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Your Anxiety Toolkit - Anxiety & OCD Strategies for Everyday

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Your Anxiety Toolkit - Anxiety & OCD Strategies for Everyday
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Nov 25, 2022

In This Episode:

  • Amy Mariaskin, PhD shares her new book, Thriving in relationships when you have ocd
  • What is Family accommodation and how does it apply to ocd
  • Ocd family accommodation vs family support, 
  • What is OCD reassurance and how it can creep into one’s relationship
  • Relationship ocd, also known as rOCD
  • Relationship issues with ocd and how to manage them
  • Sexual orientation OCD, Gender related OCD, and Harm OCD and the impact this has on relationships
  • Attachment styles in ocd and how to understand them to help you navigate communication. 



Links To Things I Talk About:

Thriving in Relationships When You Have OCD: How to Keep Obsessions and Compulsions from Sabotaging Love, Friendship, and Family Connections
Amy’s Instagram https://www.instagram.com/ocdnashville/?hl=en
ERP School: https://www.cbtschool.com/erp-school-lp
Episode Sponsor:This episode of Your Anxiety Toolkit is brought to you by CBTschool.com.  CBTschool.com is a psychoeducation platform that provides courses and other online resources for people with anxiety, OCD, and Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.  Go to cbtschool.com to learn more.

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

This Your Anxiety Toolkit - Episode 312. 

Welcome back, everybody. This is going to be a really important episode for you to listen to. Today, we have the amazing Dr. Amy Mariaskin, who is what I consider to be a very dear friend, someone I very much respect. She has written a book about relationships and OCD, and we talk all about it. We go deep into some of the core skills and discussions she has in her upcoming book. And this is just going to be an episode I really feel like you could take away and put some skills together right away. I’m so thrilled. So, thank you, Amy, for coming on this show. 

But before we do that, I would like to do the review of the week, and I really hope you listen carefully to this. Not because it’s reviewing the podcast, but because I actually think the person who wrote this, who put in this review, is following some key points that I want you to consider. And this is what I encourage a lot of people to do. So, let’s go. 

This is from Detroitreview and they said:

“Thank you, I just started listening today after having a few weeks of anxiety and irregular thoughts that I never experienced. I randomly chose your podcast and am thankful for your experience, knowledge and personal and situations. As a 46-year-old father of two boys and loving wife, your podcast gives me a sense of calming. I’m taking notes on each cast.” Guys, I encourage you to do this. This is a free resource. It is jam packed full of skills. I encourage you to take notes. So, I love that you’re doing that Detroitreview. “While I started with the most recent, I have listened to #301/302/303.” And then they went on to say: “And they’ve already given me strategies that I’m using. I decided to start from your first podcast in 2016.” And that is what I encourage you all to do, mainly because those first 11 episodes are core content. I want you to take the content I talk with my patients about all the time. He went on to say, “I have been so impressed. I’ve listened to 1-2 daily. I’m up to 10 and 11. There’s so many things to listen to and I’m so grateful for you. The meditations are amazing. Keep up the great work.”

Thank you so much for that review, Detroitreview. That is exactly my intention. This is a free resource, you guys. I want you to take advantage of the skills and tools so that you can have a toolkit for yourself. And so, I’m so thrilled for that review. It just makes me feel like, yes, that’s exactly what I want you guys to take from this podcast.

Okay, before we get over to the show, let’s talk about the “I did a hard thing” segment. This one is from Kelly, and they said:

“I recently faced one of my biggest fears – general anesthesia.” Holy moly, Kelly, I feel you on so many levels with this. “I started struggling with some gallbladder issues and was told I needed to have it removed. I was terrified, and I didn’t think I could go through with it. Thoughts were racing out of control. I sought help with therapy and your podcast. Thoughts are thoughts and not facts was huge for me. It was calm the day of the surgery, and I did it. Thank you.”

That is amazing. You guys, listen, thoughts are thoughts. Just because you have them doesn’t mean they’re facts. I love that they’re bringing in that key concept as well. 

