Living with a Person with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Sharing a household with a person suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is not easy. It is not uncommon for family members to believe that the sufferer is just “picky” and stubborn and therefore unnecessary arguments and stress results, not only for the co-habiter but for the sufferer as well.

Fiona’s husband, Steve, had no idea that his wife had OCD. He had never heard of it. Yet when his wife checked the windows every night before going to bed, even when she knew some of them hadn’t even been opened, he complained. When she checked the dials on the oven over and over again to see if the gas was truly off, he blew his stack. She rattled doors compulsively to check if they were really locked. Fiona denied that she was doing anything wrong. Steve sat fuming in the car waiting to leave as his wife made every exit from the house a nightmare as he sat waiting while she checked endlessly. An argument would ensue after each of these incidences.

Unfortunately the years of stress that Steve suffered resulted in him having a heart attack in his early 50s. If he had known that Fiona had an illness, rather than a stubborn streak, things might have been different. In this case, however, Fiona knew what was wrong with her, but was in denial as to how it was affecting the marriage and indeed her husband’s health.

Steve verbally abused his wife for her behaviors. Because he was unaware of the nature of this illness, he was unwittingly contributing to its continuation and Fiona’s downward spiral. Stress aggravates this condition by causing additional distress to Fiona.. Yet Fiona was also contributing to her illness by not seeking help, and in particular, not admitting she had a problem. If she could have said to Steve: “I know I have this problem, but I can’t seem to stop it” he may have been less angry at his wife.

The children of the marriage suffered too. Always late for every appointment due to obsessive checking, Fiona’s young sons missed out on important events but mostly felt embarrassed at having to walk in late for school almost every day and even incurring punishment for doing so. They were too frightened and too young to at the time to confide in the principal. Even if they had, they didn’t know about the illness either. Both boys left home as soon as they finished school because the atmosphere at home was too unpleasant.

It is important for both the sufferer and the family to seek help over issues such as this which serve to break down both communication between family members and the family itself. If Steve had discussed the issue with his family doctor and Fiona sought counseling, the boys would have understood that their mother was sick. A heart attack may have been prevented. And most importantly, Fiona may have been able to maintain some control over her symptoms and have a better quality of life.

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