OCD and Intimate Relationships

OCD and Intimacy

Getty Images PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou

OCD can affect all areas of life. Many who have OCD and 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. The usual relationship stresses that affect most of us are often amplified for those with anxiety, such as fear of rejection, loss of identity, bad experiences in previous relationships, performance anxiety and body acceptance issues. Those with OCD or OCPD whose obsessions have to do with the loss of control, body image or related issues, fear of germs and contamination, anxiety related to physical closeness or being touched, fear of loss or abandonment and others may be easily triggered by intimate relationships. Feelings of self-consciousness are often immobilizing. Trying to hide symptoms such as counting or hand-washing can exacerbate anxiety.

Social Anxiety and Over-stimulation

Additionally, many people with anxiety report feeling overwhelmed by social situations, particularly when there is a sexual attraction. While many become tongue-tied or flustered when in the company of someone they are 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 have obsessions related to hygiene or contamination are triggered by these fears. 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 find the uncertainty of long distance relationships and online dating to be very stressful. People who have never struggled with obsessive thoughts or compulsive behavior find that can happen in these situations. Those with OCD or OCPD may find these relationships to be very difficult. It is 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, s/he may determine 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 is particularly effective in training the mind to observe and release thoughts without judging them as good or bad. Those who practice mindfulness find they are able to better recognize when they are 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/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 is believed that anxiety cannot 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 is 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.

It is 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?