Relationships and anxiety and OCD
Problems with anxiety or obsessive thinking can put a lot of pressure on a relationship.
It can be upsetting for your partner too. They may feel stressed or upset by seeing you suffer, or feel frustrated by their inability to help.
What does anxiety and OCD mean?
The symptoms of both anxiety and OCD are varied, and can range from mild to severe. But generally speaking:
- Anxiety is feeling fearful or worrying about the future. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may worry excessively about everyday events or social situations. You may find it difficult to relax or obsess over things that could go wrong. If you have generalised anxiety disorder you may experience general feelings of anxiety that aren’t necessarily prompted by any event. This can be exhausting and stressful, and over time can cause issues with your physical health.
- OCD is a pattern of obsessive or repetitive thinking or behaviours. This can include washing your hands repeatedly or needing to carry out specific ‘rituals’ as you go about your day. These patterns can make it difficult to live a normal life, as you may find it hard – or even impossible – to relax until they’ve been carried out, and you may feel compelled to keep carrying them out until you feel they’ve been done correctly.
How does anxiety affect relationships?
Again, this has much to do with how severe the OCD or anxiety is and the specific symptoms. But there are a number of common ways these conditions can affect relationships.
If you experience anxiety, you may find it difficult to relax around your partner, or you may overanalyse their behaviour or become paranoid about certain aspects of your relationship. You may worry that your partner is going to break up with you or obsess over certain comments. If you have generalised anxiety disorder, you may find it hard to feel or express satisfaction in your relationship. You might shut off your partner. Or, you may have a constant need for reassurance: an inability to be calm without repeated expressions of support.
If you’re in a relationship with someone who has anxiety, you may begin to feel shut out. You might wonder if you are causing your partner to feel stressed, or if you’ve done something wrong for them to be acting this way.
How does OCD affect relationships?
If you have OCD, you can begin to feel like a burden: aware that your need to repeat behaviours isn’t rational, but still feel unable to stop. You may become isolated in your obsessions – unable to control them, even as you’re aware of the negative effect they’re having on your life and relationship. As with anxiety, if you suffer from OCD you may find you repeatedly think about negative things happening in your daily life or relationship – such as your partner cheating on you or breaking up with you.
The burden of carrying out these rituals can begin to affect the partner of the sufferer too. If your partner has OCD, you may become exasperated or exhausted by the effort of navigating around your partners’ compulsions. You may struggle to understand it, or find you become the subject of these obsessions.
If you’re affected by anxiety or OCD, you’re not alone. Anxiety and OCD are commonly diagnosed: 4.7 in 100 people have some form of anxiety and 1.3 in 100 some form of OCD.
If you feel this is becoming a real issue, there’s no shame in seeking help. Although taking that first step can be hard, it can also be a chance to take some of the pressure off yourself, your partner and your relationship.
There are many organisations offering support and information about anxiety and OCD. Mind has an info line where you can find out where to get help, medication and alternative treatments. SANE have a helpline staffed with volunteers who offer information and emotional support.
Beyond this, your GP will be able to talk to you about ways to manage your condition. You can also call the NHS for urgent medical advice on 111 or get information online at NHS Choices.
If you feel you aren’t ready for these options, you may find discussing things with family or trusted friends can be a real help. This can give you a better sense of perspective on what you’re going through and just generally help you to feel less alone. Although it can be embarrassing or nerve wracking talking about this kind of issue, you may be surprised by how willing and keen people are to help.
Understanding one another
If you feel that anxiety or OCD is affecting your relationship, then dealing with the issue together is always going to be easier than dealing with it separately.
Sometimes, this means having an open and honest conversation so you can both understand what each other is experiencing.
If you’re the one experiencing the condition, the purpose of this will be to communicate to your partner how the condition affects you. It may be that they don’t know – or don’t fully understand – what you’re going through when you feel anxious and do certain things. Although we often like to think our partner should understand what we’re feeling without us even saying, this isn’t always realistic. The best way to make ensure they ‘get it’ is simply by telling them.
Try to start this conversation from the perspective that your partner wants to help you, but they don’t know what it’s like to deal with anxiety or OCD. Appreciate that this may be difficult for them too – and that, once you’re on the same team, you’ll be able to tackle any problems together.
And if you’re the partner of someone affected by these conditions, the main thing to express is that you care about them and you want to help. Don’t blame or label them for their actions, but instead focus on what you’re feeling: ‘I’ve noticed that you seem to be struggling with a few things, and I wanted to know how I could help’. When you phrase things this way, you’re much less likely to make the other person feel ambushed or get defensive.
If you’re supporting a partner with anxiety or OCD it’s also important to look after yourself. Talk to friends and family if you’re beginning to feel isolated or overwhelmed. Mind’s website has specific advice on living with someone affected by mental illness. You may also find it useful to read up on OCD and anxiety so you can better understand what they’re going through.
How we can help
If you’d like support with your relationship, you could come in for individual or couples counselling Relationship Counselling. Your counsellor will not tell you what to do or take sides: we’ll simply listen and help you talk things over together.
If you’d like to talk with one of our counsellors why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org