Families with someone with OCD often face challenges in their relationships due to their OCD. For example, people will say their partners are frustrated with them because their rituals take up a lot of time. Or there might be restricted behaviours happening for family members in the home environment. 

Even though only one person in the family is experiencing symptoms of OCD, everyone feels like their lives are impacted. And OCD is constantly calling the shots. 

What is family accommodation in OCD?


Family accommodation is a term used to describe the ways in which family members support a loved one’s OCD. For example, a parent may assist their child in doing their rituals to decrease the burden to their loved one. 

A partner might return home from work and shower and wash clothes to accommodate fears of contamination entering the home. Although these behaviours are carried out with the best of intention, they result in maintenance of the OCD itself.

A recent review of the literature found that family accommodation is very common in OCD. Its occurrence is also associated with the level of severity of the OCD. 

Why is it important to involve family members in OCD work?


Research has also shown us that helping to decrease family accommodation can help increase the effectiveness of therapy. As mentioned, family accommodation maintains the OCD cycle. Therefore, when an individual’s family member performs rituals, it is keeping the cycle of OCD alive. 

For example, let’s say an individual is working on increasing their tolerance to contamination. They no longer wash their hands for as long when entering the home. They have also stopped changing their clothes when they come home. However, they still insist that their partner launders their clothes upon arrival. 

This actually undoes some of the hard work they are doing during exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. Therefore, the work of OCD therapy needs to happen for all family members.

Allowing family members to decrease their involvement in rituals, also gives back feelings of freedom. Family members will often report feeling “held hostage” by the OCD. Of course, this is not done purposely. Nevertheless, it does have an impact on people when they cannot live their lives in a meaningful way. 

When OCD makes the rules, people are often left making decisions that are not their own. Decreasing the involvement in rituals is hard work, but allows for everyone to have a better quality of life in the long term.

How can I help my loved one with OCD?

There are many ways to help a loved one with OCD:
  • Learn more! Look for education on OCD that is from a reliable source. For example, the IOCDF contains excellent information for family members who have loved ones with OCD
  • Talk to a professional with or without your loved one. Ideally, everyone will receive help on reducing OCD behaviours. Sometimes it is not the right time for an individual with OCD. Family members can still receive parent coaching and family therapy that can be most useful
  • Remember that doing rituals for your loved ones takes care of things quickly but does not provide a long-term solution. Instead, you are supporting their OCD and not their long-term recovery
  • Realize that things might get more difficult before they get easier. Accommodation has allowed for your loved one to temporarily decrease their anxiety because you are helping them with their rituals. When you stop, they might feel additional distress. Professional therapy in the form of CBT and ERP can really help with this!

What are the next steps for OCD and my family?

If you or your family member feels ready to make a change, then go for it! When someone feels motivated to make a change, it is wonderful and will allow them to jump into the ocean of change!

Reach out to us at Forward Thinking Psychological Services. We are ready to work with you and your loved ones on symptoms of OCD. We will bring you closer to a life that is of value to you. We look forward to hearing from you!