I feel sick to my stomach because I did it again.
I’m leaning over a dirty motel room sink, vigorously scrubbing the blood off my hands and uncontrollably sobbing. My body loses the energy to stand and slowly crumples to the floor. I start throwing up into the toilet. For a moment, I pause to look at the blood-stained knife on the floor across from me and contemplate. No, I’m thankfully past that point.
This year, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, or OCPD. It’s characterized by rigid moral viewpoints, a sense of self-righteousness, extreme perfectionism, obsessive devotion to work, an overwhelming need for order, and unforgiving expectations of others… just to name a few symptoms.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to identify why OCPD kills relationships. Most people with OCPD aren’t actually aware they have it because we’re right all the time, obviously. Everyone else is the problem, so there’s no need to change our behavior. The cause of OCPD is unknown but likely stems from genetics and childhood conditioning.
I’ve worked tirelessly to build self-awareness and fight my brain when it comes to these tendencies. Unfortunately there are months when I black out then regain consciousness with a (figurative) bloody knife in my hand, furious at feeling like I drove another relationship into the ground. Well now it’s time to face the ugly truth.
In the ultimate moment of self-reflection, I’ve been able to articulate my OCPD cycle in relationships:
- You fall in love with me because I’m smart, ambitious, and cute.
- We create a shared vision for our relationship based on growth.
- My expectations for “growth” become impossible to achieve.
- I start trying to “fix” the relationship and become obsessed.
- The relationship starts feeling more like work than fun.
- My suggestions start sounding like harsh criticism.
- I become resentful of all the work I put into the relationship.
- You become resentful and pull away from my crazed behavior.
- My pushiness turns hysterical because DAMMIT this will work!!
- I finally admit defeat, walking away burned out and disappointed.
- My brain convinces itself that I just outgrew the relationship.
I’m not proud of how unforgiving I can be towards others. I don’t love when my partners feel like they can’t do anything right, or they’ve run out of ideas for how to make me happy. It genuinely breaks my heart and feels like a rejection of my authentic self when I hear things like:
- “Why can’t you let things go instead of dwelling on everything?”
- “Stop trying to fix others and start fixing yourself instead.”
- “You’re an immovable rock. Nothing I do can change how you feel.”
- “You make me feel unsafe and scared to tell you anything.”
- “You will never be satisfied.” (jk that’s from Hamilton)
Sure, I’m being self-critical. Friends tell me I’m gaslighting myself because it takes two to tango, and this reflection doesn’t account for actual incompatibility or my partner’s ownership of their contribution. But I’ve decided it’s time to stop attempting the same relationship style and expecting different results.
The benefit of being non-monogamous (can’t speak to monogamy) is having an option like solo polyamory, basically not intertwining my life with another person. The thought of a more independent lifestyle is terrifying, as someone who has been serially partnered for over a decade, but I think this will set my brain up for peace and happiness.
This change was triggered by a recent “de-escalation” of a polyamorous relationship, the first one following my divorce. It’s easy for my brain to conclude “something is wrong with me” or “I don’t deserve relationships,” but just because co-habitating and couples therapy hasn’t worked out so far, doesn’t mean I’m somehow defective.
Unfortunately like most personality disorders, there’s no cure for OCPD. I’ve managed my symptoms through therapy and journaling (which are effective) and know there’s always the option of resuming anti-anxiety meds. Society isn’t built for those of us who are neurodivergent, so we need to put in the work to create accommodations for our brain.
I know it’s possible to train myself because I’ve done it at work and in friendships. There’s an OCPD tendency towards social isolation and micro-management, so I’ve leaned on my community and put myself through years of leadership training to mitigate such undesirable behaviors. Now I want to be more intentional in applying those skills to my love life.
To be clear, I’m not punishing myself for being a “relationship murderer.” I’m finally accepting how my brain works and proactively testing what could lead to greater long-term happiness. It’s possible this’ll all go to shit, but I have hope that I’ll gain something from the process and learn how to love myself (and others) in a better, healthier way.