Your partner doesn’t understand your mood or anxiety disorder. Not only does it massively stress you out, it hurts – deeply. “I didn’t choose to be depressed and anxious, so how can this be happening?” Would you consider 10 pieces of advice?
It’s not on you to act as though there isn’t a problem. If an issue exists, it’s your right to have it addressed.
Recently, a reader asked if I’d ever written an article on spouses not understanding their partner’s mood or anxiety disorder. I hadn’t, so I told her it may be time. And it is.
(Little did the reader know I’m an expert on the subject.)
It happened to me
Some forty years ago, my undiagnosed and very nasty anxiety disorder, along with “medicinal” drinking, were running wild. So were my hormones. The whole bit had bad decision-making written all over it. I began dating a woman and after a fairly short courtship, you guessed it, we got married.
Now, we had to have detected our “quirks” while we dated, but we were young and in love – so who cared? However, it didn’t take long after the ring swap for those quirks to be fully recognized and problematic. My anxiety spiraled out of control and she could have cared less. In fact, she often criticized me for it. It was pure hell – I’m sure for her, too. After five years enough was enough, so we did the final adios.
Yes, I’m an expert on the subject.
What could be worse?
Short of infidelity, what could be worse in a relationship than not understanding a partner’s mood or anxiety disorder – any medical situation? But for all sorts of reasons it happens all too frequently.
Thing is, just like in my story, signs of trouble early in the relationship aren’t taken seriously. So the relationship continues, and the next thing you know a commitment is made – and not long after, the trouble roars to life. And there the two of you are, lost in paradise.
I’ve always believed a committed relationship needs to last as long as possible. It’s too easy to say “We’re done, let’s move on.” In my mind, actually doing so, without putting in some long and hard work, isn’t a good choice.
10 pieces of advice
“I know it’s been hard. Let’s work this out together.”
If your partner doesn’t understand your mood or anxiety disorder, the two of you are responsible for resolving the issue. Yep, you’re equal partners in working things out. You may think patching things up is strictly on your partner. After all, s/he is the one who doesn’t understand. Nah, you have to do your part as well.
Take a look at these 10 pieces of advice and see how you feel about them. Of note, #1 is work to be done before the relationship becomes one of commitment.
Here we go…
Early in the relationship, if you’re convinced the understanding barrier can’t be broken, don’t allow the relationship to go to the next level. You can’t let a problem like that fly-by like I did. And don’t let distorted thoughts and feelings stop you. For instance: your perceived need for a safe person, your partner’s need to save you, or continuing to believe s/he will change.
It’s not on you to act as though there isn’t a problem. If an issue exists, it’s your right to have it addressed.
Before approaching your partner, make sure you have some things in order. Are you truly open to considering their side of the story? Are you willing to hear unpleasant observations? Are you doing all you can to manage your disorder?
When you’re ready, tell your partner you’d like to talk about the situation. Open by explaining how you feel and why it means so much to you to resolve the matter.
Ask your partner why s/he doesn’t understand. Is there a legitimate lack of knowledge? Is there a personal history of an emotional/mental disorder? Is there a painful family history?
Ask your partner if s/he really wants to understand. Ask how you can best help.
If it’s a matter of lack of knowledge, introduce your partner to organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Hit their website together – inquire about local chapters. Of course, there are all sorts of sites available for reference.
If you’re working with a counselor, be sure to discuss the issue in session. In fact, if all parties are willing, bring your partner to a session. And if your partner is willing, the two of you can participate in couples work – with a different counselor.
If you believe, or know, your partner’s stance is based upon a personal or family emotional/mental health history, with empathy, encourage conversation.
While you’re trying to work things out, take especially good care of yourself. The stress and pressure are hard. You name it: exercise, quality sleep, healthy diet, yoga, meditation, self-soothing and grounding techniques, talking with people you trust, and more.
I know how difficult and hurtful these circumstances are. But, again, if you’re in a committed relationship, do all you can to keep it alive. It’s worth the effort.
However, if you’ve done all you possibly can and your partner still doesn’t – won’t – understand, you may have to consider ending the relationship. I mean, if you have a mood and/or anxiety disorder you may already be struggling to get by. The added agony may be more than you choose to take. It’s totally reasonable.
It takes two to tango
Those of us who do all we can to manage a mood or anxiety disorder so often end up with the short end of the stick when it comes to relationships, employment, and more. It’s terribly unfair, but an unfortunate fact of life – for now.
If this article hit home, I urge you to do all you can to work things out. But it takes two to tango. If you give it your best shot, feelings of shame and guilt are unjustified – no matter the outcome. Got it?
You know in your heart you love him. But every day – all day – you wonder if he’s really the “Right One.” It’s torture. Here’s what you need to know about relationship OCD, before you make a huge mistake…
‘Is he the Right One? Do I love him enough? Is he the love of my life or am I making the biggest mistake of my life?’
A loving committed relationship is something to hold onto.