Alright, let’s go over to the show. This is the amazing Dr. Amy Mariaskin. She’s an OCD therapist. She’s an advocate. She’s an author of an upcoming book. You must go and check it out. I’ll leave the link in the show notes. I am so, so honored to have you on the show, Amy. Let’s get over to the episode.

312 Thriving in Relationships When You Have OCD (with Amy Mariaskin PhD) Your anxiety toolkit

Kimberley: Welcome, Amy Mariaskin. I am so excited for this episode today. Can you do a little introduction of who you are and all the good things about you?

Amy: Yes. Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here. I’m Dr. Amy Mariaskin. I’m a licensed clinical psychologist and owner and director of the Nashville OCD and Anxiety Treatment Center in Brentwood, Tennessee. I’ve been working with OCD and anxiety for over 15 years now, and I just absolutely love it.

Kimberley: And you wrote a book?

Amy: And I wrote a book. I know I need to get better about that. I was like, “Oh, do I say it now or do I say it later?”

Kimberley: You say it all the way.

Amy: All the time. I wrote a book. It was fun and not fun and everything in between. And I think we’ll be talking quite a bit about it. It’s called Thriving in Relationships When You Have OCD.

Kimberley: Right. Now, when you told me that you were going to write this book, I was so excited because I feel like at the crux of everything we do, a lot of the time, the reason people with OCD want to get better or the thing that propels them is how much their OCD impacts relationships. Not always, but I feel like that’s such a huge piece of the work. So, I am so grateful for you for writing this book, and it is an amazing book. I’ve read it myself. You did a beautiful job. And I want to cover some of the main pieces that you cover in your book today and go from there. So, first of all, congratulations. I know writing a book is not easy.

Amy: Thank you. Yeah, it’s been a dream for a long time. So, I’m excited about the accomplishment and I’m ready to figure out the next topic.

When Ocd Is The Third Wheel

Kimberley: Yeah. I love it. I love it. Okay. So, Chapter 1, I think it’s funny. I’ll have to tell you how, when I was reading your book, I was lucky enough to get an early manuscript. I remember sitting, it was with my kids at track and they were running. And I opened the book and the first chapter said, “The Third Wheel: Understanding OCD’s Role in Relationships.” And I was like, “That’s exactly it.” So, I was excited right off the bat. Tell me, what do you mean by the third wheel? Tell me a little bit about that.

Amy: Yeah. First, I should also thank you for writing the wonderful foreword for the book. So, if anybody is a fan of Kimberley, yet another reason that you might be interested in this book. Well, let me think. So, yeah, the third wheel analogy, it felt very apt because when I work with couples, I often imagine, and sometimes I’ll have couples imagine that the OCD is like this other presence in the room sitting there with us. Not physically, but in all the things that are important for relationships, all the ways that we develop intimacy, and that we even structure our time or the activities we choose to do together that OCD can wiggle right in there and can be this like third presence. And the thing is, it’s really easy, I think, for somebody without OCD if they don’t have good education or they don’t understand it, to get that third wheel confused with the person with OCD itself. So, like, “Well, you never want to go out,” as opposed to saying, “We both want to go out.” And here’s this other guy, OCD, really bossy, really pushy, really oppressive, who’s also coming along with us. And even when you do the things that you love, OCD can come along. 

So, it felt to me like this sense of something in the relationship that makes it both unbalanced and is this separate component and that both people, in coming together, have to find creative ways to connect around it or eventually connect and evict it more and more. And so, that’s why I chose that metaphor.

Kimberley: Yeah, I love that. And it’s funny because I remember when I was an intern and I was seeing a family or perhaps the wife who had OCD, what was interesting is I’m sitting in my chair and I noticed that the family members always sat across from her as if it was like her versus them, like who’s on which side of the team. And a big part of it was like, all you guys need to be over on that side of the room. You’re the team. I’ll be over here with OCD and we’ll work this out. But I think that that, even metaphorically, is such an important part of how OCD can turn everyone against each other. Is that how you’ve experienced it?

