Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is an often misunderstood mental health condition that can be exhausting and debilitating for the millions of people affected by it.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 1 out of 40 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with OCD at some point in their lives.
Although the term “OCD” is often thrown around in casual conversation as a synonym for “perfectionist” or “neat freak,” it’s important to know that it’s a real disorder marked by a cycle of unwanted thoughts or doubts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or rituals (compulsions). The compulsive behaviors, such as cleaning, counting or checking, are performed in an attempt to ease the anxiety caused by the intrusive thoughts.
“There are many misconceptions about OCD,” Jon Abramowitz, a clinical psychologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who specializes in the treatment of the disorder, told HuffPost. “One is that it is only about germs or perfectionism. People with OCD might have a variety of different types of obsessions and compulsions.”
In addition to the well-documented fears about contamination or obsession with symmetry and order, other manifestations of the disorder may include an irrational belief that you’re somehow responsible for causing harm to others or yourself (e.g., What if I accidentally hit a pedestrian with my car without realizing it?) or disturbing or taboo thoughts about sex, religion or violence (e.g., What if I’m actually a pedophile, even though I have no sexual attraction to children?).
To further dispel some of the misinformation out there, we asked bloggers and HuffPost readers dealing with OCD what they wish their loved ones understood about what it’s like to live with this condition. Read on for what you need to know if you’re in a relationship with someone who has OCD.
Note: Some responses have been lightly edited or condensed for clarity. The last names of some respondents have been withheld to protect their privacy.
1. We can’t explain why we have these thoughts or engage in these behaviors
“Stop asking why I do what I do. You know by now the answer will be, ‘I don’t know, I just do.’” ― Cindy O.
2. Our diagnosis is part of us, but it doesn’t define us
“Mainly I just want it to be understood that my disorder is not the defining aspect of my life. I’m not a neat freak. I’m not going to be obsessively cleaning, like the stereotype suggests. But my compulsions need to be both taken seriously and not become the main focus of our relationship.” ― Julianna D.
3. Try not to take it personally if we’re having a bad day
“Don’t get annoyed with me when I have to do something over and over again. Don’t get upset because I’d rather you not touch, kiss or hug me for fear of it not being ‘right’ ― too soft, too long, too short. It’s not personal.” ― Jessica A.
4. OCD is not a “quirk” of our personality — it’s an actual disorder
“As someone who’s lived with OCD my entire life, it’s hard to find others who understand and accept the disorder for what it is — a mental illness, not just a ‘quirk.’ My husband, from the beginning, showed compassion toward my behaviors because he understood the main component: It’s not logical. Don’t try to make sense of what your partner is doing because chances are, it’s not! Keep an open mind and radically accept your loved one, unconditionally.” ― Liza Walter-Larregui
5. Sometimes we get tired of trying to educate you and others
“After living on my own for so long, I forgot that I needed to explain why and how my OCD affects my daily life. It can be frustrating to have to serve as an educator about OCD over and over, but it’s necessary to remember how difficult it is for someone without the disease to understand it.” ― Brynn L.
6. Just because we have OCD, doesn’t mean all of our fears are irrational
“I’m obsessive-compulsive and have been married for five years. I want my husband to know that I’m not always crying wolf. I worry. I have irrational fears. It’s not new. Over time, it’s easy for him to dismiss my worries as a facet of my disorder. Sometimes I need that, but I also need to be taken seriously and recognized as an adult with at least sometimes realistic fears.” ― Julie Zack Yaste
7. Your patience means everything
“The most important thing for someone to know is that OCD takes time to get used to. I, myself, in a lot of ways am still getting used to it. It requires a patience and understanding that not many people have. And that is not a judgment of them; it’s not an easy thing to deal with.” ― Tara W.
8. We get distracted by our obsessive thoughts and rituals but it doesn’t mean we don’t care about what you’re saying
“I wish my boyfriend understood that my constant daydreaming when he speaks to me is due to being caught in an obsession or mental ritual, and not disinterest. Having OCD is like having two televisions running at the same time in my mind, with one playing reality and the other stuck on a ‘what-if’ reel-of-terror channel. OCD often robs me of the things I value in this way and even if I can resist compulsions, I cannot resist obsessions.” ― Megan Hambly
9. You can’t ‘fix’ us, and we don’t expect you to try
“I’ve been married for 11 years, most of that time without the help of medication, and it took time for my husband to really understand what was going on in my head. In the early days, I needed him to understand that it was impossible for me to just ‘stop worrying’ or ‘stop thinking about it.’ I needed him to understand that my thought spirals were completely out of my control, but that they would eventually pass. I needed him to understand that he couldn’t ‘fix’ anything, no matter how desperately he wanted to. But just being there to listen or hold me was more than enough. After many open, honest conversations, we finally got to a place where he truly gets it. He knows what makes me tick. I have OCD and my husband doesn’t, and we are still able to have a healthy, extremely happy relationship.” ― Kimberly Poovey
10. Getting involved in our treatment could improve the relationship
“It’s important to me that my boyfriend can empathize with that struggle instead of trying to correct or fix my behavior so that we can build trust and effective communication in our relationship. Getting involved in my treatment has strengthened our bond and helped me in my fight against OCD because now he can identify compulsive behavior and deny offering me reassurance, which worsens my condition.” ― Megan Hambly
11. At the end of the day, we’re not all that different from you
“If you love someone with OCD, it shouldn’t be any different than any other relationship. A partner should be supportive and respectful and also stick up for you.” ― Dan Fenstermacher