Relationship OCD: What you need to know (before you make a mistake)

treatment for relationship ocd

Relationships: how can something that feels so good cause such torment? You know you love him or her, but every day – all day – you wonder if they’re really the Right One. Here’s what you need to know about relationship OCD – before you make a mistake…

‘Is he the Right One? Do I love him enough? Is he the love of my life or am I making the biggest mistake of my life?’

A loving committed relationship is something to hold onto. Unfortunately, many of them fall by the wayside because of something known as relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD).

Given the stakes, let’s learn about ROCD with the guidance of clinical psychologists Dr. Guy Doron and Dr. Danny Derby. They’re world-renowned ROCD researchers, and we’ll use a summary of a portion of their work as resource material. It appears on the International OCD Foundation website.

Okay, to get us started, let’s take a look at one of the two ROCD case examples provided by the good doctors…

At the age of 30, after many dating experiences, Evelyn found someone that she thought was great. He was smart, good-looking, had a good job, and they felt great together. After a year of dating he started pressing her to commit. Since then, she can’t stop thinking, ‘Is he the Right One? Do I love him enough? Is he the love of my life or am I making the biggest mistake of my life?’ She checks whether she thinks about him enough at work, whether she feels relaxed when she is with him, and whether she has critical thoughts about him. When she is unhappy or tense, she always thinks ‘Maybe it is because I am not happy with him? Maybe he is not the ONE.’ Evelyn is highly distressed and her obsessions impair her work and ability to function in social situations.

What is relationship OCD?

Evelyn presents with ROCD, obsessive compulsive symptoms that target intimate relationships. It’s common for people to have some doubts about the suitability of their partner or the relationship at some point during a romantic connection. However, for individuals with ROCD, these common relationship doubts and concerns become increasingly time-consuming and distressing.

And, for the record, ROCD symptoms may occur outside of an ongoing romantic relationship (e.g., obsessing about the past) and may cause people to avoid entering relationships altogether.

what is relationship ocd

“Is this the right relationship for me?”

ROCD symptoms have been linked with significant personal difficulties, such as mood, anxiety, and other OCD symptoms. Couple difficulties, such as relationship and sexual dissatisfaction, have also been reported.

In addition to obsessive preoccupations and doubts, ROCD is associated with a variety of compulsive behaviors generated in an effort to reduce feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and distress – or to reduce the frequency of distressing thoughts.

Common compulsive behaviors include…

  • Monitoring and checking one’s feelings (“Do I feel love?”), behaviors (“Am I looking at others?”), and thoughts (“Do I have doubts?”)
  • Comparing one’s relationship with those of others’, such as friends, colleagues, or even characters in romantic films or TV sitcoms
  • Trying to recall good – secure – experiences with one’s partner
  • Consulting friends, family, therapists, fortune-tellers, psychics, and others about the relationship
  • Avoiding situations and activities that may trigger unwanted thoughts and doubts about relationships

Are you seeing how tormenting and destructive ROCD can be?

Types of relationship OCD

ROCD includes two common presentations…

  1. Relationship-centered: The individual often feels overwhelmed by doubts and worries focused on their feelings towards their partner, their partner’s feelings towards them, and the “rightness” of the relationship experience. They may repeatedly find themselves thinking “Is this the right relationship for me?”, “This is not real love!”, “Do I feel ‘right’?”, and “Does my partner really love me?”
  2. Partner-focused: The individual may focus on their partner’s physical features, (e.g., “Her nose is too big.”), social qualities (e.g., “He is not social enough”; “She does not have what it takes to succeed in life.”), or personality attributes, such as morality, intelligence, or emotional stability (e.g., “She is not intelligent enough”, “He is not emotionally stable”).

Relationship-centered and partner-focused symptoms may happen at the same time.

Treatment for relationship OCD

Treatment of ROCD is similar to cognitive behavioral treatments for any presentation of OCD. But it’s vitally important for those with ROCD to first recognize that their symptoms are getting in the way of their ability to fully experience their relationships.

In addition to assessment and information gathering, treatment includes symptom mapping. And it’s important that the therapist and client come to an understanding of the beliefs and views of self and others that may be impacted by the individual’s ROCD symptoms.

A variety of cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) – e.g., cognitive restructuring, exposure and response prevention (ERP) – are used to explore and challenge the ROCD client’s beliefs and views, and to reduce compulsive behaviors. Experiential techniques, such as imagination-based exposures, may also be used.

Treatment gains are reviewed, effective strategies are summarized, and relapse prevention plans are made for possible setbacks down the road.

The great news is, ROCD is treatable – manageable.

All done here

In their work, Dr. Doron and Dr. Derby have found that individuals enduring any form of OCD typically feel a great sense of relief when they read or hear about someone going through what they’re experiencing. So raising awareness and understanding is a priority.

That’s how it rolls here on Chipur. And I hope our discussion has been helpful. Heck, maybe a wonderful relationship will be saved. Perhaps one will be “permitted” to happen.

Relationships: how can something that feels so good cause such torment? Now you know…

Consider all angles before possibly making a relationship mistake.

I couldn’t include everything in this article. So be sure to read Dr. Doron’s and Dr. Derby’s piece on the International OCD Foundation website.

And if you’re up for reading more Chipur mood and anxiety disorder learning and relief articles, hit the titles.