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Supporting my partner - how much to give

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I'm new to this forum & have found a lot of the content helpful but I'm still battling with myself as to how much I can give/support my boyfriend because it's starting to really impact me and I feel selfish for saying so.

I know that I can't possibly understand what he is going through and that at times I know that I haven't helped as from not understanding I often reassured him of his compulsions. He has seen a professional but feels that this caused him more of an issue because it bought his OCD 'to life' and made it real. The blame was then put on me for suggesting he spoke to someone about it so I don't feel like I can approach this option again. However, I also don't know how I can go on like this as I feel like an emotional punch bag for him.

He does acknowledge that it's an issue but feels he can self-manage it & I'm afraid that it has gone beyond that.

Has anyone else experienced this? Like I said previously, I'm riddled with guilt feeling like I can't support him any more and I don't know what more I can do.

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Hi Helen and welcome to the forum.

It is very common for family and friends of OCD sufferers to not understand at all what to do about their loved one's disorder. It is almost impossible to understand what goes on in the mind of a sufferer unless you are one/have been one and generally people don't know much at all about what OCD truly is. I'm sure you feel lost and bewildered.

Just because he's seen one professional does not prevent him from seeing another. Just going to see a mental health professional doesn't necessarily do a whole lot. I suspect he got a diagnosis that one time, which is a starting point. What he really needs, what every OCD sufferer needs, is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is the gold standard treatment for OCD. CBT teaches you to change the way you think and change the way you behave in response to obsessions or intrusive thoughts. It teaches you that you don't have to do the compulsions normally done in response to the thoughts.

Getting help can be very scary for a sufferer. They inherently know it means changing their ways and it can be frightening to them to think they have to give up their compulsions, which they wrongly believe keep them safe or others safe.

One of the biggest issues that someone in your position comes across is when you are asked, or just start on your own, helping out the sufferer with their compulsions. This is a no no and it doesn't help the sufferer at all. It actually makes things worse.

Perhaps you could give us a little detail as to what is going on? What kinds of rituals is he doing and are you involved in doing them to any extent?

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Thank you for your response,

The most obvious (to me) rituals are checking doors, taps, the hob & lights before bed which I don't get involved in but I also don't encourage to stop - is this the right thing to do?

The area that I fell into was reassuring about his body. He is an avid gym go-er and is very into his fitness. What started as a question every few weeks of, how 'do I look', 'am I getting bigger', 'am I getting smaller' etc...  now happens every day multiple times & we can spend hours on the topic. I didn't see this as OCD before because it wasn't a physical check but from reading up it's more of a mental check. I've always reassured him & answered his questions thinking maybe it was body dysmorphia but now it seems to be OCD, I think?

He also says that he finds himself checking whether he is thinking about having thoughts & that then causes him to panic that he wont be able to control his thoughts. The thoughts don't appear to be anything in particular but the fear tends to come from not being able to control the thoughts.

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Hey Helen!

I joined this forum today to post a very similar post! So I've got no advice for you I'm afraid... other than don't feel guilty for trying to help! You're not alone.  My boyfriend also suffers terribly, for the past 5 years or so we've been putting it down to anxiety but then I bought a book on anxiety (to try and help) and realised that his compulsions fit the OCD description pretty perfectly.

He also checks a million and one things before bed or leaving the house (or rather, he dictates what needs checking and I check it. Unfortunately, I kind of fell into doing this for him and didn't realise it was a bad thing until recently).  The thing that has pushed me to join a forum was an incident that happened last night while driving home together. My SO gave a cyclist far too much room on the side of the road (incase he accidentally knocks him over and kills him), so he was straddling two lanes and there was a very, very near collision with another car. We had to drive home then walk back to the scene and spent an hour+ going over what happened and making sure no-one was dead.

Despite this, he still refuses any sort of help from a professional and throws a fit if I refuse to help him.

The only thing I've tried to do more recently since learning more about OCD is to try and stop new habits creeping in. When he asks me to check something new before bed I try and make light of it and say "that's not one! We don't check that".  But sometimes I don't have the energy to argue with him or stay awake until 3am because he's turning the bedroom light on and off again and shouting at it!

What happens if you tell your boyfriend that you're not going to engage with his OCD for his own benefit?

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Helen, beyond the checking, which is a compulsion, what he is doing is reassurance seeking about how he looks, which is another compulsion. You are actually making things worse by giving him reassurance all the time. Reassurance just leads to more reassurance seeking.

