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5 Things to Consider Before Disclosing Your OCD While Dating

Knowing when, how, and what to share is key.

Key points

  • Dating, especially early on, can be more challenging for someone with OCD or an anxiety disorder.
  • If you’re highly anxious about dating, there may be a sense of urgency to disclose everything right away.
  • Be specific about how your partner can support you.

At the end of every season of the Netflix reality show "Love is Blind," I predictably say two things to my daughters:

1. I’m never watching another season.

2. How do I become a therapist on this show?

And, yet, every time a new season is launched, I’m hooked.

As I write this, season five has ended, and one of the season’s themes was when and how to disclose the more vulnerable elements of one’s past, like debt and infidelity.

While I’d love to write about "Love is Blind," I’m not going to. I do, though, want to focus on the question of "when and how to disclose."

For my clients, the question of when to disclose their OCD diagnosis hangs heavy when they’re dating. Self-disclosure can be a “both-and” for people. It can be both something people know is important for building intimacy and something they fear sharing for a myriad of reasons (like potential rejection).

For those with OCD or an anxiety disorder, disclosure can be a challenging issue because:

  • There’s no one right answer about when to disclose (except not on the first date).
  • It may feel urgent or irresponsible not to disclose everything right away.
  • Relationships tend to be uncertain, especially early on.

With that in mind, here are things to consider before disclosing your OCD:

  1. There’s a difference between keeping secrets and keeping your business private. A secret implies intentionally withholding information, while privacy is being discerning about what information you share. I believe trust needs to be earned versus automatically given (the antithesis of how dating is handled on reality TV). I’ve had to remind myself, my kids, and my clients that people you’ve dated for under a year are still relative strangers, so be careful about what you disclose. Just because it feels urgent doesn’t mean it is. One of anxiety’s tricks is to make things feel urgent, so we act now. This works well if you’re legitimately in danger, but, most of the time, the “danger” only exists in our heads. The urgency we may feel about disclosing our mental illness so our potential partners can know our “true selves” is not a life-or-death emergency. Chances are, it’s anxiety.
  2. Keep it general, brief, and to the point. You don’t need to disclose intimate details of your disorder, especially if it involves them. Hearing you’re having intrusive thoughts that “they’re not really the one” isn’t going to help anyone. What’s intuitive may be to give them more information than is required. Sometimes confessing and over-explaining can be anxiety-reducing and reassurance-seeking behaviors. But you could simply say “I wanted to share that I’m in treatment for OCD and am learning how to respond differently to my symptoms. I wanted to give you the heads up in case you notice me needing to step outside.”
  3. Be specific about how they can support you, if at all. This is so important! Don’t expect your partner to be a mind reader or a therapist, even if they are one. It’s your responsibility to communicate how you want to be supported when you’re struggling. I’ve had lots of partners come in for a session to come up with a plan for different situations (e.g., panic plan, “interrupt the pattern” plan, “breaking reassurance-seeking” plan).
  4. Don’t make unrealistic promises (e.g., like you’re not going to let it get in the way of your relationship or you’re going to learn how not to get triggered when you’re together). No matter how much you want them to be true, and I believe you do, they’re unrealistic. I’m not big on promises. I prefer commitments. You can commit to learning how to respond when you do get triggered. That keeps the focus on the process versus the outcome, which is where we have agency. We cannot control the outcome. When we focus on it, we put undue pressure on ourselves and others and resort to quick fixes to get there.
  5. Notice their response. Remember #2. Keep it brief and to the point. Once you do that, your job is to sit back and observe how they receive and respond to that information. Make sure it aligns with how you (not your OCD) want to be treated.

Dating is tricky whether you have OCD or you’re trying to do it on TV. Slowing down the process can benefit both your mental health and your relationship.

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