Amy: Yeah, I think at times there are a lot of conversations about how everybody has a common goal to figure out how to live with one another, develop intimacy, connections, be they friendships, parenting relationships, romantic relationships, even work relationships, and things like that, how to form those and how to come together around common goals. And sometimes OCD can be, again, confused as a goal that one person in the relationship has. And the truth is, everybody’s suffering in a way, and that everybody can be a part of that process of, again, reducing symptoms or evicting it, things like that. 

I do the thing as well when I have people in my office to just look at where are they sitting or when OCD comes up, what is the body language? Are both people really like arms crossed? Is the person with OCD hanging their head in shame, which we know could be such a powerful emotion and such an inhibitor of connection and vulnerability. So, I look for some of those and I remind them, “Head up, we’re all talking to OCD right now, and we’re all working with that, and we’re all on the same team.” 

Family Accommodation & Ocd

Kimberley: Such an important message. Thank you for that. I think that’s beautiful. So, let’s say the third wheel, I always think of like you go on a date and the third wheel shows up. And we know that definitely happens with OCD. You addressed a lot in your book about family accommodation. Can you share what that means and how that can impact a relationship?

Amy: Yeah, absolutely. Accommodation is this thing where we’re extending this metaphor. You’re on a date, you’re with somebody, and the third wheel rolls on up. It’s, “Hey, my buddy from college is here, what’s up?” Essentially, accommodation is like, “Hey, why don’t you have a seat right here? Here’s the menu, here’s a place mat.” It is anything that the person in the relationship without OCD is doing to make OCD have a comfortable place at the table. So, that’s the metaphorical way. That’s abstract, but bringing it down to practically what it looks like, it means doing things generally in the service of what feels comfortable in the moment for the person with OCD. We’re going on a trip and I have concerns about contamination and I really want you to check all the hotels, do all this research to make sure that none of these places have ever had bedbugs or things like that. Then when we get there, we’re dirty from traveling, so I’m going to need you to take a shower. And so, the person, the spouse is taking showers and doing research and perhaps taking over responsibilities from the person with the OCD in order to provide that short-term relief. But it ends up, again, making a place for OCD in the relationship. And it reduces that motivation for the person with OCD to change. 

Family Accommodation is tricky. There are a lot of ways that it can happen. I think reassurance-seeking is certainly one that I think we’ll talk about, but providing excessive reassurance about things to the person with OCD in a way to keep them comfortable but keep them caught up in compulsions. And I think it’s important to note that a lot of times, partners will hear about accommodation. And just as much as we think being apprised of accommodation and looking out for it is important, it’s also, I think, really important that partners understand that that’s nuanced and that they don’t take it to like, “Well, I’m not going to do that for you. That might be accommodation,” or, “I’m not going to reassure you about anything,” or “Is that your OCD?” I guess I say that to say that it’s a little tricky, but it’s really anything that is preventing the person with OCD from experiencing discomfort and thereby strengthening the cycle.

Kimberley: Right. No, I’m grateful that you bring that up actually, because probably the one that I get asked the most from parents, and this not in every relationship, but with parents, is like, okay, my child is having a really hard time getting homework done, their OCD is impacting them. So, if I don’t help accommodate them, if I don’t do some compulsions for them, read for them or so forth, they won’t do their homework. And then there’s an additional consequence. So, they’ll say like, “I feel like that’s too risky. I could actually be letting my kid fall behind, so I can’t stop doing this accommodation.” What are your thoughts on that? Again, how would you approach that type of situation? I mean, there’s many examples.

