How To Manage Your Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (ROCD)
By: Corrina Horne
Updated March 02, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Kay Adkins, LPC
If you feel overwhelmed managing ROCD on your own, support is out there. While it may seem intimidating to talk about your experience, a therapist can help you with OCD, relationship issues, and ROCD.
Relationships are difficult, and the transition period from the honeymoon phase of your relationship to a more settled, realistic phase can be challenging. Things that once brought a smile to your face can suddenly become irritating. Little quirks you once adored can start to grate on your nerves. Is this a normal relationship shift or the symptoms of ROCD?
What Is Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Although every relationship has periods of euphoria and doubt, the ups and downs within a relationship with someone who has Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD) are far more dramatic and destructive. As its name suggests, ROCD is a disorder that combines the traits of traditional Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder with the complexities of romantic relationships. This means that someone suffering from the disorder might display patterns of alternating clingy behavior and pushing their partner away. They might vacillate between praising their partnership and decrying their relationship as doomed to fail or riddled with problems.
Source: yanalya via freepik.com
Initially, the patterns of ROCD might seem like simple insecurity in a relationship that will dissipate with time. ROCD, however, is characterized by a strengthening in response to time and the deepening of a relationship, and it often serves as a form of sabotage within an otherwise healthy partnership. ROCD is a legitimate diagnosis and often requires treatment to alleviate the symptoms and habits associated with the condition completely.
Managing ROCD at Home
Just as other types of OCD can be treated and managed, so can ROCD. Although therapy is usually necessary for at least a portion of treatment, there are steps you can take to help manage your symptoms and get your relationship (and anxiety) on the right track.
- Take Stock. When you feel doubts creeping up about your partner or your relationship, take a few moments to sit down and truly think. Do you love your partner? Do you like where you are in your relationship? Write or recall five reasons why. If the answer to either of these questions is no, continue the next two steps.
- Identify Unmet Needs. Relationship OCD can seemingly create problems out of nowhere, but your misgivings can still be evaluated. If you have a persistent feeling that something is not quite right with your partner, give yourself a time limit for falling down the rabbit hole, and see if you can find a legitimate reason. If it is all based on appearance or frivolous things, you'll know ROCD is rearing its head. If not, you have a solid base where you can start.
- Talk to Your Partner. Although it might seem counterintuitive, let your partner know what you're feeling. This may be difficult at first, but discussing your disorder with your partner can help your partner understand your unique needs and some of the behaviors associated with ROCD that they may have been blaming themselves for previously. If there is something in your relationship that isn't working, your partner may be able to help bring some clarity.
Recognizing ROCD Symptoms
Although it may seem strange, ROCD is not uncommon. This disorder may be responsible (at least in part) for the long-held notion of "cold feet" as people with ROCD are plagued with fears and suspicions that their mates are not the right fit and they are in the wrong relationship. This can lead to endless cycles of drawing partners in and breaking up, or falling in love and reverting to only seeing their partners' flaws. People with ROCD might get married, despite their misgivings, then go on to doubt their marriage and feel as though they should have waited or may begin searching for a more suitable partner. While the symptoms of ROCD may feel as though they are solid indicators that a relationship is not viable, they are a legitimate subset of OCD, and they can be debilitating.
People with undiagnosed ROCD may internalize their symptoms and feel as though something is wrong with them or that they are incapable of love, intimacy, or solid romantic relationships because they can’t stop thinking about problems that are real or imagined. These people might engage in only passing relationships, avoid marriage, and avoid children, all to keep the anxiety and compulsions that arise in relationships in check. Over time, the lack of connection and intimacy can lead to a worsening of ROCD symptoms and can even result in additional diagnoses, such as depression.
If you find yourself constantly comparing your partner to everyone around you, despite loving them deeply, or you find yourself wracked with doubt and confusion about a relationship you are otherwise happy to be in, you are not the only one. Many people experience the symptoms of ROCD without knowing the cause and are able to reach out to seek treatment and heal from this form of OCD that targets and often breaks down intimate relationships.
