Thursday, May 27, 2010

An Important Message for People Suffering from OCD

(NOTE TO READERS: I received the following e-mail from Elizabeth Persons, MPH, of Columbia University, in response to the previous (May 26, 2010) blog Q&A about a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). If you or someone you know might be a candidate for the study Ms. Persons describes, please contact her as soon as possible).

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your recent post about how a girlfriend's OCD symptoms are putting a strain on her romantic relationship. Many of us have routines or even eccentric superstitions that get us through the day; we read our horoscopes every morning, keep our calendars clean and up-to-date, or pray each night. But for the 2.2 million American adults suffering from OCD, unceasing thoughts and compulsions can get in the way of living. These symptoms of OCD are not mere habits but persistent, distressing and, at times, debilitating impediments.

In an effort to better understand this common disorder, the National Institute of Mental Health is sponsoring a study to examine possible genetic contributions to OCD. Five research institutions in cities across the country – in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York – are looking for participants who have been diagnosed with OCD or exhibit symptoms such as obsessions, compulsions or hoarding that could lead to a diagnosis. The study involves a 2-3 hour interview with the participant about their mental health. We also ask that the participant and their family members (parents or siblings) provide a blood or saliva sample for DNA. Participants are compensated $75 for their interview and DNA sample, and each family member receives $35 for their DNA sample. Participants and their family members may participate from home or at one of the study centers.

If you think your readers would be interested in helping us gain a deeper understanding of OCD, we would greatly appreciate it if you could publish this letter or our study information for them to view. Readers who would like to participate in the study may contact Columbia University research staff at 212-543-5364 or e-mail

OCD Collaborative Genetic Association Study
Columbia University

Elizabeth Persons, MPH
Research Worker
Columbia University/NYSPI
(212) 543-5377

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Girlfriend's Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior is Threatening Their Relationship

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I'm going out with a wonderful and accomplished woman---she's a professor at a well-known university---who has one habit that absolutely drives me crazy. Whenever we go out somewhere, she invariably becomes panicked a few minutes later that she left the back door of her house unlocked, or that she didn't turn off the burners on the stove, or some other situation that requires us to turn around, go back to her house, and verify that things are OK. This has happened at least ten times over the three months we've been going out, and not once has the problem she was worrying about been true. Because of this, we've been late to movies, concerts, and restaurants, and beyond that it's just tiring having to deal with this. I've suggested she see a psychologist, but she insists that she's just being careful, and that several times in the past (before I knew her) she did actually leave a door unlocked, or whatever. Any thoughts? ("Going Nuts" in the Midwest)

DEAR GOING NUTS: I'm not a psychologist, but your girlfriend's behavior certainly sounds like some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). From what I understand, OCD is not something that resolves itself on its own, especially when the person feels it's a rational response to a potentially-dangerous situation that could happen or---as you say---has happened.

I agree with you that she would profit from seeing a psychologist, particularly one who specializes in OCD. (And because OCD is relatively common, it shouldn't be that hard to find one). Because she's resisted the idea so far, you might want to soft-pedal your suggestions so she doesn't feel you're trying to run her life, especially given that your relationship is still relatively new. Perhaps you could show her articles from the Internet about OCD, especially if they describe symptoms similar to hers.

If she still resists seeking treatment, you may need to go through a checklist approach every time the two of you leave her house: doors locked, windows closed, stove off, coffee maker unplugged, etc. My guess is she may still think of something that wasn't on the list, but it's worth a try, anyway.

I suppose you could also put your foot down and simply say "No; we're already late and we're not going back to the house." But that's a calculated risk. It might turn out OK, but then again it might only increase her sense of anxiety and lead to a calamitous evening---and possibly even to the end of your relationship. Because of that risk, I feel the psychologist approach is the best one.

Good luck, and please let me know what happens.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Can Dating Sites Really Predict Compatibility?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please submit any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I read your article in this month's Connections [] about all the different dating sites out there, and how the sites that do "compatibility" matching, like, have disproportionately high rates of women members. It got me wondering: do you think that it's really possible to test for, and accurately predict, compatibility? (Naomi in Boston)

DEAR NAOMI: I'm sure the people at eHarmony would insist that it is possible to devise tests that accurately predict compatibility, but I have my doubts.

For one thing, no one on eHarmony or any other site verifies the truth of a person's answers to their compatibility questionnaires. Some people are clueless about themselves, their motivations, and their goals in life. They may honestly answer a question one way, but the answer they give may bear no relation to reality. Other people will deliberately lie or distort the truth. If they decide that the "right" way to answer the questions is to come across as warm, open, affectionate, and people-centered, they'll answer that way, regardless of what they really feel. The end justifies the means, in their mind.

