MY WIFE attended a work-related conference away from home for three days a month ago. Since she came back I have observed that she keeps washing her hands excessively. Sometimes she washes her hands ten times a day. When we went to church last Sunday she was busy washing her hands in the bathroom. Wifey washes her fingers individually then cleans each of her ten nails carefully as if she is washing matumbo (innards). Our lives have been irrevocably disrupted. I am scared about this change in her life and also very worried that our water bills will go up. We have been married for 3 years and this new hobby of hers is driving me nuts. Is she bewitched? Should I send her back to her parents in Kenya? Please advice. Frustrated husband. New York.
Dear Frustrated Husband.
Thank you for reaching out to us for help. First things first. If you think your wife is your personal property like a letter you can stamp and return to sender, then you are the problem. She is neither a FEDex nor USPS parcel to be delivered according to your wishes and plans.
Washing hands is an important step to avoid getting sick or spreading the germ to others.
Excessive washing of hands, though, is not a hobby but may be symptoms of a mental health condition known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD features a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress. Obsessive symptoms consist repeated, persistent and unwanted thoughts, urges or images that are intrusive and cause distress or anxiety, while compulsion symptoms refer to ritualized behaviors (excessive cleaning, excessive strictness, excessive repetition) to help alleviate distress. More often than not, the ritualized behavior does not cause any relief from the obsessive thoughts, and the OCD cycle repeats itself once more. OCD can occur on its own, among teenagers and adults, and sometimes can occur in individuals with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.
Your wife may have had this condition for a while but you may not have noticed it. OCD can greatly interfere with people’s life. This condition is not just about excessive washing of hands, but much more than that. Have you asked your wife what happened at the conference? The condition may not have developed at the conference, but something impactful may have triggered it!
This condition can be managed through Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Therapists may expose participants to experiences that require them to directly confront their fears by performing tasks that cause anxiety or even disgust. One known example is asking a participant with OCD to put both hands on the floor of a public restroom. Whatever the treatment will be, it is important to seek the help and advice of a qualified mental health professional to find root causes of the issues, and guide the best course of care.
What do you mean by asking if you can send her back to her parents in Kenya, simply because she is unwell? Is that how you have been solving your marriage challenges, by threatening to return her to her parents? Do you think she does not know the way to her home? Does she need your help to trace her way there?
Begin by creating a secure environment in your home and making your wife feel settled and not ready to be posted to her parents. Your wife needs your empathy and compassion and communication is the key to a good marriage. These attributes seem to be lacking in your relationship. What kind of work do you and your wife do/ Do you ever get time to sit, eat, pray and pay together? American lifestyle can be quite demanding and with two or three hustles a day your partner my gradually become a stranger to you.
Seek behavioral therapy as well as family counseling and let us know how it goes. Even as you look at your wife’s imperfections, step back for a minute at look at your own.
Good luck to both of you.