Dating Someone With OCD: What You Should Know

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Although any intimate relationship has its ups and downs, dating someone affected by a chronic mental illness such as OCD can present additional challenges—and growth opportunities.

It is important to remember that an illness is what a person has, not who they are. Try these strategies for creating and maintaining a healthy relationship.

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What to Expect When Dating Someone With OCD

Knowing what to expect if you are dating someone with OCD or if you think your partner might have the condition is essential. By understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatments of the condition, you'll be better able to help your partner and maintain a successful relationship.

Obsessions and Compulsions

Obsessions and compulsions are the primary symptoms of OCD. Obsessions are unwanted, persistent thoughts, images, or urges that create feelings of distress and anxiety. 

People with the condition often engage in compulsions to deal with the distress created by obsessions. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that people feel compelled to engage in to minimize anxiety or prevent adverse events from occurring.

Common Symptoms of OCD

  • Obsessive, intrusive, unwanted thoughts
  • Fear of dirt or contamination
  • Needing things to be symmetrical or in order
  • Frightening thoughts centered on harming the self or others
  • Compulsive, repetitive actions to reduce anxiety caused by obsessions

Stress and Anxiety

In addition to dealing with stress caused by the symptoms of their condition, people with OCD may also experience added stress from worrying about how their condition might affect their relationships. If they have had past partners who were not understanding or rejecting, they may fear that you will respond similarly.

Being empathetic and understanding can help your partner feel supported and understood. 

Anxiety can often be a symptom of OCD, creating additional challenges in your relationship. You can help by becoming aware of the situations that trigger your partner's symptoms of anxiety and OCD and then helping them find ways to cope or manage those situations.

Sexual Functioning

OCD can also affect sexual functioning in several different ways. For individuals with obsessions centered on contamination or hygiene, having sexual relationships can be complicated. Some medications used to treat OCD can have sexual side effects, including symptoms that affect libido or performance. 

How to Keep Your Relationships Healthy

If you are dating someone with OCD, one of the best things you can do is learn more about the condition. Being more aware of what your partner may be experiencing can help you better recognize the signs of problems and allow you to offer support when you see they are struggling.

Remember that the condition affects each person differently. Not everyone will have the same symptoms or experience them the same way. 

Build 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 on 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 particular obsessions or compulsions they are troubled with, make sure you acknowledge how hard it must have been to tell you about them. Empathy and acceptance can go a long way toward building trust and intimacy.

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 they have OCD.

A seemingly harmless comment to a friend or family member of your partner could end up being very hurtful or embarrassing. It could undermine trust in the relationship or have other unintended consequences.

Be Honest

While symptoms of chronic illness 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 misunderstandings that could ultimately lead to conflict or even break up the relationship. If you do not feel you can 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 with someone with OCD—is about balancing your personal needs with the relationship's needs.

Ways You Can Support Your Partner

While having OCD can sometimes introduce challenges in a relationship, there are things you can do to help support your partner. People with OCD are sometimes reluctant to talk about their condition for fear of judgment or rejection, so it’s important to be understanding and supportive. Listen to what they say and try to be as patient as possible.

Educate Yourself

Being in an intimate or even just a dating relationship with someone with any chronic illness, including OCD, means you must be up to speed on symptoms and treatments. On the surface, many of the obsessions and compulsions accompanying 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 bring down the overall stress level in your relationship. It is also important to realize that many people with OCD experience other forms of anxiety disorders or depression that can complicate the symptoms they experience.

Support Their Treatment

Partners can often be very helpful in helping to pinpoint the true nature and severity of symptoms. They can also help reinforce compliance with medical and psychological treatment regimens.

If you and your partner are up for it, there are numerous opportunities to help with exposure exercises or stay on top of medication regimens. Becoming partners in treatment can help build a stronger bond.

Caring for Your Own Needs

It is also important to make sure that you are caring for yourself. Chronic health conditions like OCD can take a toll on the individual and their partners, so it is vital to ensure that you care for your own needs. Schedule time for yourself, do things you enjoy and reach out to your friends and family for support.

Practice Self-Care

Carve out time to attend to your needs. This can be difficult when taking care of someone else, but it is important to ensure that you care for yourself physically and emotionally. Consider scheduling regular appointments for yourself, such as a massage or a pedicure.

It can be easy to become isolated when you are in a relationship with someone with OCD. Schedule time for your friends and family, even if it is a quick coffee date or a regular girls’ or guys’ night out.

You might also want to consider joining a support group. It can be helpful to talk to others who are in similar situations. There are many online and in-person support groups available.

Establish Boundaries

While you are offering support, you must have boundaries in your relationship. Boundaries are what you are willing to accept in your relationship with another person. A boundary with a partner with OCD might involve telling them that you will not participate in your partner's compulsions. For example, you would not wash your hands every time they wash their hands. Establishing boundaries early on can help prevent conflict later on.

A Word From Verywell

Managing OCD isn't always easy, but supporting your partner can help them get the treatment they need and find ways to cope with their symptoms effectively. There will be ups and downs along the way, which is why patience is important. With empathy, acceptance, and understanding, you can ensure that you are your partner have a healthy and successful relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's it like dating someone with OCD?

    People with OCD often have very specific routines and rituals that they adhere to rigidly. This can make social situations and everyday activities more challenging at times. It can also contribute to feeling of shame and guilt. It's important to remember that every person with OCD is unique. Understanding your partner's symptoms, responding with kindness, and finding ways to support them and their treatment can help you both weather the ups and downs that come with dating someone with OCD.

  • How do you handle dating someone with relationship OCD?

    Relationship OCD can be challenging because obsessions and compulsions are focused on the relationship itself. In this case, patience is key. It can be challenging to understand why your partner feels the need to perform certain rituals or behaviors, but communicating openly can help.

  • What should you do if you think your partner has OCD?

    If you think your partner may have OCD, the best thing to do is to talk to them about it. Recognize that they may be reluctant to open up at first. However, it's important to let them know you're there for them. Offer to accompany them to the doctor or therapist for an evaluation. If they are diagnosed with OCD, there are several treatments available that can help.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Castle D, Bosanac P, Rossell S. Treating OCD: What to do when first-line therapies fail. Australas Psychiatry. 2015 Aug;23(4):350-3. doi:10.1177/1039856215590027

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

  4. Brady CF. Obsessive-compulsive disorder and common comorbidities. J Clin Psychiatry. 2014;75(1):e02. doi:10.4088/JCP.13023tx1c 

  5. Hezel DM, Simpson HB. Exposure and response prevention for obsessive-compulsive disorder: a review and new direction. Indian J Psychiatry. 2019;61(Suppl 1):S85-S92. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_516_18 

By Owen Kelly, PhD
Owen Kelly, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, professor, and author in Ontario, ON, who specializes in anxiety and mood disorders.