Amy: Sure. I think with a situation like that, first, I would validate the parents’ love and desire for their child to do as well as possible. Most accommodation is coming from a place of love and not a deliberate enabling or anything like that. Of course not. So, I really provide a lot of validation there. And then I help them reframe it as, “One way to be loving and supportive in the long run is to really cheer your child on in taking over, taking on more and more ownership of that.” So, does that mean, “I know that I’ve been reading. Right now, I’ve been reading for you, and that makes it easier to do your homework. We also know that you have OCD and we know that your brain tells you, you’ve got to reread and reread and reread. So, can we be on the same team together, fight that rereading? I’m not going to read it for you because I love you, because I know you can do this. Boy, is it going to be hard at first and I’m going to be there to cheer you on and motivate you.” I sit with kids, I’m always about gamifying it. “Do we want to just race through this? We don’t have to be perfect.” Again, it depends on the symptoms, if it’s perfectionism or what’s getting in the way. 

And then what I say is, if a parent says, “Well, then they’re really just not going to get their schoolwork done,” sometimes then I’ll say, “Well, if it gets to the point where it is interfering with things like that, then it may be that they need a little bit more support.” Because it’s like, with kids, your job is school and with the adults, your job can be a job or it can be care taking. It can be a lot of different things. But if one of those major domains of living is affected, then it may just mean that you need more support. So, we might up the number of sessions per week or refer out to another program or things like that. 

But those kinds of things would be the same things I would say in any kind of relationship where there’s an accommodator, which is, wow, you love your friend or partner or coworker so much that you’re willing to do this stuff for them so that they’re not suffering or so that they can demonstrate their potential as in the case of the kid with homework. But here’s why that’s not the loving response in the long run.

Ocd Family Accommodation Vs Ocd Support 

Kimberley: Right. You’re right. I mean, you mentioned like, then we have the complete other end of the spectrum where people are going, “No, I’m cutting you off completely.” And I think too, I think it’s important, as you said. Some accommodation happens in every relationship. I don’t particularly like cleaning hair out of the sink drain. That’s not my favorite. So, I’m going to ask my husband to do it, knowing that I take the trash out or whatever. We trade-off. So, how might people identify accommodation through the lens of OCD compared to loving exchanges of acts of service? 

Amy: Right. Oh, I love that question, because essentially, what we call compromise in relationships could be called accommodation – accommodation by a gentler name. And I think part of that has to do with, what’s the motivation there? You do such a wonderful job in your podcasts and online and everything of talking about how doing the hard things are important, and how if you’re not doing the hard things and you’re avoiding difficult things that can really shrink your world over time and put anxiety or OCD in the driver’s seat. So, if the motivation, if a child or a spouse or a friend is asking-- well, if you are asking a child or a friend or a spouse, if you’re saying, “Hey, can you do this for me,” or “I’d feel a lot more comfortable if you did this,” thinking about, is it a compulsion or a preference to me? There are so many different ways that we can look into that, but is it in the service of just like, I could, but I prefer not to? Or is it, I feel like if I do that, I’m going to be too anxious or I’m going to do too many compulsions, or something bad is going to happen? So, I think if the motivation there is more avoidance due to anxiety as opposed to just preferences, I think that’s helpful. 

Sometimes I’ll say to people when they’ll say to me like, “Well--” and I think division of labor in the house is such a good example. When people say, “Well, I don’t ever take the trash out,” I will often ask, “Well, what happens when your roommates are out of town?” Let’s say they’re living in a roommate situation. And if they say, “Well, it just piles up and I can’t deal with it,” then I say, “Aha, this might be a place that we need to work on and chip away.” And again, reducing accommodations doesn’t mean like all of a sudden, I’m a garbage master and I’m the only one doing it. It might mean that I’m doing some exposures to get up to the point where I can have that role in the household. 

So, I love that question of like, well, what if you had to do it? What would that be like? And if it’s really hard, then hey, let’s help break down some of those barriers and reduce accommodation.

OCD Reassurance

Kimberley: Yeah. I usually tell clients like, “Okay, let’s just do it so that we know you can, and then you can move on to the next exposure.” Tell us about reassurance. You talked about it a little bit. And in your book, actually, the thing I highlighted, because I read it in Kindle, that I love the most is your reassurance tracking. Tell us a little about that. 

