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Does Your Partner Have OCPD?

Identifying the signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.

Key points

  • People who have Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) are preoccupied with orderliness, perfectionism, and control.
  • It usually takes people with OCPD a long time to seek help, even if they suffer deeply.
  • With insight and help, it's possible to have a healthy and fulfilling relationship with someone with OCPD.

Your partner is meticulous, careful, conscientious, and driven. On the outside, they are the best partner, employee, father, or mother. But behind closed doors, you are suffering from their rigidity, demanding nature, perfectionism, and the need to be so exact and meticulous about every inconsequential matter.

If your partner is obsessively preoccupied with perfection and order, is highly critical, or if you feel pressured by your partner's high standards and obsession with perfection, you may be with someone who is struggling with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD).

What Is OCPD?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2000) defines OCPD as "pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency." Underneath OCPD is usually a fear of experiencing painful feelings and the helplessness of not being able to control anything. However much they suffer, however, someone with OCPD may not see the need to change.

According to the International OCD Foundation (OCDF), men are twice as likely to have OCPD than women. About 1 in 100 people in the United States is estimated to have OCPD. It is estimated that 3 to 8 percent of the general population may suffer from OCPD. It is the most common personality disorder.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder. It is characterized by compulsive actions and a series of unwanted thoughts that feed their obsession. People with OCD are usually fully aware of the irrationality and oddness of their actions but cannot help themselves. The day-to-day anxiety is overwhelming to them and forces them to come up with ways to cope.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, on the other hand, is a personality disorder. It pervasively affects every aspect of their lives—not just work but also family life and friendships, and the pattern usually starts from a relatively young age. It is problematic, persistent, and pervasive.

OCPD and OCD are not the same, even they sometimes overlap. Symptoms that overlap may include paranoia, excessive caution, inability to compromise on set rules or routines, perfectionism and the inability to trust others.

In general, a person with OCD is usually much more aware of their dysfunctional patterns. They are aware of the irrationality embedded in their obsessive fear of germs, for example, but are not able to stop due to consuming anxiety. They may feel guilty about how those around them are affected. The person with OCPD, in contrast, may have little or no insight into the obsessive nature of their behaviours and their interpersonal consequences. In fact, they may have "secondary gains" (e.g. work performance, academic achievements, recognition from employers) from their perfectionism and thus see nothing wrong with their standards. Thus, even they too suffer deeply, and it usually takes people with OCPDs a much longer time to seek help.

Do You Recognize These Signs?

If your partner has OCPD, you may consistently find them challenging to live with and impossible to please. Their high standards and fixation on perfection take away playfulness and spontaneity in a romantic relationship. Here are some of the behaviors of a person with an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

  • They are constantly making lists and doing things.
  • Everything needs to be planned, which gives little possibility for spontaneous fun and joy.
  • They spend an excessive amount of time trying to perfect every detail and lose sight of the need for leisure and relaxation.
  • They suffer from workaholism, even sacrificing their own healths and their relationships.
  • They are frugal about money or spending on necessary items.
  • They have strict moral codes, and sometimes they judge you based on them.
  • They have difficulties delegating, as they believe no one will be able to meet their standards.
  • They rarely express their love, which makes you feel alone and emotionally deprived as a partner.
  • They hardly compromise their stance of right or wrong.
  • They have a hard time making friends or sustaining relationships because of their need to always be in control.
  • They get extremely frustrated and angry when things do not go as expected.
  • They are highly critical and judgemental of anyone and anything that doesn’t meet their standards.
  • They are unable to be efficient because of their excessive focus on perfecting the process.
  • They may suffer from bouts of depressive episodes and become disengaged in a relationship.

Understanding Your Loved One with OCPD

For someone with OCPD, rules, details, doing things, and keeping order help them feel safe. Their difficulties in relinquishing control may have stemmed from early trauma, in which they felt complete existential helplessness that has scarred them for life. It is not that they want to be this way, but they feel trapped in their predicament.

OCPD is caused by both nature and nurture. Indeed, genetic factors and natural temperament play a significant role. Research has found that if an individual's close relative or family member has OCPD, there is a heightened risk of developing the same disorder.

At the same time, where there is childhood abuse, neglects, and emotional deprivation, a person’s risk of developing OCPD increases. The excessive need for control can result from being over-controlled or overprotected by anxious parents, or it can be a response to childhood neglect and parentification (role-reversal with the parents, needing to bring oneself up). All children want to please their parents by doing everything they can; when they see that being over-controlled satisfies the parent, rigidity in thinking and functioning sets in, and may persist as they mature into adults. Furthermore, a highly regulated family environment may inadvertently contribute to the development of OCPD. If emotional expressions and playfulness are not modeled for a child, they will have a hard time learning to be vulnerable and expressive.

Their OCPD tendencies constitute a coping mechanism. Deep inside, they are fearful of helplessness and vulnerabilities that had once traumatized them, and they vow to never let themselves be in that position again.

Overcoming the Challenges

Being in a relationship with someone with OCPD may lead you to have eroded self-esteem, feeling mentally exhausted and frustrated. Every day, you have to deal with your partner's nit-picking, rigidity, and the standards they impose on you. Sadly, they are unaware of their behaviors and how they affect those around them.

Understanding the pain underneath their symptoms may help you have more empathy for their struggles, but that does not mean you allow yourself to be abused or chronically mistreated. It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you need to meet your partner’s impossible standards. In the process of doing so, you may lose self-confidence and become increasingly doubtful of yourself.

Without communication, they may not have the capacity to see how their behaviors affect you and have little insight or motivation to change. Therefore, if appropriate, you may learn ways to communicate your needs and feelings in a no-confrontational, no-critical manner. Know that you deserve space in the relationship and to have your needs heard. Failing that, couples' or family therapy may be a valuable avenue to explore.

Both you and your partner deserve love, understanding, and having your emotional needs met. With insight and help, having a healthy and fulfilling relationship with someone with OCPD is possible.

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