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Sarah
Sarah, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 143
Experience:  Chart'd Psych, 12 yrs exp. English prisons, Clinical Hypnotherapist, EMDR Therapist, BPS, HPC reg'd.
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There is a predictable pattern in my relationship with my boyfriend

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There is a predictable pattern in my relationship with my boyfriend of six months: about every 3-4 weeks, especially if we are getting along well and having a lot of fun experiences, he will pick a fight over nothing. The fight/discussion goes on for hours (4 hours was longest). He also is obsessive about things like a weed-free lawn and parking his car far from where we want to go so it doesn't get dinged by others' car doors. When I told him I used to be in love but don't like the volatility of our relationship he said:"I know why you love me, I have a good personality, everyone likes me." He's neat-freak and when he vacuums or mows the lawn he does it 3 times to get it perfect. He is so concerned about the lawn, he checks it first thing when he gets up. I joke that we are literally watching the lawn grow. We are in our 60's and the good times are really good but the blow ups are predictable and disturbing. It's hard to find someone late in life, but I believe this can only get worse. Any idea why he picks a fight? Is the lawn/clean thing indicative of something worse than perfectionism?
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Sarah replied 4 years ago.
Hi there, thanks for your question. i will do my best to bring you some info that might help you.

it sounds to me as if your boyfriend is suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is a disorder that compels the person to check and check again, for fear that things aren't just as they should be. The symptoms are very self supportive, because the thinking behind the rituals is not very often challenged. For example, your boyfriend may have checked the lawn, thinking that if he doesn't check it, it will have grown long overnight. he checks the lawn and his beliefs are supported - the lawn hasn't grown over night, in his mind, the reason is because he checked it. The fear that it would have grown had he NOT checked it is reinforced, which encourages him to recheck the next day. There are therapies that can be sought for this type of disorder, which help the person to challenge their behaviours by learning NOT to check and seeing that the feared result does not happen. Cognitive Behavioural therapy can help to control and manage the thought patterns that underpin this thinking. EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) can encourage the subconscious mind to explore where the obsessions originated from and to let them go. The common factor between any of these therapies is that the person with the disorder needs to want to see a therapist and take control of it. As I am sure you are aware, we are all only responsible for our own behaviour and we cannot make someone change. I think your choices are to leave your boyfriend as you have done, yet you have found that you are very lonely and you miss him, or you can stay with him and support him through any therapy he may be prepared to undertake. sadly, you cannot do it for him. maybe this separation has made him re-think and perhaps he would see a therapist if you would continue to be his girlfriend and I see nothing wrong in that as long as you know your own roles in the decision. You could of ourselves return to your boyfriend without him doing therapy and just love him as he is, learning and trying not to take his illness personally. For that is what it sounds like he has, an illness - this may make it more easy for you to support him. have a look on the internet for more information about OCD and perhaps it will help you to understand him. I wish you the very best with this and your relationship, whatever you decide. please feel free to ask further questions. Sarah
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Are the fights part of OCD? One time we fought over a light bulb--he changed one on the outside of the garage and I didn't notice. He said he felt unappreciated and that a lot of women would feel lucky to have him and his thoughtfulness. It happened on a day that I didn't feel well and was in bed. I thought the fight was to get the attention/focus directed back to him. He does a lot of things for me but I feel like I have to thank him so many times, it loses the specialness of the act.

Expert:  Sarah replied 4 years ago.

Hi there,

 

It seems I have made the error that all of the books ask us to avoid and I apologise - your boyfriend sounds to be suffering more with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, rather than obsessive compulsive disorder. The symptoms are very similar, but you can read a definition of the personality disorder and other information here: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000942.htm This clearly demonstrates the need to be perfectionist about matters that to others seem trivial, such as the lawn or the lightbulbs.

 

Importantly, it also explains why you may be finding that the fights continue - that when people who suffer from these tendencies fear a loss of control, they become aggressive. We all know that we take out our frustrations on our nearest and dearest, so in some ways, his demonstrations of anger are a display that he feels comfortable enough with you to be 'himself'. Sadly, this self is not always easy to deal with. I wonder whether he has any insight into when these episodes may occur - you have said that they occur every 3 or 4 weeks, and are predictable - would you be able to put your finger on exactly what triggers them? such as the light bulb incident - what was it that actually irritated him? If you were to get back together, could you use this information to help you to 'see it coming' and therefore learn to manage it together? Perhaps he could learn to recognise the feelings and thoughts he experiences when an episode is coming on, and therefore let you know 'I can feel it coming' - maybe then he could be left alone to do his own thing, or either of you could go out of the house so you are apart, in order to manage it. These management techniques would need to be based upon what brings his anxiety back down, what helps him to feel better (having a bath, reading the paper, doing some exercise, whatever it is for him). Would he consider a course of hypnotherapy, which would teach him how to really deeply relax and he could use this when the episodes arise? Again, for this to be successful, he would need to be part of the 'management team'.

 

As I said, we can only be in control of our own behaviour, so maybe you could have a close look at how you respond to his perfectionism, in a new light. If you imagine that when he is feeling like this, he is wearing a pair of glasses that distort his world (as in schema therapy) then maybe it would help you to put up with it and manage it with him - he cannot help putting them on every so often, but you could accept that he has to wear them for a while and find the best way to respond so that he remains calm. If he continues to be angry, simply tell him you will listen to him when he has calmed down and walk away. There is a theory (Transactional Analysis) that we all have within us a child, an adult and a parent mode - when a couple are both in 'adult' mode, the times can be good. When one flips into 'child' mode for whatever reason, (for example throws a paddy over a light bulb),the other becomes the 'parent' and tells the 'child' off - which exacerbates the situation and causes the 'child' to persist. The answer to calm the situation down is to take the 'adult' role again, and simply stating that you will talk when he has calmed down is one way of doing that. You can discuss this when you are both in 'adult' mode so he knows that you will do this and he can expect it.

 

I think it is still important to remember that he doesn't do this intentionally and that he probably loves you as much as he says he does, even though he may not say it very often, or might need you to appreciate him all of the time. Maybe he needs this reassurance when he is feeling out of control and maybe your reaction ignites him, unintentionally, rather than reassuring him, understandably so because his behaviour seems so irrational.

 

I hope this gives you much more insight and direction? Best Wishes, Sarah



Edited by Sarah on 7/28/2010 at 7:38 PM EST
Sarah, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 143
Experience: Chart'd Psych, 12 yrs exp. English prisons, Clinical Hypnotherapist, EMDR Therapist, BPS, HPC reg'd.
Sarah and 3 other Mental Health Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Sarah replied 4 years ago.

Hello again,

 

You might notice at the bottom of the page I recommended about OC personality disorder is a free download for a handbook about the disorder. Please have a look at it, it is very informative and may help you to feel that someone understands what you have been going through. The link is here: http://www.lendingtheway.com/tightrope/OCPD2.pdf or at the bottom of the one I sent before. No need to pay extra for this answer, just count it as an addition to your last answer.

 

Thanks, Sarah

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