Amy: Yes. Because again, I love that you’re highlighting this because reassurance is something that is okay. Reassurance happens in all relationships. Again, we might call it by different names. It might just be checking in. It might be clarification. It might be getting information from one another. So, I developed a worksheet that’s also available with the book that allows for people to track when they’re asking for reassurance from loved ones, and to answer a series of questions that aren’t going to give you a 100% certain answer of whether or not it’s compulsive, but are going to give you some clues. So, on the worksheet, it says, people write down the situation. So, for example, I was asking my friend if she was mad at me. That might be the situation. And then there’s a column that says, what were your emotions? 

Again, if we’re seeing anxiety, guilt, shame, some of those words might be a clue that our OCD is at play, but not always. And then people track, did you ask only once? Because we also know if it’s truly the type of reassurance, “Oh, I just need to know. I’m having a vulnerable moment. I just need to know, is this okay with you? Are you upset?” Then asking once and accepting the answer is generally how it goes. So, if you’re asking more than once, if you answer no to that, it’s a clue that it could be compulsive reassurance. And then also, was the source credible? 

I feel like I talk about this example a lot, but I just love it so much, which is that I worked with a little girl who was really worried about getting strep throat. She would ask everybody for reassurance about her tonsils. I mean, anybody and everyone. At one point, she took a picture and she was just old enough that she got social media. She put it on her Instagram and she was like, “Do you guys think I have a strep throat?” That was the caption. That was the little caption, which is like, she was laughing about it afterwards, but that’s not a credible source. I mean, she wasn’t even friends with all the docs in town or anything, or ear, nose, and throat specialist. So, was the source credible? 

Now, often if it’s social reassurance, it is a credible source. If I ask you, if I say, “Kimberley, was I too long-winded,” you’re going to be able to tell me. So, you would be a credible source. If I leave this room right now after doing this podcast and I ask somebody, “Do you think I was long-winded? Do you think I was?” and they’re like, “Well, we weren’t there,” that’s that answer. That’s that question about credibility. 

And then the last one is, did you accept the answer? Anxiety and OCD have this way of undermining. Well, pretty much everything, but undermining any answer we get and countering with it. ‘What if,’ or ‘Are you sure?’ ‘But I think...’ So, if it’s starting with a ‘but,’ a ‘maybe,’ a ‘what-if,’ then again, it may not be that helpful reassurance-seeking.

Relationship Ocd (Rocd) Vs Relationship Issues With Ocd

Kimberley: Yeah, I love that. And thank you for adding that because I just love that template so much. That is just like gold. I love it so much. Alright. So, as you move into Chapter 4, I believe it is, you talk about specific subtypes of OCD that are commonly impacted in relationships. Can you share just briefly what your thoughts are around that?

Amy: Yeah. I love this question too because as I’ve been talking about the book, a lot of people are like, “Oh, great, a book about ROCD, or relationship OCD.” And my answer to that, or my response to that is, “Yes, and...” Just a step back, any subtype of OCD can affect and often does affect relationships. Why? Because OCD goes after what’s important to us. And for many of us, our connectedness with one another is just so important. That being said, there are subtypes of OCD that are relational in nature. And so, I do have a chapter that is more devoted to these types, and one of which is relationship OCD. This is a passion of mine. I’ve done now a few iterations of an ROCD treatment group at my clinic, and I have other plans to expand that group and do some cool programming around that. 

But relationship OCD, it’s basically when OCD symptoms are about the relationship itself or about the person with whom you’re in relationship. So, it could be about-- we think about it a lot of times with romantic relationships, but it could be any relationship. To use a different one, it could be, am I a loving enough parent? Do I love my kids enough? How do I know? Do other parents have these thoughts? So, it could be about the relationship or it can be about the individual. Like, my spouse doesn’t like the same music that I do, and are we ever going to get past this? And so, something that might be seen as, yes, it’s an actual difference, but then there’s all this story making around the difference and how the difference is going to be the demise of the relationship. Those are the two flavors of ROCD, relationship and partner-focused. 

