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My OCPD Husband Can't Tolerate My 'flaws'

Question:

Hi Dr. Dombeck- I just recently married 5 months ago and since this time, my husband has had what I think is an "OCPD break." While he had traits prior to our marriage, since I moved in and "invaded" his space, we have started to have problems. It seems that he cannot tolerate any of my "flaws" which were all present prior to our marriage and he keeps growing more and more distant. He has even started to question his feelings for me which has been heartbreaking to me however, I am just now realizing all of this is common for the OCPD personality. My qeustions is, how should I go about dealing with him? We are in couples therapy right now but I am just at a loss for how to act. Should I try and keep his home "perfect" until he can gather the insight to see why all of this occured, or should I continue to be me and wait patiently? Thanks Doctor!

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Answer:

The hallmark of any personality disorder is a tendancy towards rigidity with regard to coping. While I cannot speak to the validity of your diagnosis, it seems safe to say that your husband is having a difficult time adjusting to being married, and in large part the reason for this difficulty seems to be related to his relative rigidity in adapting to the changed circumstances. Marriage requires an identity adjustment from ‘me’ to ‘we’, and it seems like he is having great difficulty entering ‘we’ territory. Language such as you are quoting in your letter (e.g., "your flaws") is ‘me’ language conveying a sense of me against you. When he starts talking about compromise and how are we going to handle the problem (where "we" doesn’t mean "you"), then you’ll know he’s made progress.

In large part, this is an identity crisis that belongs to your husband, even if it also ends up defining the tone of the marriage. The man is almost certainly in a defensive mode and feeling overwhelmed with all the new demands he is needing to adapt to. If you pressure him, he will likely react with more defensiveness, which in his case seems to be manifest as distancing. The more you push him to get close to you; to accept you; the more you are likely to see him pull away.

I don’t think keeping the home perfectly as he desires is a workable solution. You will never be able to read his mind, and even if you could, why would you want to? If you try to be perfect for him, you’ll end up feeling like a second class citizen and likely get resentful at some level. I wouldn’t want to live that way, and don’t recommend it for you either.

Since you are asking, I do recommend that you be you, and make yourself comfortable as you can. It is ultimately the only way you have to not become resentful. You need to be able to assert your right to be yourself, but you also need to find compromise with your husband in areas where he cannot tolerate too much of your way of doing things.

One way you might cope with the situation is to negotiate a few spaces within the marriage where he does not need to surrender his identity or way of doing things, and also a few spaces where your way rules. Such spaces might be literal places, like a few rooms in the house that he gets to decorate, clean and keep ordered or disordered as he and he alone sees fit. Such spaces might also be metaphorical, and pertain to more abstract parts of the marriage, such as how the banking will be managed. Many successful marriages function in this manner, with the partners divying up responsibility for different aspects of their shared lives and agreeing that what is in their domain is theirs. Of course, to be successful, such a strategy needs to be reciprocal, with each parter having domains that are theirs. If your husband has trouble surrendering some domains to you, or if you have trouble leaving him domain over other areas of your lives, it won’t work. It’s worth a try, however. If you can make it work, it will work well. If you can’t make it work, you aren’t worse off.

I’m very glad to know you’re in couples counseling. The problem here is bridging the gap between ‘me’ and ‘we’ and couples counseling provides an anchor firmly in the ‘we’ camp. It might be nice for your husband to also have a ‘me’ anchor (e.g., a therapist he can see individually), but I don’t know if suggesting this to him would make things worse or better. It all depends on what his attitude is towards the problem. If he is very traditional in his approach to marriage, he’s likely to see the problem as being your and to absolve himself. If he is open to seeing his own role in creating the problem, then he is more likely open to the therapy process.

My final thought is that at five months old, your marriage is a baby. It takes some significant passage of time for partners to adapt to being married, and I don’t think that enough time has elapsed where the necessary changes should have occured by now. I’d give it several years before I became overly alarmed. This said, if you are having these problems now, you should realize that you will continue to have these problems (although hopefully in a smaller, less destructive manner) throughout your married lives. All marriages have problems. Successful marriages are ones that find ways to cope with them and where the positive elements of marriage outweight the negative ones.

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Comments
  • michelle

    i also have moved in with my parner four months ago and he has very rigid 'rules' for me to follow at first it was so bad that it caused us to have gigantic arguments i actually lashed out at him verbally and even physically since then i have been seeking help because i have borderline personality disorder ocpd really interacts badly with bpd as with bpd i am super sensitive to criticism and not being validated etc and when he hurts me and doesnt allow me to have my feelings i just want to scream in frustrationi cry almost every day and find that im not coping a lot of the time i hold on because its very hard when you have moved interstate to be with someone who you fell in love with and you have nowhere else to goalso too many moves are not good for me with bpd i dont manage change too well so im kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place at the moment wondering which is the lesser evil moving or staying also i know its terribly weak but i actually still love adam and dont just want it to work

