How a Child’s OCD Can Affect their Parent’s Marriage

When her son got sick, Jennifer became the understanding parent. Her husband, had a harder time managing his frustration.

Key Takeaways:
  • Jennifer's son sufferers from childhood OCD and is currently in therapy for his condition.
  • In this article, Jennifer touches on the difficulty of parenting a child with a severe anxiety disorder, and the patience that is required of both parents.
  • If you're the parent or caretaker of a child with OCD, be gentle with yourself and them. OCD is a complex and frustrating condition. Education and guidance are key to addressing it properly and helping your child heal.

Prior to children, conversations with my husband revolved around our religious views, childcare preferences, public school versus private school. Never in a million years, did I think our daily discussions would center around the number of times our son had asked, “What’s the point of life?” and “Why did God make me this way?” Or, on bad days, “You don’t know what it’s like to be inside my body. Just kill me! I don’t want to do this anymore.”  

As my son’s condition worsened, these statements and questions became more and more frequent. I knew I had to get him help as quickly as I could. Our once happy, fun, active child was sad, angry and losing his love for life right in front of our eyes. At the time, he was only 7.

Thankfully, after years of doctors, misdiagnoses, various mental health counselors, psychiatrists, DNA testing, homeopathic approaches, and countless medications, we have finally started to see a light at the end of this dark tunnel. We have hope of regaining the child he used to be.

My son, who is now 11, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder — a condition that doesn’t just impact the individual, but their entire family. Reaching a proper diagnosis was the first hurdle. Now, our focus is on educating ourselves as parents while searching for the right psychiatrist to help our son heal.

Parenting a child with OCD requires an extreme amount of patience, understanding, love and acceptance. As a couple, you need to be united in supporting each other. But what happens when one parent has little to no patience, while the other is more understanding? Over time, it slowly creates an unexpected, unwanted divide. Responsibilities start falling on the understanding parent’s plate, leaving them overwhelmed, and at times, completely alone. Children quickly pick-up on who they can turn to, who understands them, and who they feel the safest confiding in. And once they do, that parent becomes the primary caretaker.

I found myself constantly reading books, searching for articles on the internet, skimming blogs, and reaching for any straws I could find to better understand what was going on. I began wondering why this wasn’t of equal importance to my husband. Why was he not putting forth the same effort? Why did it take him days to read the articles I printed out?

At the time, this left me feeling a range of emotions: confusion, sadness, anger and emptiness. I was struggling to comprehend this condition, while carrying the burden of having to teach what I learned to my husband and son. Many times I was left feeling trapped between the two people I love most. I had to convince my husband that this wasn’t something our son could “just stop, get over or ignore” like I’d heard him say so many times. Simultaneously, I was trying to walk my son through the necessary coping skills he’d learned in therapy.

Anyone with diagnosed OCD wants the thoughts and obsessions to “just stop.” But if this were possible, it wouldn’t be a medically recognized disorder, let alone one that’s considered so complex. Again, a foreign topic to most and difficult to wrap your head around, which is why it’s so important that both parents are invested in learning about the disorder and supporting one another through the process.

I’ve now found myself in a difficult situation. Our son needs help but not just from a doctor. He needs the at-home support of both his parents. He needs to be in a calm, loving environment. One that counters the negativity, anger and frustration of his OCD.

It’s difficult to be supportive without real knowledge of this disorder and how to properly parent a young child going through it. After many long, heartfelt conversations with my husband, I came to realize it’s not that he didn’t find this of equal importance, he just saw things differently. He saw our son as defiant and sometimes manipulative. In reality, he was none of these things. His constant, intrusive thoughts were keeping him from completing the tasks before him. For example, getting dressed for school in the morning was a huge undertaking.  My son would dress and undress, sometimes taking well over 30 minutes. Why? Because in his mind he hears, “No, that’s wrong you should of used your left foot first,” or “No you didn’t do it quick enough, if you don’t redo it again your Mom will die.”

My husband saw this as our son not doing what was asked of him, stalling, and then lashing out. Really, he was struggling with a combination of intrusive thoughts, and fears of explaining these obsessions to his father. He was worried about being scolded and told to “just stop and do what’s asked of you.” This left both my son and husband feeling stuck and frustrated, and myself, torn between the two people I love.

I urge any couple raising a child with OCD to commit fully to learning about the disorder. It is difficult to support your partner if one of you doesn’t understand the condition at hand. As a couple, you need quality time together to keep the spark alive. And finally, find the proper therapists to teach your child about their condition, and you and your spouse about how to best support them through recovery. If you do so, you’re far more likely to remain a strong, united team during an incredibly difficult time.