This needs to slow down in the interim. It can't keep going on.

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Hi @Helen01 and @Oswin,

I wish I had good advice but want to also add to the chorus of 'you are not alone.' My wife suffers with OCD which has had a huge impact on her, on myself, on our relationship and on our daughter. We also have to watch the rituals but for us the bigger problems are 'magical thinking' (e.g. if I don't cross the road now my Mum will have a serious accident - even if her Mum is miles away) which happens many times a day. Also contamination issues such as I touch a telegraph pole, then my hands have creosote on them, then I touch  my trousers, then the trousers touch the floor of our house, then our daughter touches that some part of the floor with her feet, then she goes to school, then a parent who is pregnant walks on the same part of the school floor my daughter has, then her unborn baby will die. Having this happen many times a day is exhausting.

My wife went through 2 years of CBT but in the end we realised the therapist couldn't help her. We have now seen two of the leading OCD experts (we had to go privately but it was worth it) and I think she is now getting the right CBT treatment that she needs. For us the big breakthrough a few years ago, which took months of negotiation and fighting, was getting her to acknowledge she had a problem and to talk to other people about it - and also to let me talk to other people about it. I wonder if your partners are at that stage?

In terms of what to do when they as for reassurance or to engage in rituals, I would also love advice. I tend to refuse to engage in rituals and refuse to offer reassurance but of course that leads to a lot of arguments and stress for both of us. I think what I am learning is that the right CBT therapist will create a pathway for both of you to follow which will help give guidance as to when to engage and when not to and how to offer the right support.

I would appreciate the opportunity to share ideas and support through messages on this forum if you are willing.

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Hi Helen, 

i can totally empathise with your situation being the partner or family member of someone with ocd can be exhausting at times and certainly can put a strain on relationships.

my partner suffers from extreme ocd and is currently a resident at the anxiety disorders unit. Since meeting him I have researched and read everything I can on ocd, I’m also studying children’s mental health so feel I have a good understanding of ocd itself. The more you can arm yourself with information the easier it becomes, it can be extremely hard to watch a loved one suffer but equally it is extremely hard for us as we are often left feeling blamed or controlled by their ocd.

of all the books I have read I have never found anything particularly helpful in guiding loved ones onthe best ways to help and not hinder the sufferer whilst keeping your own sanity! It’s easy to lash out and get angry I’ve done it many times the best advise I can give you is to read this book “when a family member has ocd”  its amazing and gives such a good insight to what the sufferer is experiencing and how you can help them and yourself.

everyone should read this book!! Stick with it and stay strong xx

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Hey, like other people I wanted to reach out and say you're not alone, and to cash in on any advice floating around here... My boyfriend has OCD that has really become apparent in the last 1-2 years of us dating. He is really focused on bins and contamination from external sources like that, and his compulsions are washing- 2 showers a day often, up to 1 and a bit hours; using antibacterial wipes on phone and wallet etc; washing for a long time before touching personal items. In the street he has to give bins at least a 2 metre berth, if he sees something gross on the street (dog poo etc) he has to check several times even if he was at a decent distance and would worry for the rest of the day that he brushed something. If he has to walk within a metre or so of any bin the rest of the day is a write-off with washing and stuff, and he has a lot of ritualistic behaviour surrounding cleaning up when he gets in from work or shopping. I feel like it's only getting worse, but can't say anything constructive without it turning into an argument or tense situation. He thinks he can improve on his own and tells me often that things are improving but I honestly think they're getting worse. We are currently long distance so I get a windowed view of his behaviour. I try to gently suggest CBT but I'm not very assertive and he had a negative experience with a therapist and doesn't want to go to another. I totally understand how unappealing seeing a psych is, having seen one for several years in my 20s. I just feel like I can't be his therapist because every time I see him holding his hands the way he does when he feels contaminated my stomach drops and I feel so incapacitated that every thing I do to try to help feels wrong. I think I feel a bit bitter because it flavours every day we spend together, and I feel so guilty for feeling this way because if that's how I feel, he must feel so much worse. I feel like I'm nearing the end of my tether though. How can I reassure him that one bad therapist does not write off the whole industry without causing him more guilt and stress? It's negatively impacting our relationship but I have no idea how to help him without it ending up with him saying 'just leave if you don't like it', or me feeling so stressed I feel like I can't talk about it?

Sorry for the wall of text. I'm feeling so stressed these days!

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