What It’s Like to Have Contamination OCD in a Relationship
- Allison Raskin has lived with obsessive compulsive disorder for 29 years.
- She has intrusive thoughts and compulsions about her environment being germ-free, which can make it difficult to date, she said.
- Now living with her fiancé, Raskin said giving herself grace and asking for help have changed her life for the better.
Allison Raskin watched as her fiancé rolled his suitcase into their home. When the side of the luggage swept against his pant leg, Raskin froze in place.
Her mind swirled with thoughts about where the suitcase had been, like the grimy shed in their backyard and germ-filled airports.
“Can you wash your pants?” she asked him.
Raskin, a 33-year-old writer and content creator, was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder when she was four years old. She told Insider she’s spent most of her life navigating intrusive thoughts and compulsions, mainly about her world becoming contaminated and a fear of being alone.
What is obsessive compulsive disorder?
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a largely misunderstood condition in which a person has recurring and unwanted thoughts, ideas, or sensations that they feel driven to stop through a repetitive action, or compulsion, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Someone with OCD feels the need to act on compulsions, like washing hands, checking on something, or counting to a specific number, so much that it interferes with their daily functioning and social life. If they don’t act on them, they feel extreme distress, according to the APA.
For Raskin, her obsessive thoughts and compulsions revolve around germs and contamination. As she dated in her twenties, she noticed how her OCD and anxiety impacted her ability to feel secure in romantic relationships. But it wasn’t until she started taking antidepressants again in her mid-twenties and going to therapy that Raskin was able to challenge her intrusive thoughts and feel confident enough to experience the uncertainty dating without spiraling, she told Insider.
Now she’s able to tell herself, “My fiancé is not his pants,” and better cope with the discomfort of her intrusive germ-related thoughts without always having to act on them, Raskin said. She told Insider she wanted to document her personal growth for others who could relate, while also offering advice. Raskin wrote “Overthinking About You: Navigating Romantic Relationships When You Have Anxiety, OCD, and/or Depression,” a book that’s part memoir and part self-help, which was released in May 2022.
Raskin told Insider she still has bad mental health days where her intrusive thoughts — “If I touch the dirty floor, I’ll die,” for instance — seem too overwhelming, but she’s also happily engaged to a partner. More importantly, she said she’s happy with herself.
Obsessive thoughts about contamination made the early stages of dating agonizing, Raskin said
Psychology experts have yet to pinpoint the causes of OCD, or why certain people develop specific compulsions, but they believe it could be related to a mixture of factors including environment, genetics, and brain chemistry, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
In her book, Raskin said she was diagnosed after an extreme strep throat infection landed her in the hospital. Doctors told her the infection altered her brain chemistry, and she started to fixate on “debilitating neurosis, self-hate, and depression that followed me into adulthood.”
Though she was able to manage her symptoms in her professional life, always getting good grades in school and landing a job at Buzzfeed in 2015, Raskin said her dating life revealed the depths of her compulsions.
She said the early stages of dating were a mental battle. She couldn’t bring herself to have sleepovers with a new love interest because that meant confronting the germs in their homes, or her love interest seeing her act out her compulsions in her own home, Raskin said. She struggled with sharing the extent of her obsessive thoughts and compulsions with dates, fearing she’d say too much too soon and they would judge her.
When someone became her boyfriend, Raskin said her anxiety (which can often be linked to OCD) kicked into high gear. She’d stay up all night wondering where they were or why they didn’t respond to her texts, then convince herself they were injured, dead, or didn’t care about her at all. She said that getting older, getting back on antidepressants, and attending therapy regularly has helped her move away from the extreme thinking that would influence her unhealthy behaviors.
Instead of telling herself she was a “terrible person” for acting on a compulsion, Raskin started “allowing for a lot more gray” in her life. She began to acknowledge things she wanted to change, like how she worked through obsessive thoughts about cleanliness, without feeling the need to vilify herself for a slip up, she told Insider.
When her OCD ‘flares up,’ self-compassion, medication, and support from her fiancé help
Raskin said she’s lived with her fiancé for a year and it’s still an “ongoing push and pull” with how they navigate her OCD symptoms.
For Raskin, the key to finding helpful ways to cope with her intrusive thoughts and compulsions started with practicing self-compassion, she told Insider. Now that she’s easier on herself, she finds it easier to be honest with loved ones, like her fiancé, about what she’s experiencing in any given moment.
On days when Raskin feels stressed or overwhelmed, she said she has trouble challenging her obsessive thoughts. When that happens, she tells her partner “Today is a really bad OCD day” so they have open communication about it. Her partner gives her more space than usual to act out her compulsion or speak up about obsessive thoughts, she said.
When Raskin feels good, she said she challenges herself to avoid acting on her obsessive thoughts. She said she finds it helpful that her partner challenges her in kind ways too, like telling her when a request to wash his pants or clean something in their home feels like too much.
“Vocalizing what it is that I want him to do, while simultaneously acknowledging that it’s my mental illness and I know it’s not a fair ask, it releases some of the pressure,” Raskin said. She said she used to stop herself from vocalizing her obsessive thoughts and compulsions, but noticed that “talking about it more openly takes away some of the power.”