Obsessive Compulsive Disorders and its Affects on Relationships: Understanding the Disorder, Treatment Options and Coping Skills

Page content

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and its Affects on Relationships

OCD can be a very debilitating condition, taking up hours of a person’s day. The person may spend ages performing compulsions like showering, checking locks, counting objects or reorganizing their possessions. They know their obsessions and compulsions are not rational, but they are driven by deep, unrelenting desire that produces an urgent need to perform the compulsions. Not performing the compulsions produces uncontrollable feelings of fear that something horrible will happen. Spending hours a day thinking about the same thing over and over again and repeating the same compulsion repeatedly is frustrating and causes stress. The person feels helpless and hopeless. OCD often stops them from going out and participating in fun activities and affects their ability to hold a job. People with OCD are often embarrassed by their disorder and attempt to hide it from others, but it is difficult to hide from people close to them. Depression and panic disorders can result from living with OCD, compounding the suffering.

It is difficult to watch someone you love suffer, to watch them being consumed with irrational obsessions, compelled to repeatedly act out on compulsions and observe their pain at being a helpless victim to their illness. It is normal and common for friends and family members to feel frustrated and helpless at not being able to help their loved one.

Friends and family may find it hard to spend quality time with their OCD loved one. Going out to the movies, eating at a restaurant, taking a hike or any other normal activity may not always be possible. Compulsions may stop the OCD sufferer from leaving the house. In addition, when OCD sufferers do leave the house, their obsessions and compulsions come with them.

OCD sufferers may try and impose their obsessions and compulsions on friends and family members, expecting them to practice things like frequent hand-washing or to respect the irrational placement of objects.


Friends and family can help their loved one cope with OCD by encouraging them to seek treatment. OCD is treated with SSRI medications, cognitive behavioral therapy and in rare cases surgery. Treatment and recovery are lengthy processes, so patience, understanding and encouragement by friends and family are essential. In addition, it is important to remember that OCD is a brain disorder and it is not the sufferer’s fault. A person with OCD cannot rationalize OCD thoughts away. The parts of the brain involved are responsible for producing primal flee or fight responses, mood and organization. Normal environmental stimuli are misprocessed in the OCD brain as danger, fear and anxiety - the basic emotions that cause extreme worry and stress.

Friends and family members can also seek therapy themselves with psychologists who are experienced with OCD and its affects on relationships. The therapist helps family and friends to learn coping skills for dealing with the stressful situations OCD imposes upon them.

They should also learn to resist participating in compulsion rituals–even though resistance will initially cause the OCD sufferer anxiety–because it reinforces the behaviors in the long run. Keeping a low stress environment, having a good sense of humor and being open to communication is also a good way to help a person with OCD.