Difficult Conversations: 5 Communication Tips for OCD Sufferers in Relationships

Opening up is hard, but healthy conversation is crucial to a healthy relationship

Key Takeaways:
  • Laura Robertson is an OCD sufferer and blogger from Ohio. She was diagnosed with OCD in elementary school.
  • Being honest and open with your partner is ideal in any relationship. But for people with mental health issues, there is an added layer of transparency that can be difficult to navigate.
  • Every relationship is different, and what works from some may not work for others. What's important is that you and your partner feel confident in your communication and supported by one another. For some, consulting a therapist may help clarify what, when and how you share aspects of your disorder.

Figuring out how to discuss OCD with your significant other can be overwhelming given the shame, doubt, and misunderstandings surrounding the diagnosis. I have been dating my fiancé for over three years, and during that time we have learned a lot about how to discuss and handle my OCD effectively. Below are five tips for OCD sufferers struggling to communicate with their partners about OCD:

1. Forget the idea that there is a “right” time to share. I wish I could prescribe a specific relationship length that corresponds with the appropriate time to discuss OCD, but every relationship is unique. Sometimes you meet someone and feel so in sync that you have a meaningful conversation about OCD on the third date. Other times, you may be with someone for years and still not feel safe being emotionally vulnerable. You can wait until it feels comfortable to share, but if you start thinking that the person you are with would never understand or love you after learning about your OCD, you may want to ask yourself if a person like that is someone you want to be with.

2. Remember you do not have to share every detail. Trust me, your partner is not telling you every bizarre thought that ever passed through his or her mind. With OCD, the compulsion to seek reassurance may make you feel the need to “confess” every detail of your obsessions. Giving a general idea of the kinds of worries you have is enough.

3. Get some backup from experts. If your partner is not familiar with OCD, a lot of what you say may be new and hard to grasp immediately. Having literature from experts available can back up what you are saying and give your partner a better idea of how to help. For example, I recommend The Imp of the Mind by Lee Baer as an easy-to-read introduction to intrusive thoughts.

4. Tell your partner the kind of support you need. With OCD, loved ones may have to do something counterintuitive to help you in the long run. For example, your therapist may recommend your partner not respond to you when you ask for reassurance. If you are crying and pleading, this can be very hard to follow through on. Communicating to your partner the kind of support you need is critical so that your partner does not accidentally enable your OCD.

5. Be ready to listen. When you are sharing about OCD, your partner may ask tough questions and also could end up revealing similar issues and vulnerabilities. Even if your partner’s issues are not the same, and even if they are not as severe, give this person the attention that you want given to you.

OCD ebbs and flows through life, so learning to talk about these with your partner is important. Vulnerability is hard, but without it we can never reach real intimacy. Life is full of difficulties, and you deserve someone strong enough to handle yours.

Laura Robertson lives in her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.  She has her Master’s in Adult Learning and Development and currently tutors at a local community college while also running her own tutoring business.  Diagnosed with OCD in elementary school, she has been through the ups and downs of mental illness along with the trials of therapy and medication.  She is lucky to be in a place where she can write as an OCD advocate.  You can follow her blog, “OCD Neuroses and Other Nonsense,” either on Blogger or through her Facebook Page.