How to Help a Spouse with OCD

Learning how to help a spouse living with OCD can also mean helping yourself.

The more skills you can develop toward understanding OCD in a relationship, the less likely you may be to experience resentment or emotional distancing.

Educate yourself

When you educate yourself about OCD, you can gain the power to recognize the difference between OCD-influenced behaviors and those that are deliberately manipulative and controlling.

This allows you to approach situations with understanding and compassion. It can also help you practice mindfulness toward behaviors that might initially come off as controlling or uncaring.

Remind your partner that it will get better

OCD isn’t in full force all the time. Your spouse may experience episodes of high stress, during which obsessions and compulsions become much more intrusive.

Episodes can vary in severity, and there’s no way to know whether one will be more challenging than the last. While this can be unsettling, reminding your spouse that it will get better, and that they’ve overcome worse, can help reassure them.

Encouraging your partner to engage in OCD treatments and supporting them in self-care routines can also be helpful.

Celebrate the small things

It can be easy to fall down the rabbit hole of retaliation when it comes to OCD. If your spouse is constantly looking for reassurance, you might find that you’re less likely to give it, simply out of frustration.

However, you don’t have to indulge approval-seeking behavior to make your spouse feel celebrated.

Acknowledging their small accomplishments may do much more for them than constantly reassuring them with, “Yes, I love you.”

For example, if you notice that your spouse has taken a step toward avoiding a compulsion, cheering that success can build their confidence.

Set boundaries

At times, you may engage in what are known as “family accommodation behaviors.” This happens when you give in to the demands of a spouse living with OCD.

Enabling OCD behaviors may make life easier in the moment, but it doesn’t help your spouse manage their condition in the long run.

In some situations, accommodation behaviors can make OCD worse.

To avoid accommodation behaviors, asking your spouse to sit down with you and set boundaries can be helpful.

This can mean agreeing on family rules with your spouse, such as:

  • No participating in OCD compulsions. For example, don’t wash your hands every time your spouse washes their hands.
  • No encouraging compulsions. For example, don’t put up extra shelving so your spouse can reorganize the pantry daily.
  • No sacrificing family activities. For example, don’t avoid having family over for a holiday dinner because it interrupts an OCD ritual.

Having agreed-upon boundaries allows you to remind your spouse of the importance of ongoing OCD management.

Avoid focusing on the OCD

When your spouse lives with OCD, they can be constantly focused on and aware of how it’s impacting daily life.

They’re likely already worried about it, and the last thing they may want is for you to treat them like they have a “problem.”

You can make room for understanding your spouse’s OCD behaviors without making them feel like they’re different from everyone else.