I also want to pause here and say that oftentimes when people talk about ROCD, I feel like there’s this pull to say, “Well, if you know you have ROCD, if relationship issues come up in your relationship, it’s probably your ROCD.” And that’s just like another backdoor to the certainty that we all want. I think all relationships have some crunchy bits and some edges that chafe. And so, I want the people with ROCD to feel empowered to also develop the relationships that they want and then notice that maybe the ROCD turns up the volume on some of their concerns, if that makes sense. 

Kimberley: It’s hard, isn’t it? Because so many times a patient will say, “But I don’t know if I really love-- is he the one?” And we’re like, “Well, we’ll never know.” There’s no way to objectively define that. And then someone, a friend is like, “Well, if you don’t know, it must be a problem.” It’s so hard for those people because people without OCD also don’t know all the time either, so it’s a common concern.

Sexual Orientation Ocd & Gender Related Ocd

Amy: Right. No, that’s a great point. So, I have some stuff about relationship OCD in there and then the identity subtypes of OCD as well. So, sexual orientation OCD and gender-related OCD. I put those in there because oftentimes our identity is the foundation from which we interact with others and create relationships and things like that. So, I talk a little bit about sexual orientation OCD, not just even in dating, but in finding a community and friendship and things like that. SOOCD can rear up and lead to lots of social comparisons or it can just really try to sabotage certain relationships, and with gender-related OCD as well, be it somebody who is cisgender and wondering if they are transgender or vice versa. I’ve worked with people in the transgender community who have OCD and have these unwanted thoughts about like, “Well, what if this is not who I am? What if I’ve been doing this for attention?” And then, therefore, are wanting to compulsively disengage from their community because of the feeling of like, “Well, I don’t feel authentic enough.” So, that’s a way in which that can root in relationally.

Kimberley: Right. So, we’ve got relationship OCD and identity. What are the other ones? 

Harm Ocd & Its Impact On Relationships

Amy: Yeah. And then the last one that I highlighted in here in that section is harm OCD. And I put that in there because harm OCD, which again is a huge category, which I would say under that are anything that’s violent. That could be sexual as well. So, sexual violence toward others or sexual intrusive-- obviously, all intrusive thoughts, but intrusive thoughts about being sexual with children. I would roll all that into the harm OCD category. And this one is just, it’s always so striking to me the ways in which OCD can take something that’s really important. Like, I want to be a good person, I want to be a kind person and then undermine it. So, the amount of people I’ve worked with harm OCD who are experiencing isolation and really the self-imposed isolation, the irony of which is “I’m isolating myself because I don’t want to harm others,” but then they’re withholding themselves as this fantastic person to be out in the world. And so, that’s what I always say, is you’re doing more harm isolating, but sort of. Get out there. You have so much to offer and in fact, your OCD has attacked this area because it’s important for you generally to have relations with others.

Kimberley: Yeah, I love that. So, I love how you’ve given us a way, and as you said, it can impact any relationship outside of those subtypes as well. What I’d love to do is give you the mic and tell us just now, in general, give us your best relationship ideas, advice, tips, tools, whatever you want to call them, for the person with OCD and the loved ones of people with OCD.

Amy: Yeah. Thank you. I feel like that’s a dangerous thing to be giving me the mic.

Kimberley: It’s all yours. Go for it. What’s the main thing you want people to know?

Amy: I think I want for people to be able to-- number one, there’s no right or wrong way to have a relationship provided that everything is consensual and respectful. And so, taking a step back-- and actually Russ Harris just put out this. I don’t know if you saw this, but this incredible list of relational values words. So, there’s an activity where-- or I don’t know if it’s new, it’s new to me. That’s clarifying what are your relational values and what are they with different relationships? Is it playfulness? Is it intimacy? And so, figuring out what you want and having your spouse do the same. In our relationship OCD group, most recently, we had people and their significant others, I shouldn’t say spouse, do this and figuring out ways to connect around those things. I think it comes down to connection and to supporting each person, like supporting each other’s goals. 

