Are You Really OCD?

Written by Dr. Andrea Potthoff, Ph.D., L.P.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the most misused labels for psychological symptoms. Most of us have heard someone (or even ourselves) refer to their behavior as “OCD” when talking about things like excessive cleaning, a preference for symmetry, or a quirky desire for order. These behaviors may in fact be part of OCD, but on their own they do not constitute a diagnosis. And unfortunately, misusing this diagnostic label contributes to the misinformation about OCD and undermines the experience of those truly struggling with OCD. Knowing more about the diagnosis can help illuminate whether your symptoms are actually OCD.
A diagnosis of OCD includes the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions, some of which may look like excessive cleaning and organizing, while others may not. An obsession is a thought that pops up repeatedly, is distressing, and feels as if you are not in control of it. Some examples are, “I will get sick if I don’t wash my hands,” “I cannot be sure that the door is locked,” and “Maybe I hit someone with my car as I drove to work today.” Although it is not often talked about, some people experience obsessions as intrusive images they see in their mind’s eye. These are often gruesome, violent, sexual, or inappropriate in nature.
A compulsion is then a behavior or mental ritual that you use to temporarily relieve the obsession. For the examples above, this might mean washing your hands repeatedly, going back to check that the door is locked several times, or getting back in your car and retracing your drive to work to make sure no one was injured. Some people, especially adults, begin to use mental compulsions that are not overtly noticeable. This may include things like saying a certain word in your head or repeating things a certain number of times to yourself. The problem with compulsions is that they help in the moment, but tend to increase the power of the obsession or anxiety in the future.
There are several effective treatments for OCD. Certain medications are used to treatment OCD and a specific therapy, known as Exposure and Response Prevention (EXP or EX-RP), has also demonstrated a high degree of effectiveness in treating OCD.
Misusing the term “OCD” creates several problems. First, we undermine the experience of those people actually struggling with OCD. Second, we contribute to the misinformation about the disorder which may cause a delay in diagnosis and treatment. When you are tempted to misuse the term “OCD,” consider other ways to describe your behavior. That might sound something like, “my preference for things to be just so,” “it bothers me when things are messy or disorganized,” or “I can be kind of rigid.” The people in your life with OCD will certainly appreciate this change.
If you would like more information on this topic or to speak to a psychologist about OCD, please call us at 612-470-4099 or email us at

How Cheating Changes A Relationship

Infidelity is common in romantic relationships, with researchers estimating the infidelity occurs in at least a quarter of all marriages. Despite its prevalence, 90% of people categorize it as an immoral act and more than half of people view it as unforgivable. Not surprisingly, infidelity is also associated with an increased rate of divorce. Infidelity is associated with a number of other negative outcomes, including family disruption, conflict, violence, and psychological distress.
Types of Infidelity
As psychologists, we usually distinguish between two types of infidelity: emotional and physical. They can occur at the same time or separately. Women are often more distressed by a partner’s emotional infidelity, whereas men are usually more upset by a partner’s physical infidelity. The definition of infidelity can vary greatly between couples and sometimes even partners are not on the same page in regards to what constitutes cheating. Making sure these boundaries are clear is an important part of navigating a romantic relationship.
Infidelity may also include varying degrees of secrecy. This can have a large impact on how infidelity changes a relationship. For some couples, this is more troublesome than the actual act of infidelity itself.
Effects of Infidelity on Children
Children should be protected from knowledge of parental infidelity in almost all cases. However, this is not always possible and research shows that many children who have been exposed to parental infidelity show trauma and grief-like symptoms. Family or individual therapy may be needed in cases in which children are impacted by parental infidelity. Similarly, as adults, these children show changes in their attitudes toward love and relationships and this may need to be addressed.
Infidelity is a breach of trust in the relationship. In order to move forward, trust has to be rebuilt. This takes time and an openness from each partner. Fortunately, infidelity can be overcome and relationships do survive it. The nature, duration, and intensity of the infidelity is also relevant in treatment planning.
Treatment for infidelity often involves three phrases. The first priority is to repair the relationship after infidelity. Next, treatment focuses on understanding how the events surrounding the infidelity came about. And the final phase includes looking at ways to prevent future relationship problems. This may mean increasing emotional and/or physical intimacy between partners, addressing sexual concerns, or teaching each partner how to prioritize the relationship. A treatment plan that is customized to your individual relationship is important for helping your relationship move forward from infidelity.
In some situations, couples may decide to terminate the relationship due to infidelity. One partner may want to continue in an extramarital relationship or they may conclude they would both be happier ending the relationship. Couples therapy can help couples make this decision and better negotiate the ending of the relationship.
If you would like more information on how infidelity affects relationships or are interested in speaking to a psychologist about scheduling an appointment, please call us at 612-470-4099 or email us at