Another problem is that the same word or concept can mean totally different things to different people. One person may think he has a great sense of humor because he laughs so hard at his own jokes that he amost falls off his chair. Another person appreciate wit, but only when it's subtle, and would cringe at the thought of being out in public with the joke-teller.

Even if everyone could agree on the definitions and answer the questions one hundred percent honestly, the only prediction anyone could confidently make about two people is that they match up well on paper. They both want kids. They both love animals. They both watch reality TV shows. They both believe in sharing household chores. OK, fine; that's a start. But that's all it is. Interests, attitudes, and goals may be important, but they don't automatically guarantee chemistry. And without chemistry, all the "on paper" compatibility in the world is meaningless. This is why I urge people who are doing online dating to actually meet the other person as soon as it's clear there's a strong interest. You can learn more about someone in five minutes face-to-face than you could in five weeks, or five months, of e-mail exchanges.

I'm not necessarily trying to discourage you, Naomi, from joining eHarmony or any other "compatibility" site, but I think you should take their claims with a grain of salt. On the other hand, as I pointed out in the Connections article, any man who will fill out a 200-question form and pay $60 or $70 a month to belong to a dating site, is probably serious about forming a real relationship with someone, even if he may be fudging the answers a bit.

Good luck, Naomi, and please let me know if you meet someone good!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Won't Her Boyfriend Introduce Her to His Kids?

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I'm 35 and have never been married. For the past seven months I've been dating a slightly older guy who is divorced and has two daughters, 9 and 11, who live with his ex-wife about a hundred miles away. His divorce decree allows him to see his girls every weekend. For as long as I've known him, he's driven to a halfway point early on Saturday morning, where his ex-wife meets him and drops off the girls. He then drives them back to his home where they stay until mid-afternoon on Sunday, when he and his ex do the drop-off in reverse. I've never actually met the girls. I'd love to meet them, but he always says something about how they're not ready yet to accept a new woman in his life. I love the fact that he's a good father, and I know that kids can resist the idea of their parents seeing new people, but I'm troubled that he won't take even small steps to introduce me to his girls. Is this normal behavior for divorced fathers? ("Ana" in California)

DEAR ANA: Well, I'd say it's normal behavior for a man who's uncomfortable about something.

If the two of you have been seeing each other for seven months (and I'm going to assume it's an exclusive relationship), your boyfriend ought to be comfortable enough by now to let his daughters know that there's a woman in his life. He doesn't have to overdo it. You don't have to spend every minute of the weekend with him and the girls. You don't even have to spend the night; in fact, it might be advisable not to spend the night until the girls have completely bonded with you, which could take many months.

But the process has to start somewhere. One weekend, you could all go out to lunch on Saturday. The next weekend, it could be Saturday and Sunday---as you say, small steps. But until some steps are taken, I think I'd be careful about becoming over-invested in this man. Something is causing him to hold back. I have no idea what it is, but I've seen situations where divorced husbands (or divorced wives) are holding out hope that they can get back together with their ex. I've also seen situations where divorced people didn't feel committed enough in their new relationship to "go public" with it, at least with respect to their kids or other family members; or situations where divorced people are worried that the kids will somehow cause trouble by telling the ex everything after they return home from a weekend visit.

Whatever your boyfriend's motivation may be, his reluctance to let you meet his daughters is something of a red flag. I think you need to explain your concerns to him, fully and frankly. If you don't get a satisfactory answer, you should think about putting this relationship on the back burner until he's resolved whatever issues he seems to be struggling with.

Good luck, Ana, and please let me know what happens.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Happy Ending

(NOTE: Jim's blog is now devoted to answering relationship questions submitted by readers. Please send any questions you may have to

DEAR JIM: I just wanted to tell you that I was worried for nothing [see previous blog entry, dated April 27, 2010]. While my husband was on his business trip, I received a beautiful floral arrangement from "Flowers by Gina." It was my birthday yesterday, and my husband wanted to be sure I'd get the flowers on time. We went out for a wonderful birthday dinner last night, and I never mentioned that I had found the post-it note [with Gina's name and phone number on it]. Thanks for helping me to be stay calm. ("M" in Canada)

DEAR "M": You're welcome; I'm glad at least some of these stories have a happy ending.

There's no question that people can worry themselves sick over something that, out of context, looks suspicious, but which later proves to be innocent. If there is an affair going on, there will usually be a pattern of suspicious behavior, rather than a single unexplained incident. I'm not saying a person should wait forever before confronting his or her spouse, but a premature confrontation can cause serious resentment on the part of an innocent spouse. It can also be a tip-off to a guilty spouse that he's not being careful enough in hiding the tracks of his affair. It's always better to wait until the evidence is strong and a pattern has emerged.