Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: What can I do about my wife's obsessive-compulsive disorder?


Dear Virginia, My wife suffers from a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder and our house is filled with old newspapers, bags of shopping, old food cartons, boxes and rubbish. I and my two teenage sons have had to move next door as there's no room to eat or sleep. The children are happy and balanced – there's no lack of love. A doctor has said that without help, which she refuses, she'll never get better. What can I do?, Yours sincerely, Rodney

I'm constantly amazed by the feebleness of partners entwined with people who drink, gamble, take drugs or behave in some completely unacceptable way. Why do I feel so strongly? Well, of course, it's because for years I have put myself in exactly the same wet position with partners who've behaved appallingly, and now look back on my weedy behaviour with amazement and horror.

Why did I never say: "This must stop!"? Why did I never walk away? Why did I never use the huge power I knew I possessed? Why did I, like some country with an enormous army at its disposal, refuse to employ it and let some other, weaker country, overrun me? It was all because of a complete lack of nerve.

All you have to say to your wife, Rodney, is: "I refuse to live like this. This is my house as much as yours, and instead of moving next door, overwhelmed by your sickness and your rubbish, I'm going to reclaim my territory. Living like this is not good for you, me or our children." Then you should get in and clear out a number of rooms – enough for you and your sons to be able to live in, tidily and happily. If your wife wishes to keep a room or so to fill with clutter, that's her right. But she has no right to dominate the place with her illness.

Next, I think you should put your foot down about your marriage. You should say: "I can't live with you as you are. I want to divorce you. However, there is one chance you have of avoiding this route – a route which would make me and the boys very unhappy – and that's to seek help."

You mustn't say that she needs to do any more than this. She doesn't have to give up her obsessive habits. She doesn't have to get well. All she has to do is to make an appointment with a doctor or therapist and discuss the situation. She doesn't have to overcome her problem. She just has to try to overcome it. That, quite honestly, is not asking a hell of a lot.

You must ask yourself whether you're actually behaving kindly by allowing this situation to continue. What example are you setting the children by caving in to behaviour that is destructive and bonkers? What are you doing to yourself and your own self-respect by allowing your wife to take over with behaviour that everyone knows is completely potty? And how kind are you being to your poor wife by kowtowing to her obsessive compulsion rather than standing up to it and telling it to go away?

I bet you wouldn't like it if you went totally crackers and your wife just stood by humming good-naturedly and doing nothing. You'd want her to help you.

In this scenario you are, Rodney, actually part of the problem. You must stand outside and be the one person to behave, with good nature and good humour, in a perfectly normal, adult way. And insist – not ask, but insist – that your wife get some kind of help.

Readers say

Acceptance is key

Yes, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be successfully treated with input from an experienced psychologist, although some modern anti-depressants can reduce the anxiety that OCD can generate. Unfortunately, both courses of action require an acceptance from the sufferer that there is indeed a problem to be solved and a voluntary wish to engage in such help.

Despite her family moving out, your wife has not seen the consequences of her actions and it may be that more ominous boundaries need to be explored before the enormity of her actions on those around her are recognised.

You need to realise that while you try to keep things together, your wife won't see the need to change. Contact a carers' support organisation. Those offered by the Rethink charity or via the Mind organisation are excellent.

Stan Broadwell, Community Psychiatric Nurse, Yate Community Mental Health Team, South Gloucestershire

Help is out there

As an OCD sufferer for over 40 years and a "veteran" of many therapies, I say that a mixture of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the only way forward. Somehow, your wife needs to move towards agreeing to this.

I suggest she tries to spot examples of other people displaying OCD-type behaviours. There's a kind of epidemic out there of checking, hoarding, counting, tidying, making "safe". Her illness is a more extreme version of a common modern malady. Luckily, there are practitioners out there who will help her to let go of her controlling behaviours and compulsions. But a word of warning about your sons: there is a strong genetic link in OCD, so watch out for warning signs and symptoms.

Andrew Colley, Halstead, Essex

Tough love needed

The availability of a second home next door has allowed Rodney to flee from the problem.

He must take the tough love approach and deliver an ultimatum: seek help or the marriage is over. Only a decisive move will bring about any change in the situation.

Mike Hockney, Newcastle upon Tyne

Clear the rubbish

If your wife refuses help then don't force her. But why not start taking charge of your own life and making room for yourself to move back in? If your wife insists on bringing in rubbish then keep removing it until she realises that you won't put up with the situation any longer.

Start behaving like a man instead of a mouse and it could well force your wife to admit that this is no way to live.

Claire Jones, Leicester

Do your duty

I know from professional experience that OCD is a difficult condition to cure. The patient is unable to shake the belief that something terrible will happen if they stop. Don't expect an immediate agreement to treatment. But it is your duty to keep trying.

Choose times when you are both relaxed to talk to her about the way you live, so that she can see the consequences in perspective. Treatment will only have a chance to work if your wife is completely willing to undergo it.

Cole Davis, London NW2

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas
footballChelsea vs West Ham live kicks off coverage of all 10 of Boxing Day matches
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

    £70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all