One of the most common ways that people with OCD stumble is through enabling behavior. Many family members and friends are more than happy to offer reassurance regarding their loved ones' relationships. This may simply be their form of being kind and helpful, but these behaviors are actually enabling people with OCD and can worsen their condition.
ROCD treatment might initially feel stifling-especially if you are currently in a relationship. You might feel as though breaking up during treatment is a violation of your treatment process or an indication that you've failed. This is not the case, however, and you may realize that your relationship is not, in fact, a good fit for your life and your needs during the course of treatment. Discussing this with your therapist could help relieve any fears or concerns regarding your progress.
ROCD can be difficult to explain to your partner. Acknowledging your misgivings to your partner can create division and frustration in your relationship. If you are worried about talking to your partner about your symptoms, consider first discussing helpful, healthy ways to tackle the discussion with your therapist. This can help you go into the situation feeling confident and avoid any unnecessary confusion or upset that can occur as a result of divulging your experiences.
How ROCD Manifests in Relationships
There are two ways that ROCD shows up in relationships: relationship-centered and partner-focused ROCD. In the former, doubts surround the relationship itself. People with the disorder might regularly ask the people around them for reassurance regarding their relationship, ask their partner if they are truly "in" the relationship constantly, or may be plagued by doubts regarding the rightness of the relationship. In these relationships, the person with the disorder may be nervous about committing to any relationship for fear of making the wrong relationship choice. These individuals may struggle immensely when it comes to getting married, moving in together, or engaging in similarly large relationship milestones for fear that they've made a mistake.
People with partner-focused ROCD instead focus and can’t stop thinking about their partner's perceived flaws. Someone might love their partner, for instance, but almost recoil at the prospect of their partner's nose being too large-despite everything else in the relationship working well. Someone else might struggle with knowing that they love their partner tremendously but continue to look elsewhere, constantly evaluating the men or women around them to determine if those people would make more suitable partners.
Some people with ROCD will have both focuses wherein they feel fear regarding both their relationship and their partner, and these fears compound to create a truly difficult relationship. People who have both focuses might struggle to keep any long-term romantic relationships afloat and may experience even greater feelings of depression and anxiety than their counterparts who only have one of the ROCD focuses.
Regardless of the focus, your particular form of ROCD takes on, the condition can be overwhelming. Because connection and intimacy are important aspects of the human experience, having ROCD symptoms might put you at greater risk to develop depression and relationship aversions and may result in you avoiding anything but casual intimate relationships altogether.
Managing ROCD Through Therapy with BetterHelp
The first step in receiving treatment for this disorder is getting a diagnosis. Many people discount the feelings created by ROCD symptoms as being indicative of a personal flaw or an indication that the relationship in question needs to end. While this is the case in some relationships, if you have a pattern of similar behavior, thoughts, or feelings in your romantic relationships, you may have ROCD. No detail is too small to talk through when you are first seeking treatment, as the seemingly inconsequential details of your symptoms can provide tremendous insight into your condition, and can help the individual in charge of treatment accurately determine the best diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up.
Typically, the first sign of a problem is the desire to be in a relationship, accompanied by the terror of it not being the "right" relationship, or the fear that your partner, while lovely, is not the absolute best that you can get. Again, these might not seem strange or outside the realm of reason, but these thoughts of consistently jumping from relationship to relationship signal something deeper than simply failing to meet Mr. or Ms. Right; no one will perfectly and entirely embody your fantasy, nor will a relationship fulfill your every need.
People with a healthy view of relationships and partners may not need to study and implement this idea, but people with ROCD thoughts and compulsions may benefit from the help of a counselor or therapist to let go of old, unproductive ideas surrounding partners and partnerships that are affecting their mental health.