  • jennifer

    OCPD seems to be largely an unknown disorder. Some information exists about it, and some under an older term called anankastic disorder. I suggest you arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible, get the book Too Perfect immediately and make sure that any therapist you go to is aware of what OCPD is or your husband will make the therapist his ally through his persuasive respectfulness, and when the two of you are together away from therapy, every suggestion the therapist has will become a mandate for change for you. Also, magically he may know and inform you how "everyone else" does things. He will say that his way is always the "right" way. If you are wondering how I know this, it is because I have been married to someone who has OCPD for 16 years. I love this high-achieving, morally rigid man of rules and regulations. My husband has replanted flowers in the "right spot" after I planted them. He has done several loads of laundry completely over again "right" because of my poor folding technique. If it weren't for him, we would be living in squalor (not true, but real to him). We have had 3 children together, and our long marriage has survived largely due to my ability to flex, introspect and go through the mentally exhausting acrobatics that come with the OCPD sufferer's need for order, constant criticism, and perfectionistic standards. My husband and I are complete opposites, but I am a strong, intelligent person who is also very loving and understanding. I am constantly battling with my need to show the kids that "dad loves you" and there is more than one way to do things, and you can relax and not feel guilty... I think my husband's father, grandmother and possibly great-grandfather all had this disorder. Here's my advice in a nutshell. Let him do the lion's share of the "work" it takes to make his world "just so". Let him own his needs. You need to make sure you always keep sight of who you are. You do not answer to him and he is only half of your marriage equation. Love him, respect him, be honest with him but be firm about your boundaries and rules. Get yourself what you need. Stay strong and keep your sense of humor. It is very difficult at times, but essential. To everyone else, your husband will seem like an upstanding, hard-working, organized person, to you your life may seem like an unbearable and tension filled secret hell at times, and your self-esteem may suffer. Just make sure he knows how much you love him and how much you love yourself, both of these in spite of flaws, which don't make us failures, they only make us human. I found a great website for support that used to be one of the yahoo groups. With a little surfing, you might be able to find it. Even some OCPD people commenting...Very interesting.

    http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/OCPD/

    Good luck, honey... love truly can conquer all!

  • Debbie

    I have been married to my husband for 28 years now and have ran his medical practice full time this whole time. I must

    say that is has not been easy and I have basically given up my entire life to pleasing him(or at least attempting to).

    My daughter brought us into family consuling with anorexia nervosa. The therapist diagnosed my husband with ocpd and

    said he could not believe I have worked for him this long. My only advice to you is that if you decide to make this marriage work, you will spend the rest of your life trying to please your husband. You will have moments that are great but many moments that hurt very deep because they cannot help themselves but to be very spiteful if things do not go their way. I do not recommend that life to anyone and it will affect your children. My daughter got

    very ill with anorexia and it is reflected back on my husband's controlling and critical nature. My grown son has panic attacks on a regular basis and is on medicaiton.

    I would RUN!

  • Saima

    I am a practicing physician who is been dealing with ocpd husband since last 9 years because I need some one to look after all the paperwork,billing ,accounting and grocery and other household chores.Being physician I spent most of the time in studies and exams and work and intentionally spent very little time with my husband,but even in that short period I never found my self happy or enjoyed in his company.I have never told my husband about his diagnosis because its gonna create lots of ego and self esteem issue and I know for OCPerson its hard to accept it as well.now I am at point where I need some one to listen and understand me from my point of view as I am tied of being understanding for my husband all the time.In short it is easy to have OCPD but hard to live with one who is suffering through this>

  • Anonymous-1

    I have a similar problem, my wife has OCPD and is destroying our marriage. She MUST control everything, she won't even allow me to help make the bed, I (don't do it right) have had to insist that we get couples and individual counseling or seperate. I can't go on taking tranquelizers to deal with the constant nit picking, tyraids over 1 thing out of place, cleaning house before we leave on vacation and endless list. I have to say the lonliness is hard too, her personal hygeine has suffered greatly, she picks her skin until it bleeds.

  • CC

    Jennifer, your comment added some new perspectives. My husband's OCPD and my ADHD completely clash with one another. But in moments where we're not required to 'work together' but just enjoy the people we are, we have this amazing chemistry. Trying to figure out how to coexist has been incredibly exhausting in my relationship of eight years. I have grown resentful and have even questioned whether I want to stay in the marriage. Sometimes I feel as though I'm living his life and not my own. I need to get a grip on what I am going to do to make myself happy instead of sacraficing my happiness for his. One day I will finally realize that I cannot be responsible for his happiness. Thanks.

  • Nathan James

    I'm sorry but the way you wrote questions, I am sure it would make him as crazy as it makes me feel.

    He will require you to make your home perfect. Do some reading on OCD, OCPD. You have no idea what it feels like when things aren't pefect, aren't neat and clean.

  • Teya

    I have been married a little over 9 years to a physician with OCPD. I moved away six months ago to look after my ailing father and now have a very peaceful time. Looking after my polite, courteous, considerate dad despite his chronic renal illness is a piece of cake.