For Richer or Poorer? Four Ways to Manage Money in Your Relationship

With arguments about finances being one of the strongest predictors of divorce, how are you and your partner when it comes to talking about money?
Money and finances are considered one of the most private subjects in today’s culture. You rarely, if ever, ask other people are how they manage their money and it can be seen as rude to comment on someone else’s spending. However, when you’re sharing a bank account with someone, not talking about money may be costing you big time. Research suggests that the more couples talk about money, the fewer financial arguments they tend to have. But talking about money with your partner can lead to a lot of difficult questions. Are you spending more than me? I make more, so I can spend more, right? You bought that?!
Very few of us realize that there are different approaches to managing money with your partner. What works for one partner may not work for another and each couple can tailor the following plans to fit their needs and budget. Here a four of the most common ways couples manage their finances together:
1. Head in the Sand – No Plan Approach
This approach tends to be surprisingly common despite its drastic disadvantages. Many couples avoid talking about money altogether and have no explicit agreement about spending or financial goals. This tends to be a more popular strategy at the beginning of a committed relationship, but often catches up with couples in the end. Debt, lack of retirement savings, and hidden credit cards are just a few of the problems that can arise when couples refuse to discuss their finances. In fact, avoiding early discussions about money can easily lead to full-blown arguments later, weakening both the trust in your relationship and your investment portfolio. For these reasons and more, this plan, or lack thereof, is not recommended.
2. Finders keepers – Separate and Not Necessarily Equal
A large amount of couples find that they want to be in control of their finances, but manage money in a completely different way from their partners. These couples may decided to retain separate bank accounts in which their incomes are directly deposited. The advantage of this approach is that each partner can maintain their pre-relationship spending habits and make decisions about their money without having to compromise. However, this approach gets awfully complicated when partners are making drastically different amounts of money. Similarly, kids, mortgages, and retirement can be difficult to navigate when using separate accounts. Do you pay a percentage of the utility bill based on your income or do you and your partner split it 50/50? This is just one of the questions couples who use this approach have to answer. It can certainly work for many couples, but definitely will not work for single-earner households.
3. Better Together – Combine Everything
This strategy for managing money is more traditional and tends to be what most couples expect will happen once they get married. But for couples who may never tie the knot, it can be tricky to decide when to combine incomes. In this approach, each partner’s paycheck is deposited into a single account and living expenses are paid via this account. Personal spending also comes out of this account and this is where conflict is most likely to arise. Does each partner have a set allowance? How much can you spend without needing to consult your partner first? Are you okay if your partner is more of a spender and you are more of a saver? If partners can get on the same page regarding these questions, this approach has a lot of advantages – mainly partners may perceive a greater commitment to one another and can work more easily toward shared financial goals.
4. Yours, Mine, and Ours – Combined with Separation for Personal Spending
I find that this plan tends to offer the most freedom compared to the other three. In this approach, couples’ paychecks are still deposited into a single account from which combined expenses (mortgage, bills, insurance, etc.) are paid, but then a chuck of money is taken out and divided into two separate accounts, one for each parter. This money can then be used for personal spending (e.g., shopping, independent travel, dining out without your partner). In some ways this is the equivalent to having separate allowances, but gives the option for one partner to save for large purchases and the other partner to frequent Starbucks guilt-free. It reduces the need to explain purchases to your partner or hide the credit card bill each month. This plan does require trust that your partner is spending within the allotted amount. In addition, each partner’s spending account doesn’t have to be equal. If one partner is earning more and working much longer hours, it’s not unreasonable that they could have a higher percentage to spend- given, of course, that their partner agrees with this division.
Overall, money is a sticky subject that couples can’t afford to avoid. For the sake of your partnership and bank accounts, consider with your partner what plan might work best for the both of you. Plus, choosing a plan doesn’t mean you can’t change your approach in the future as life together, and your financial picture, changes. And if the negotiations with your partner are getting you nowhere, consider meeting with a couples therapist who can help facilitate a plan.