I think I’m bringing this up in part because I think sometimes there are these narratives out there about like, we have to have all the same interests or opposites attract. And again, to that, I say yes, and... For some people, they want people with really similar interests and for others, they want somebody who’s going to be different. But I think what we can do is support each other and try to see the world through your loved one’s eyes and try to celebrate when they’re celebrating. 

I think part of this is like, I’m married to somebody who’s a huge thrill seeker. He’s paragliding. He just got his private pilot’s license. He does things that are not in my nature. If he’s gone out and he’s done some sort of paragliding trip in a different country, and he’ll come back and he’ll say, “I found a lift here and there were thermals,” in my head, I’m like, “You didn’t die. You didn’t die. Yeah, you didn’t die.” And I have to stop my own anxious story about it or my own interpretation of “I wouldn’t like that” and just be there with him in that moment of sharing his joy. It’s finding joy in others’ joy. It’s being there with other people’s emotions about whatever they are. Because I think with anxiety and OCD, it can always be this upper-level analytical process of like, “Oof, I don’t like that. Is that okay?” or things like that. I know a lot of the Gottman’s research will talk as well about how very important it is to just support one another, be cheerleaders, et cetera. 

Attachment Style & Ocd 

I think too, knowing your attachment style. And this is a whole topic that we could spend forever on, but knowing if you’re somebody who-- when you get close to others, do you feel more resistance in getting closer or do you feel worries about like, “Ugh, I don’t want to lose myself by merging with someone else”? Or do you have more resistance around, “I’m worried they’ll abandon me, I’m worried they won’t love me enough?” And that’s a very, very, very rudimentary look at two of the concepts of attachment, that more avoidant attachment where it’s, “I’m worried I’ll be subsumed by the other person and I value independence,” or more anxious attachment, which is, “I’m worried they won’t love me enough or I’ll be abandoned.” Knowing that and knowing when those thoughts come up, take a pause, take a step back and check in with yourself and your body and the facts and things like that, instead of reacting in that moment. When anxiety is there, it wants us to just react to every alarming or provocative thought that we have. So, yeah, those are some things. I know that I had them scrolling through because I know I had more in the book from the Gottman. They’re top of mind.

Kimberley: I think back to when I was first married, I was so young. So, if someone had explained to me attachment styles, it would’ve made the first five years so much easier. You know what I mean? My husband would go away. He’s actually away right now. He would go away because he loves to fly fish. And for me, I would feel anxiety because he would leave and I would interpret, because I’m anxious, and I was like, “No, this isn’t hard for me to be alone.” It would quickly turn to anger towards him for having a hobby. I’m totally fine to say this too. I’m feeling anxious here by myself. He’s off doing something fun for him. So then I got angry that he’s doing fun things and leaving me to have my anxiety. He would come home not to a happy wife. He would come home to wife with her hands on her hips. You know what I mean? And I think that that is so common for people with anxiety. When you’re feeling anxious, you feel like they’re doing it to you like, “Why are you doing this to me?” And then that can create a whole narrative that can interfere in relationship. So, that’s just a personal example of how, if I had have known my anxious attachment early in our marriage, I think that would’ve saved us a lot of fights.

Amy: Yeah. Oh, I love that example. And I feel like for me, as somebody who tends toward the other side, I tend to feel more worried about being stifled by relationships. I want to be fully seen and encouraged. And so, sometimes, in particular with friendships, if I’ve had people who are like, “I’ve felt exactly the same way,” or “I had the same experience,” or “We should do this all together. Let’s get matching jackets,” I’m like, “I am an individual.” I get really threatened because my feeling is-- my brain’s automatic interpretation is they don’t see you because they think that you are just-- they assume like we’re all the same, whereas they’re just like, “We want to affiliate.” So, I’ve had to do some work there as well, even with friendships, to know like it’s not-- people aren’t trying to kidnap my identity and merge it with theirs. They’re actually just being loving. 