There are many therapy modalities designed to target obsessive-compulsive symptoms, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, talk therapy, and exposure therapy, and these may also be useful in treating ROCD too because they incorporate the same fundamental strategies to overcoming OCD symptoms of all types.
Below, some BetterHelp patients weigh in on their experiences of working with therapists.
BetterHelp Counselor Reviews
"The longer I work with Dr. Simon, the more grateful I am to have found a counselor who strikes such a kind balance between supporting and empathizing as well as challenging and coaching. She's been invaluable to the progress I've made individually and in my relationship."
"I've worked with Alyson for 1 month and it was my first time working with a therapist. From when I started, I feel so much better. I was dealing with frustrations in my relationship and I also was constantly stressed and anxious. Alyson showed me ways to communicate better in my relationship and how to work at them. She also helped me with stress management tactics and now I feel really good about how to handle my stress. I feel much less anxious now. Overall I am in a much happier place and obstacles feel like merely obstacles because there's stress-free ways to tackle life problems. Thank you so much, Alyson!"
Frequently Asked Questions
Is ROCD a Real Thing?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder can come in many different forms, and the distressing and intrusive thoughts, which are known as “themes”, can involve just about any topic.
Relationships are an example of one of these themes, and the thoughts surrounding their relationship, which are relationship-related obsessions, can create a sense of worry and doubt, and the compulsions used to provide relief for the anxiety can also cause damage to the relationship as well. These are signs of relationship OCD, which is a very real subtype of OCD that affects millions of people.
What Is Obsessive Behavior In Relationships?
People who struggle with ROCD will often have obsessive thoughts, which they can’t stop thinking about, such as:
- Wondering if their partner is cheating on them
- Worrying that they aren’t good enough for their partner
- Second-guessing if they belong together or if there is any love, to begin with
- Trying to find the “perfect” love
In response to these types of obsessive, relationship thoughts, which can often be classified as relationship-centered or partner-focused symptoms, people will perform compulsive behaviors such as seek validation and reassurance, make rules for their partner, or constantly question their partner’s qualities, like weighing pros and cons and reflect on every detail about the relationship.
What Causes ROCD?
OCD, in general, can have biological causes, like neurochemicals and genetics; however, obsessions and compulsions are also learned behaviors too ,and someone can develop relationship obsessions and fears because of something that they’ve experienced in the past or witnessed something happen in someone else’s relationship.
For example, if an individual went through a horrible or traumatic breakup once, they may constantly doubt themselves and wonder if they are with the right person. These types of thoughts can be destructive towards future romantic relationships.
Can ROCD Go Away?
Like any subtype of OCD, the good news is that ROCD thoughts and compulsions can be beaten, but they won’t go away on their own.
It will require you to change your thoughts and behaviors towards these fears, and this can be done by working with a therapist who uses methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure and response prevention (ERP).
Is Jealousy A Sign of Love?
Jealousy can be a sign that you greatly value a person’s love and attention; however, it also means that you are also dependent on their validation, and it can imply that you lack trust and desire control.
If you are being overly jealous and insecure, you are dealing with negative emotions and if becomes frequent or pathological to the point where you can’t stop or control your compulsive behaviors, you may be dealing with relationship-related OCD symptoms.
How Do I Stop Being Jealous and Insecure In My Relationship?
Jealousy and insecurity, while very common in romantic relationships, are unhealthy, and can drain the emotional energy out of couples.
These two problems can be addressed by working with a counselor or therapist who can help you improve your communication skills, develop better coping skills, which can then allow you to be more honest and open with your partner.
By doing this, you can build self-confidence and trust, which will strengthen your relationship, rather than bring it down.
Although the issues that are present in ROCD may seem incurable or insurmountable, the condition is one that is readily treated. Engaging with consistent treatment can help alleviate the symptoms of ROCD, improve existing relationships, and give you the tools to enjoy fulfilling relationships, and and allow you to move forward and say “I love my partner” with confidence.
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