This series looks at a small snippet of The book on the Perfectionist Personality, aka The Obsessive Compulsive disordered Personality, aka OCPD, each week. Please follow along, leave your comments, engage more on the FaceBook website... whatever your heart calls you to do.
When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by Allan E. Mallinger, M.D. and Jeanette DeWyze was published by Random House in 1992. If you believe you are dealing with OCPD or someone who is "Too Perfect," whether that's you or a loved one, please buy a copy of the book and read it for additional insights that will not all be covered in these excerpts.
7 - Reinforce Positive Changes - But Do It Sensitively
<snip> If your spouse, parent, co-worker or friend does begin to behave less obsessively, you need to realize that this is a real accomplishment that shows not only strength and courage, but a commitment to making your relationship better. Often it's an act of love.
<snip> Drawing attention to changes in the obsessive may make him uneasy. For one thing, he may still feel tentative about the changes, and too blatant an acknowledgment of them may make him feel more committed to maintaining them than he can tolerate.
You must also consider the impact of the obsessive's all-or-nothing thinking. If you react too strongly to the slightest improvement (if, for example, he comes home from work an hour earlier than usual), he may fear that you'll expect him to do it every night. If you comment favorably on his decreased demands for orderliness, again his anxiety might rise. He may think that now you'll expect him to change still more, and he may dig in his heels. <snip>
You'll probably do better to reinforce behavioral improvements in only the most subtle, gentle ways. Effective reinforcers vary from one person to another. Most people like such things as affection, praise, or sex, but not everyone. Some respond best to silence, food, or even distances. You have to tune into your obsessive and discern his or her specific reinforcers.
<snip> she identified some of her own behaviors that were pushing David away - pouncing gleefully upon any signs that he was leaning toward a stronger commitment, for instance. Instead Barbara learned to make little or no fuss when he showed signs of moving closer to her. In fact, she would redouble her efforts to maintain her own separate interests (as hard as that was for her initially).
<snip> She found that the more independence she achieved and the more fulfilled she became by her own separate interests, the stronger she became. Her mental picture of herself, who she was meant to be, became clearer and more cohesive. She also was more certain of what she wanted and didn't want, and about what she would and would not tolerate from David. Ultimately she felt more capable of taking care of herself should the relationship end. But that didn't happen. With less pressure on him, David became more comfortable with intimacy and with spending more time together. Eventually he was able to commit himself to engagement and finally marriage. His basic personality type didn't change; he remained fairly obsessive, while Barbara was not particularly so. Yet they were able to enrich both their lives by being together.
I've blogged here before about my mistake in praising a specific meal my ex made too highly; something he made at least 2-3 times each month in the first two years we lived together. My birthday was coming up, and he asked what I would like for dinner that night; I named that dish, and went into too much detail about how much I liked it, and how well he made it. Demand-resistance kicked in; not only did he have excuses as to why he couldn't make it for me for my birthday, but in the following four years we lived together, he never made that meal again.
If you want sex, or physical affection, you might have to play hard to get, because the "normal" interactions of touching shoulders, arms, hands, etc., again may wake demand-sensitivity or demand resistance. If a hoarder cleans out a drawer, a brief acknowledgment is probably better than excessive praise or discussion of when the next twenty drawers will be addressed.
If you want a "normal" relationship, you will not have one with an un- or undertreated obsessive person. You will always have to move slowly, carefully, and sensitively, aware that s/he may take your foibles personally, and trying to keep in mind that hers or his foibles probably aren't personal.
I'm a "cat" person (though I like dogs, too). I've had many, over the years (though maximum of three at the same time; I'm not a crazy cat person). One cat I had nearly her entire life, from an eight-week kitten to when she died of thyroid disease at 15. In that entire time, she crawled into my lap maybe three times. She was super-shy and skittish with people, that was her temperament (though she got along fine with the other cat). There were times I barely saw her except at mealtimes, and if startled, I might not see her even at mealtimes for days. In her last three years, when she was in an affectionate mood, she might jump onto my bed and sleep at my feet, or curl up next to me when I was watching TV or crafting. I don't think she ever did the I-love-you/feed-me ankle-rub trick that most cats do.
That worked fine for me, with that cat. She was my cat, not an intimate partner. But I did want more, in an intimate partner. I wanted to not always have to be on guard, to not always be bandaging my scratches, to be able to give and receive affection freely and without reservation. To be able to compliment a meal without worrying whether I had praised it/him too much and thus stressed him out with my unspoken expectations.
My ex couldn't give me what I needed in a relationship, although he did and does have many wonderful qualities. If you love an obsessive person, s/he may not be as extreme as my ex was - or might be even more so. You may not be as hurt or troubled by the behaviors as I was. So your relationship may work fine.
Keep in mind, though, that all the work and love and patience and understanding in the world will not change a feral cat into a lap cat - and certainly won't change her/him into a tail-wagging, always happy-to-see-you isn't-my-master-wonderful dog. Change yourself, first, as Barbara did, and many of us have learned the hard way. Learn to be independent and how to maintain good boundaries, and then, from that viewpoint, you can more easily discern if the relationship is worth keeping, or whether you need to move on.