Yet many unnecessarily bite the dust because of something known as relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD).
Our ROCD guides
Given the stakes, we’re going to learn about ROCD with the guidance of clinical psychologists Dr. Guy Doron and Dr. Danny Derby.
The docs are world-renowned ROCD researchers, and we’ll tap into a summary of a portion of their work as resource material. It appears on the International OCD Foundation website.
Okay, let’s get started by taking a look at one of the three ROCD case examples provided by Doron and Derby…
At the age of 30, after many dating experiences, Evelyn found someone that she thought was great. He was smart, good-looking, had a good job, and they felt great together. After a year of dating he started pressing her to commit.
Since then, she can’t stop thinking, ‘Is he the Right One? Do I love him enough? Is he the love of my life or am I making the biggest mistake of my life?’ She checks whether she thinks about him enough at work, whether she feels relaxed when she is with him, and whether she has critical thoughts about him. When she is unhappy or tense, she always thinks ‘Maybe it is because I am not happy with him? Maybe he is not the ONE.’
Evelyn is highly distressed and her obsessions impair her work and ability to function in social situations.
What is relationship OCD?
Evelyn presents with ROCD, obsessive compulsive symptoms that target intimate relationships.
Sure, it’s common for people to have some doubts about the suitability of their partner or the relationship at some point during a romantic connection.
“I dunno’, is this the right relationship for me?”
However, for individuals with ROCD, these common relationship doubts and concerns become increasingly time-consuming and distressing.
And for the record, ROCD symptoms may occur outside of an ongoing romantic relationship (e.g., obsessing about the past) and may cause people to avoid entering relationships altogether.
ROCD symptoms have been linked with significant personal difficulties, such as mood, anxiety, and other OCD symptoms. Couple difficulties, such as relationship and sexual dissatisfaction, have also been reported.
In addition to obsessive preoccupations and doubts, ROCD is associated with a variety of compulsive behaviors generated in an effort to reduce feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and distress – or to reduce the frequency of distressing thoughts.
Common compulsive behaviors include…
Monitoring and checking one’s feelings (“Do I feel love?”), behaviors (“Am I looking at others?”), and thoughts (“Do I have doubts?”)
Comparing one’s relationship with those of others’, such as friends, colleagues, or even characters in romantic films or TV sitcoms
Trying to recall good – secure – experiences with one’s partner
Consulting friends, family, therapists, fortune tellers, psychics, and others about the relationship
Avoiding situations and activities that may trigger unwanted thoughts and doubts about relationships
Are you seeing how tormenting and destructive ROCD can be? Is it happening to you?
Types of relationship OCD
ROCD includes two common presentations…
Relationship-centered: The individual often feels overwhelmed by doubts and worries focused on their feelings towards their partner, their partner’s feelings towards them, and the “rightness” of the relationship experience. They may repeatedly find themselves thinking “Is this the right relationship for me?”, “This is not real love!”, “Do I feel ‘right’?”, and “Does my partner really love me?”
Partner-focused: The individual may focus on their partner’s physical features, (“Her nose is too big.”), social qualities (“He is not social enough.” “She does not have what it takes to succeed in life.”), or personality attributes, such as morality, intelligence, or emotional stability (“She is not intelligent enough.” “He is not emotionally stable.”).
Relationship-centered and partner-focused symptoms may occur at the same time.
Treatment for relationship OCD
Treatment of ROCD is similar to cognitive behavioral treatments for any presentation of OCD. But it’s vitally important for those with ROCD to first recognize that their symptoms are getting in the way of their ability to fully experience their relationships.
In addition to assessment and information gathering, treatment includes symptom tracking. And it’s crucial that the therapist and client come to an understanding of the beliefs and views of self and others that may be impacted by the individual’s ROCD symptoms.
A variety of cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) – e.g., cognitive restructuring, exposure and response prevention (ERP) – are used to explore and challenge the ROCD client’s beliefs and views, and to reduce compulsive behaviors.
Experiential techniques, such as imagination-based exposures, may also be used.
Treatment gains are reviewed, effective strategies are summarized, and relapse prevention plans are made for possible setbacks down the road.
If meds are indicated, the first choice is typically one of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants (SSRIs). Keep in mind, higher doses are often used for OCD vs. depression.
In their work, Dr. Doron and Dr. Derby have found that individuals enduring any form of OCD typically feel a great sense of relief when they read or hear about someone going through what they’re experiencing.
So raising awareness and understanding is a priority.
I hope our discussion has been helpful. Heck, maybe a wonderful relationship will be saved. Perhaps one will be “permitted” to happen.
Relationships: how can something that feels so good bring such torture? Now you know.
If you frequent Chipur you know it’s a haven of sharing, learning, and healing for those enduring mood and anxiety disorders. That makes this a community, and one of our members recently shared some very cool news.
Patricia has been a faithful Chipur reader and contributor for quite some time. She’s also a moderator for Pandora’s Aquarium, a message board for survivors of rape and sexual abuse.