    I cannot think of a single Day in these nine years and more which has been simple, happy and tension-free. I don't have any period of time I can look back at and say those were good days. There has been domestic violence thrice and the third time very severe, and he has had affairs which he denies though the SMSs have been seen by me. He also very easily lies if he feels he needs to. Long before I left, I stopped asking him anything. My step children who have been brought up by his ghastly and utterly nasty parents have serious behavioural problems too. Overtly this man is doing well, at home he is the greatest loser there is. His entire family life is a mess.

    At 45 I fled to recover something of the financially strong and happy life I used to have before this pointless waste of nine years occurred. Please do look after yourself. OCPDers are great takers they live under the delusion that it is their right. Its a sick life with them. I will NEVER go back.

  • Anonymous-2

    I recently spent 8 weeks of my life dating someone with OCPD. I did not realize what was up at the time. In eight weeks this person broke up with me three times over completely ridiculous stuff. The last time I just could not take it and I reacted poorly as I did have feelings for the person.

    I was told I did not have long term potiential as a partner becasue I did not wash my car when instructed and I did not get my house cleaning up to snuff in a two week period while working full time and looking after a friend in the hospital. I spent 30 hours with no sleep looking after a sick friend. I was told off for two hours. When I objected to the treatment I got three hours of the silent treatment.

    I was only good when I was doing things for her. If I needed something I was a bad human being. I spent all my time servicing her needs. I asked to be taken on a romatic date and told to take care of it myself.

  • Ruth

    Aren't a lot of the commenters here confusing OCD and OCPD? I understand that OCPD is manifested in flat affect, except for anger and self-righteousness. I think it runs in my family and has come out very strongly in my son. But it doesn't necessarily make people very clean and tidy - that may be OCD. Doctor, can you explain?

    Dr. Dombeck's Note: Here's a short way to think about the difference. OCPD is a personality disorder (a lifelong rigid approach to interpersonal relationships - considered to be a developmental disorder and therefore diagnosed on DSM's Axis II) characterized by a fixation on heirarchy and position within heirarchy dominance and submission sort of stuff but expressed as an attention to detail or perfectionism rather than in a sexual fashion. OCD, in contrast, is an anxiety disorder (and on that account, diagnosed on DSM's Axis I) which is characterized by two prominant symptoms, obsessions and compulsions, and the machinations that people develop to manage these symptoms. Obsessions are unwanted, uncontrolled often repetative thoughts that attach a feeling of compelling danger to events that other people consider to be trivial, such as whether or not the door was properly locked or whether or not germs and dirt have been properly removed from one's body. Compulsions are behaviors that people enact to lessen the anxiety associated with their obsessions. So, someone worried about germs may compulsively wash their hands, so many times that the skin becomes quite raw. Acting out the compulsion may or may not lessen the feeling of anxiety associated with obsessions and therefore, the person with OCD may feel compelled to act out the compulsion again and again. The two disorders share a sense of urgency and compulsion and a feeling of subjective anxiety (which may be expressed as anger irritation or depression) if they are prevented from acting on their impulses but are otherwise unrelated. Hope that helps.

  • Angela

    I have been married for almost 24 years and for many of them felt the way people on this post have described. There seems to be a challenge on a regular basis with little reprieve. Low self esteem and sadness are often how I have felt. I have only just discovered that my husband has many characteristics of ocpd (not ocd) which has helped to shed some light on things to me.

    My questions are what is the prognosis for ocpd? What is the probability of 'getting better'? Can alcoholism play a factor (my spouse has a problem with this as well). Finally, what is the person with this condition going through and and what is important for their loved ones to know when dealing with them (and themselves)? Thank you.

  • Natalie

    I was married to a husband with OCPD for twenty-seven years. Three and a half years ago, we divorced. I had wanted to divorce him off and on for the entire marriage, but stayed due to religious reasons and for our children. I didn't know there was any such thing as "OCPD" until about a month ago. My ex husband's controlling, rigid nature fits well into the descriptions I've read. I feel validated that, yes! There is something really officially wrong with the way he interacts with his family and others.

    I am a kind person, who had a tough upbringing, in which I was actively taught to always think of others, and not myself. If I asserted my wants or even my basic needs, I was hissed at, and told that I was being "selfish." What a perfect match for an OCPD husband. I twisted myself inside out to try to do things the way he wanted them done, but it was never "right."

    He didn't work for many years, caught up in making lists, and pursuing detail oriented hobbies while procrastinating on taking action on his supposed business. I worked hard, finished college, earned advanced degrees, and supported the family. When we divorced, he was even more impossible than ever. I ended up losing 70% of what I used to have. This is because I made more money than he did, and I just wanted to be free, but he wanted to make sure that he took every bit of money and real estate and advantage that he could get. As another commenter said, OCPD people are major takers, since they obviously are correct in all matters and are deserving.

    Now, I have been reading a lot of books about how to take care of myself emotionally, physically, and financially. I found two web pages that give excellent resources. I hope these help others. And, to the original question asker, I would say to run away and preserve yourself and your future children. You will give, and he will take, and may ultimately suck you dry. Best wishes.

    http://www.squidoo.com/controlling-people

    http://www.squidoo.com/what-is-assertiveness

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