the nature or severity of their symptoms from others – especially those they may be engaged with romantically – for fear of embarrassment and rejection. If you are committed to working at the relationship, make it clear to your partner that OCD is something you are willing to talk about and want to understand more about. When your partner chooses to disclose to you about particular obsessions or compulsions they are troubled with, make sure you acknowledge how hard it must have been to tell you about them. A little empathy and acceptance can go a long way toward building trust and intimacy.
Get The Facts – Being in an intimate or even just a dating relationship with someone with any chronic illness, including OCD, means that you need to be up to speed with respect to the symptoms and treatment of the illness. On the surface, many of the obsessions and compulsions that go along with OCD can seem strange, illogical or even scary. Understanding what the symptoms of OCD are and where they come from can go a long way in helping you cope with them and to bring down the overall stress level in your relationship. As well, it is important to realize that many people with OCD experience other forms of anxiety disorders or depression that can complicate the symptoms he or she experiences.
Respect Your Partner’s Privacy - While your partner might be comfortable disclosing the nature and severity of their symptoms to you, they may not be as comfortable discussing these issues with family, friends or co-workers. Never assume that other people in your partner’s life know that they have OCD. A seemingly harmless comment to a friend or family member of your partner could end up being very hurtful or embarrassing, undermine trust in the relationship or have other unintended consequences.
Consider Getting Involved in Treatment - Partners can often be very helpful in helping to pinpoint the true nature and severity of symptoms as well as help reinforce sticking with different medical and psychological treatment regiments. If you and your partner are up for it, there are numerous opportunities to help out with exposure exercises or to stay on top of medication regimens. Becoming partners in treatment can help build a stronger bond.
Be Honest – Being in a relationship with someone with a chronic illness means understanding that while symptoms can often be managed quite effectively, they may never be cured. If you have concerns or are feeling overwhelmed by your partner’s symptoms, discuss this with your partner openly and honestly. This is especially important if you suspect or know that your partner’s obsessions and/or compulsions relate to you and/or matters of sexual intimacy.
A little communication can go a long way in avoiding a series of misunderstandings that could ultimately lead to conflict or even break-up of the relationship. If you do not feel that you are able to discuss such issues with your partner, bounce your thoughts off a trusted friend to try to get a different perspective. Remember, any relationship – not just one with someone with OCD – is about balancing your personal needs with the needs of the relationship.