How To Talk To Kids About Tragic Events

With so many negative things happening in the world, many parents wonder how to handle talking to their children about tragic events, whether it occurs on the national scale or within the family. Here are some general guidelines to consider:
Be Age-Appropriate
A general guideline is to avoid introducing these topics to children under the age of eight. Any younger and a child will struggle to understand the event. Keep in mind your child’s developmental level too. Even if they may be older than eight years old, do they demonstrate the emotional maturity to handle news like this? If not, hold off on sharing this information if possible.
As they get older consider carefully how much information they need. It is usually best that you share information with them directly, as opposed to giving them something to read or watch. Images can be particularly upsetting for children and it is recommended in most cases that children not be exposed to images.
Validate Emotions
Sometimes our children wind up exposed to tragic events no matter how hard we try to protect them. They may have experienced a trauma first-hand or overheard something at school. If your child does bring up one of these topics, focus on validating any feelings your child may express and help them label their feelings. When kids are exposed to a tragic event, they can sometimes display unusual reactions due to discomfort (e.g., laughing, acting out). Remind them that there is no right or wrong way to respond to these types of things.
After validating how your child feels, emphasize to them that these events are very rare and not something they need to worry about on a daily basis. It can be helpful to tell you child that this is an “adult worry” and you are in charge of making sure this does not happen. In these moments, it can be tempting to go over safety procedures with your child (e.g., what do to when approached by a stranger). This is usually not the time for this information and you are better off presenting this information when not discussing an actual event that occurred.
Limit It
Keep an eye on the news. Many parents do not think twice about having the news on while they are preparing dinner or getting their children ready for school. However, the news is not usually appropriate for children. It is good for children to know about world and local events, but find a way to give them this information on your own terms. The news often creates the impression that tragic events are common and we want to remind kids that these events are exceptionally rare.
If your child is struggling to cope with a traumatic event or you are unsure about how to help them, please consider calling us at 612-470-4099 or emailing us at

“Am I fat?” How to Talk to Kids About Weight

In a society that is completely dominated by appearance, it can be tricky when kids start making judgements about their own bodies. With both obesity and eating disorders on the rise, parents are often caught in the middle between teaching their child behaviors for living a healthy lifestyle and avoiding being too critical about weight or appearance.
Listen to Yourself
Many parents avoid making direct comments of their child’s weight or appearance, but fail to consider how their comments about their own bodies may be rubbing off on their children. “I look fat,” “I hate my stomach,” “I can’t go out looking like this” are things many of us are guilty of uttering in front of our children and in doing this, we are actually modeling how our children will see and talk about their own bodies. Try focusing on healthy behaviors, rather than commenting on appearance. For example, saying something like, “I feel great for working out today” communicates the benefits of exercise, without drawing your child’s attention to weight or appearance.
Teach Children about Their Bodies
The majority of comments a child hears about their body are focused on what their body looks like. As a parent, you can shift the focus from how their body looks to what their body does. Helping a young child understand how fruits and vegetables give our brain and muscles important fuel or reminding your teenager how calcium builds strong bones are ways parents can teach healthy lifestyle skills without reinforcing negative messages about weight. If a child asks about their weight – which unfortunately, is happening with increasing frequency – respond by focusing on the function of the child’s body. “Can your body do everything you want it to?” is an easy response that takes the attention off of weight.
Eliminate Food Rules
Counting calories, labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” or always restricting certain foods can lead a child to have unhealthy food rules. The only rule a child should learn about food is the importance of moderation. There will come a day that your child is in charge of what goes in their body and we need to teach our children how to make this decision. Being too restrictive with what a child eats can backfire when the decision-making power switches from you to your child. Help your child practice making healthy choices while you still have control over what food comes in and out of your house. Much of this is also modeled by example. Demonstrating what moderation looks like can ensure your child grows up with a balanced perspective on how to structure their diet.
Never Punish Weight
Being overweight or obese in today’s society is shaming enough without your parents making critical comments about your body or telling you that you “can’t eat that.” If you don’t want one of your children eating something, don’t bring it into your house. Punishing a child because of their weight or incentivizing them for losing weight sends the message that self-worth is directly correlated to the number of the scale. Instead, encourage and participate in healthy activities with your child.
Talking about weight in the wrong way can have a negative impact on your child’s physical and mental health for years to come. Avoid controlling what a child puts in their mouth and focus on helping them learn how to make healthy choices.