What is Relationship OCD?

The letters “OCD” are widely known these days. As the name implies, obsessive compulsive disorder is a condition that presents via obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts that are often viewed as intrusive, and compulsions are either observable behaviors or mental rituals that can seriously hamper a person’s daily life. One form of OCD that you may not have heard of but that is surprisingly common is relationship OCD (ROCD), which involves—you guessed it—doubt and fear about one’s relationship.

Everyone has concerns about a romantic connection from time to time. These concerns are normal and can be helpful guides to improving our relationships. However, people with ROCD experience unfounded thoughts and behaviors that can cause massive anxiety, hinder their relationships, and interfere with many aspects of their daily lives.

Common Signs of Relationship OCD
Obsessive thinking in ROCD can focus on either the quality of one’s partner, the quality of the relationship itself, or the OCD sufferer’s own feelings. Or the person may focus on all three.

Picking Apart Your Partner’s Attributes or the Relationship Itself
In partner-focused OCD, the person may become obsessed with physical attributes or character of their partner, from the size of their partner’s nose to their corny sense of humor. Or they may focus on the quality of the relationship itself: Do we have enough in common? Am I with the right person? Why does our relationship not seem like what I see on TV?

A common compulsion in ROCD is to ruminate endlessly about these matters, trying to “figure out” concerns about the relationship. From a behavior standpoint, ROCD sufferers often relentlessly ask their partner for reassurance about the relationship, or ask friends and family for their thoughts on such topics. Again, while it’s not unusual to ponder your love connections, ROCD takes things to a completely different level.

When the person with ROCD is more self focused, they can repetitively wonder, Am I good enough for my partner? What did it mean about me when she looked at me that way? Do I love him enough? If I’m angry, does that mean I don’t love her? Why aren’t I happy all the time? Is he/she “the one” for me? Am I “the one” for them?

The list of questions is endless and the need for reassurance is constant, which only adds to the self-doubt.

Random Litmus Tests
It doesn’t help that on TV and in the movies, relationships are depicted in an idealized, overly romantic, and unrealistic way. As a result, the OCD sufferer might:
Compare their relationship with what they see on TV and in the movies

  • Compare their relationship to others (or to their former relationship)
  • Compulsively read articles about what constitutes a good relationship
  • Set impossible standards for both their partner and themself
  • Check to see if they find other people (including celebrities) more attractive
  • Gauge how much they miss their partner when they’re not around

ROCD sufferers might spend so many hours thinking about their relationship that they lose all perspective on how they really feel.

Isolation and Withdrawal
Left unaddressed, ROCD can lead someone to believe that either

  • They’re not good enough to be in a relationship
  • No one is good enough to be in a relationship with

Their fears, doubts, and suspicions can lead to avoidance of relationships, quick exit from relationships, and a solitary lifestyle…big consequences, indeed.

ROCD Self-Help Steps
All forms of OCD are treatable, and that goes for ROCD as well. Therapy is almost always needed, but you can also take personal steps toward recovery:

Practice Mindfulness
Obsessive thoughts get their power by shifting the focus away from the present moment. Through meditation, breathing exercises, and mindful observance of your thoughts, you can reclaim that focus. Mindfulness roots you in the here and now and can help you get unhooked from the story line produced by anxious rumination.

Take Breaks from Romcoms and Social Media
That device in your pocket is enough to make anyone feel self-doubt. Schedule in regular breaks — especially from romantic comedies and social media. Doing so will help remove some of the temptation to compare.

Talk to Your Partner
Do not suffer in silence. As hard as it sounds, let your partner know about your struggles. You might say, “I think I have relationship OCD. Do I ask you for reassurance a lot? Does that seem unfounded to you?” You might then have less to hide and be more motivated to get help. It might also help put you both in the position to work on any issues that truly exist.

The treatment for ROCD is called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which includes what is called exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. And great news! CBT/ERP for OCD is widely regarded as the most effective form of counseling for any issue in mental health. Read more about OCD here. Reach out today to ask questions or set up an appointment.

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