How To Manage Your Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (ROCD)
Updated March 16, 2020
Reviewer Kay Adkins, LPC
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?
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 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.
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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 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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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. 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 relationships. 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 relationships.
One of the most common ways that people with ROCD 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 for people with ROCD 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-focused ROCD 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 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 on 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 might put you at greater risk to develop depression and relationship aversions and may result in you avoiding anything but casual 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 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 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 may benefit from the help of a counselor or therapist to let go of old, unproductive ideas surrounding partners and partnerships. There are many therapy modalities designed to target Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, talk therapy, and exposure therapy, and these may also be useful in treating ROCD. 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!"
Although the issues that present in ROCD may seem incurable or insurmountable, the condition is one that is readily treated. Engaging in consistent treatment can help alleviate the symptoms of ROCD, improve existing relationships, and give you the tools to enjoy fulfilling relationships, moving forward.