Kimberley: Right. But it feels threatening. Yeah, absolutely. I think the last question I have for you is, it goes back to that accommodation reassurance piece, particularly related to these dynamics. And maybe this is just my experience, I’d actually love to hear yours. What I do find is, when the person with OCD is coming from an anxious place, like often overanalyzing things, hyper-attending hyperawareness of things, their need for reassurance or their need for everyone to follow what OCD tells the family to do, I have found that the partner, because it’s so overwhelming for them, tends to flip to the other end of the spectrum where they don’t worry about anything or they’re like, “It’s fine.” Or maybe even they’re frustrated of like, “It’s fine, it’s fine.” Have you noticed that as a trend in dynamics of a relationship?

Amy: Yeah. Sometimes almost like there’s a dismissiveness. Yes, I have noticed that and I think that there are so many reasons why that can happen. And I think for the partner and their experience, getting at what that is and what’s motivating that is so interesting because, to the person with anxiety or OCD, it can feel really invalidating, or it can feel very comforting. But I think a lot of the times, it can feel invalidating and the partner might be doing it because they might be having their own feelings come up about, “I don’t know what to say.” I’ve tried to use facts and sometimes facts can bounce right off of OCD if you’re not in the mindset to accept them. OCD is skeptical about everything. So, I’ve tried everything and I’m really now at this place of like, “I am so tired.” And it’ll come out. “I’m so tired of hearing you talk about this.” And that’s when, as a clinician, I see time out. I think you’re both really tired of this cycle that OCD has you both in. 

So, yeah, I will see that. And I think sometimes when that’s the pattern as opposed to a lot of overly accommodating, I think when that’s the pattern, the element for me in working with couples to inject back in there is the validation of, “This is really hard.” And also for them to take a step back and realize, well, not everything is going to be OCD either. Sometimes if there is reassurance-- I mean, again, the irony is sometimes this pattern can lead to more reassurance because then it’s like, “Well, you just dismissed me. You said that there’s nothing wrong in our relationship that you did it in a manner that felt dismissive. And so, now I’m going to ask again.” 

So, yeah, deconstructing that pattern. Does the partner feel angry? If so, you’re angry at this pattern, not your partner. Does the partner feel helpless, hopeless? Did they feel scared? Are they grasping at straws? So, yeah, that would be how I would look at that when I see it come up.

Kimberley: Oh, thank you. I’m so grateful that you shared all that because I think they are all great questions that need to be addressed within the relationship. Thank you. So good. Okay, tell us about your book. I want to be respectful of your time. Tell us about your amazing book, which I think every family that has members should read. Tell us about it.

Amy: It’s called Thriving in Relationships When You Have OCD: How to Keep Obsessions and Compulsions from Sabotaging Love, Friendship, and Family Connections. It’s available for pre-order as of the recording of this, which is in October, but I think this is going to come out later. It will be hot off the presses December 1st from New Harbinger Publications, available on Amazon, available through New Harbinger, I think available on other websites. People keep sending me links and I’m like, “Wow, that’s really cool.” 

So, yeah, I tried to cover all different kinds of relationships. We talk about family relationships, parenting, romantic relationships, sex and intimacy and those kinds of relationships, friendships, work, and really just a relational lens to what can be a very isolating and security disorder. And I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to go at it alone.

Kimberley: Thank you. Again, hats off to you. Much respect. You did a beautiful job writing the book. It’s an honor. I was so honored to write the foreword. And I think, again, it’s like a handbook I think everybody needs to have on the onset of being diagnosed. Here’s the book to make sure you can protect your relationship and nurture the relationship outside of OCD. So, thank you.

Amy: Well, thank you for having me.

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