How To Manage Your Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD)
Relationships can be difficult, and the transition period from the honeymoon phase of your relationship to a more settled, realistic phase can be challenging. 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. Is this a normal relationship shift or the symptoms of Relationship OCD?
What Is Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Although most every relationship has periods of euphoria and doubt, the ups and downs within a relationship with someone who has relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD) can be more dramatic and destructive. As its name suggests, relationship OCD is a disorder that combined the traits of traditional obsessive-compulsive disorder with the complexities of romantic relationships. This means that someone experiencing 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.
Initially, the patterns of ROCD might seem like simple insecurity in a relationship that will dissipate with time and effort. 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 unconscious sabotage within an otherwise healthy partnership. Relationship OCD is a legitimate diagnosis and often requires treatment to alleviate the symptoms and habits associated with the condition.
Recognizing ROCD Symptoms
Although it may seem strange, relationship OCD is not uncommon. This disorder may be responsible (at least in part) for the long-held notion of "cold feet," as people with ROCD can be plagued with fears and suspicions that their relationship may not be the “right fit” or that they could be with the wrong partner. In response to these unwanted, repetitive thoughts, they may then try to monitor their own feelings towards their partner or seek reassurance from others about their relationship status.
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. One study, titled “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Interference Symptoms and Maladaptive Beliefs,” found that individuals with ROCD exhibited significant reduction in their relational functioning, as well as significant depressive symptoms.
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 – whether 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.
How ROCD Manifests in Relationships
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 the right person.
There are two ways that ROCD shows up in relationships: relationship-centered and partner-focused ROCD.
With relationship-centered ROCD, doubts surround the relationship itself. People with the disorder might regularly ask those around them for reassurance regarding their relationship, constantly ask their partner if they are truly "in" the relationship, or they 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 individuals with relationship OCD may have repetitive thoughts around their partner’s previous romantic partners and past sexual activity, or may even obsess that their partner is cheating without any evidence to back up the thought.
Some people with ROCD will have both focuses, feeling fear regarding both their relationship and their partner. These fears can 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 that 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 of developing depression and relationship aversions, and may result in you avoiding anything but casual intimate relationships.
Managing ROCD On Your Own
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 to 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 really thinking about this, and see if you can find a legitimate reason. Be sure to put a concrete time stamp on the amount of time you devote to this exercise, so as to not overthink these feelings and thoughts. If your uncertainty is primarily based on appearance or frivolous things, you’ll know ROCD is likely rearing its head. If not, you may 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 and a new perspective you hadn’t considered before.
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.
Managing ROCD Through Therapy
If you feel overwhelmed managing relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (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. Getting professional help can lead to better, longer-lasting results.
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 that the relationship in question needs to end. While this can be the case in some relationships, if you have a pattern of similar behaviors, thoughts, or feelings in your romantic relationships, you may have relationship OCD.
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.
No one will perfectly and entirely embody your fantasy, nor will (or should) a relationship fulfill your every need. While people with a healthy view of relationships and partners may not need to study and implement this idea, those 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 relationships that are affecting their mental health.
Relationship OCD 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.
Research has found a type of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) called exposure response prevention or ERP therapy to be the most effective for OCD treatment. This process involves gradual exposure to the thoughts, images, or situations that spur one’s relationship obsessions, and resolving not to engage in compulsive behaviors to try to alleviate the accompanying anxiety. Over time, an individual generally starts to experience a decrease in their anxiety levels. Relationship OCD treatment also focuses on helping an individual accept the presence of uncertainty around their romantic relationship and tolerate the discomfort this may create.
Another treatment approach for OCD and ROCD is something called the inference-based approach (IBA). The approach behind IBA suggests that those with OCD and its subtypes have a difficult time distinguishing possibility from reality, which results in thinking and behaving as though the possibility is, indeed, reality. Inference-based therapy (IBT) utilizes IBA to help those with OCD understand that their reasoning system is faulty, resulting in doubts, fears, obsession, and inaccurate assumptions and conclusions. IBT helps them identify these mistakes in their reasoning system, reducing the power that these flawed thoughts have and enables the individual to work through them with overall less anxiety than some other OCD treatment approaches.
