OCD and Intimate Relationships

Symptoms can be a barrier to romantic relationships

OCD and Intimacy

Getty Images/PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can affect all areas of life. Many who have OCD and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) choose not to date and avoid intimate relationships. There are many reasons people resort to this choice; chief among them is the desire to prevent or lessen their anxiety through avoidance of stressful situations. Fortunately, there are other ways to cope that are less extreme.

Relationships and Stress

Intimate relationships can be stressful for many people—with or without OCD, OCPD, or other anxiety disorders. But the usual relationship stresses that affect most of us—fear of rejection, loss of identity, previous failed relationships, performance anxiety, and body acceptance issues—are often amplified for those with anxiety.

Obsessions that have to do with the loss of control, body image, fear of germs and contamination, anxiety related to physical closeness or being touched, and fear of loss or abandonment, may be easily triggered by intimate relationships. Feelings of self-consciousness and shame are often immobilizing. Trying to hide symptoms like counting or hand-washing can exacerbate anxiety.

Social Anxiety and Overstimulation

Additionally, many people with anxiety report feeling overwhelmed by social situations, particularly when there's a sexual attraction. While many become tongue-tied or flustered when in the company of someone they're attracted to, those with OCD, OCPD, or anxiety disorders often experience panic attacks or related symptoms that can be embarrassing or emotionally paralyzing.

Sex and Sexual Functioning

Issues related to sex and sexual functioning are also common concerns for those with OCD, OCPD, and other anxiety disorders. Some of the medications used to treat anxiety have sexual side effects. Many who experience obsessions related to hygiene or contamination can find it very difficult to engage in sexual relations. Those who become over-stimulated when people are in their personal space can be especially concerned with thoughts of even cuddling.

Long Distance and Online Dating

Many people, even those who've never struggled with obsessive thoughts or compulsive behavior, find the uncertainty of long distance relationships and online dating to be very stressful. Those with OCD or OCPD may find these relationships to be especially difficult. It's not unusual for the stress to create high levels of anxiety.

Coping with Anxiety and Stress

Avoiding stressful situations is one way to cope with anxiety, but it can be very limiting when it comes to intimate relationships. There are other ways of managing stress and anxiety in relationships that are worth exploring.

Medication: Talk to your prescriber about your specific symptoms with regard to intimacy and relationships. In addition to your regular medication, he or she may determine that you can benefit from something to take as needed for high-stress situations, such as dating or sexual intimacy.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a specific type of meditation that teaches us how to focus our attention and release our thoughts. This practice is used in the treatment of many mental health disorders. It's particularly effective in training the mind to observe and release thoughts without judging them as good or bad. Those who practice mindfulness find they're able to better recognize when they're ruminating or obsessing, and learn to release thoughts as often as necessary. Part of the teaching is that our minds are always busy, and thinking is what minds do. The skill is in recognizing when we are caught up in our thoughts and letting them go when this happens. Experienced meditators know that we seldom, if ever, have an empty mind devoid of thoughts.

Relaxation Skills: Deep breathing, guided imagery, and contracting and releasing different muscle groups (progressive muscle relaxation) are also effective ways of releasing and preventing anxiety. Yoga, tai chi, and other martial arts training can also help you learn to focus your thoughts and release tension in your body. Most of these include learning to use your breath effectively. It's believed that anxiety can't reside in your body if your muscles are relaxed.

Good Communication: Knowing what you want to say is only part of the equation of good communication. It's also important to know how to say it and when to say it. Talk with your therapist or a trusted friend about what, how, and when to discuss your OCD with potential love interests. Timing is important, so take it slow with new prospects.

Role Play: Practicing what you want to say about a stressful topic, even if you have to use a script, can relieve anxiety for some people. Once you develop a strategy and the language you want to use to talk about your OCD/OCPD, practice with a therapist or friend until you feel comfortable. You don’t have to use the same words verbatim, but feeling prepared can take the edge off of an uncomfortable situation.

A Word From Verywell

It's critical to choose your partners carefully. One of the keys to a successful relationship is choosing someone you can be open and honest with about yourself, including the things that make you feel vulnerable. That being said, disclosing your OCD/OCPD on the first date may not be the best idea. Talk it out with someone you trust and come up with a strategy and the right words for talking about OCD.

Was this page helpful?