With the growth of online therapy, such as through BetterHelp, getting help for your ROCD is easier than ever. Studies have found that online therapy for OCD can often be just effective as in-person therapy, and offers some unique advantages. For one, you can work with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home or office – of anywhere you have an Internet connection. Another advantage is that online therapy can connect you with a professional who specializes in ROCD therapy, whereas you may be limited in therapist options in your community.
Below, some BetterHelp users weigh in on their experiences of working with our 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 mere obstacles because there are stress-free ways to tackle life problems. Thank you so much, Alyson!"
Although the issues that are present in Relationship OCD may seem incurable or insurmountable, the condition is readily treated. Engaging with consistent treatment through BetterHelp can help alleviate the symptoms of ROCD, improve existing relationships, and give you the tools to enjoy fulfilling relationships, and allow you to move forward and say “I love my partner” with confidence.
Other Commonly Asked Questions
What Are The Symptoms Of ROCD?
Common symptoms of relationship OCD ROCD are generally broken down into two categories: relationship-centered and partner-focused.
Relationship-centered symptoms may include:
- Obsessive thoughts around how one feels about their partner or how their partner feels about them
- Persistent worry about whether this is the ‘right’ relationship or if they are with the wrong person
Partner-focused symptoms can present as obsessions about:
- Their partner’s appearance
- Their partner’s personality or intelligence
- Their partner’s previous romantic partners
- Their partner’s level of sexual satisfaction compared to other relationships in the past
If you believe you may be experiencing relationship OCD symptoms, it is crucial to reach out for support from a mental health professional who can help you to appropriate OCD treatment.
What Are The Compulsions In ROCD?
According to the International OCD Foundation, compulsive behaviors that are commonly seen in relationship OCD are:
- Frequently comparing one’s romantic relationship with other people’s relationships (such as friends and/or what one sees in romantic movies)
- Repetitive reassurance seeking from other people (like friends/family, therapists, etc) about their relationship
- Monitoring one’s feelings/doubts for self-assurance (example: am I really in love? Am I attracted to other people?)
- Questioning one’s partner about their experiences (such as sexual activity) in past relationships
- Avoiding any situation that may spur unwanted thoughts or obsessive doubts about one’s relationship or partner
Is ROCD A Mental Illness?
Yes. Relationship OCD is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is categorized by a pattern of intrusive thoughts, urges or images that cause distress (obsessions) and engaging in repetitive behaviors (compulsions) as an attempt to neutralize anxiety. In relationship OCD, an individual’s obsessions and compulsions are centered around a person’s intimate relationships.
Symptoms of OCD can impair functioning in various areas of a person’s life, including work/school, relationships, and the ability to carry out daily activities. If you believe you may be experiencing signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it’s essential to reach out for professional help and treatment.
How Do You Beat ROCD?
Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) has been found to be the most effective OCD treatment. The goal of ERP is to gradually expose individuals to thoughts, images and situations that spur their obsessive thoughts. The response prevention part means that an individual chooses not to engage in any compulsive behaviors in response to their distress. This process helps an individual habituate, therefore decreasing anxiety levels over time.
Effective ERP also helps individuals to learn that they can tolerate the uncertainty that they have been arranging their lives to avoid. ERP has been proven to be extremely helpful for reducing symptoms of OCD and improving quality of life for those with the condition.
For assistance with finding an exclusive practice in your area that offers ERP, visit the International OCD Foundation’s website.
Frequently Asked Questions About Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD)
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 due to witnessing 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), inference-based therapy (IBT), 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.
Therapy Can Help You Manage Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD)
Therapy is a personal experience, and not everyone will go into it seeking the same things. Keeping these things in mind can ensure that you will get the most out of online therapy, regardless of what your specific goals are. If you’re still wondering if therapy is right for you, and how much therapy costs, please contact us at email@example.com. BetterHelp specializes in online therapy to help address all types of mental health concerns. If you’re interested in individual therapy, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about BetterHelp as a company, please find us on:
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