Relationship OCD (rOCD)

Relationship OCD. Have you heard of it? Most people haven’t (including my first three therapists). I first noticed the symptoms when I was in high school but it would take another 8-9 years before I would be properly diagnosed.

Relationship OCD (rOCD) follows the typical pattern of OCD: Intrusive thought -> Anxiety -> compulsion to counteract the anxiety. With rOCD though, the theme of the intrusive thoughts center around one’s relationship.

Most people experience it as Type I, in the form of intrusive thoughts regarding their own feelings toward their partner. But occasionally someone may experience it as Type II, intrusive thoughts about their partner’s feelings toward them.

The first type would have you obsessing about your significant other’s flaws (partner focused) or fearing that you have fallen out of love (relationship focused). For example you might become obsessed with a particular flaw that you view it completely out of proportion to reality, convincing yourself that your partner is not attractive enough, or smart enough etc. Or you may be so hyper-aware of your feelings toward your partner that you become alarmed any time you feel annoyed or angry with them, convincing yourself that because you don’t feel completely 100% in love at all times that you are not with the right person. This can put a heavy strain on a relationship if the other person senses a distance, or starts to feel as if they are constantly under a microscope.

The second type typically involves the need to repeatedly check that your partner still loves you. For example you may be obsessed with the idea that your partner is attracted to someone else or that they are just pretending to be in love with you. The idea that you cannot guarantee your partner’s feelings causes a constant level of uncertainty and fear. This can also put a strain on the relationships as the other person begins to feel that no amount of reassurance will be enough. Or as John Mayer puts it “I adore you, but there’s a hole in the cup that should hold my love”.

With rOCD some of the common compulsions can be:

  • Seeking reassurance (either from friends and family or from your partner directly)
  • Avoiding movies, songs, or other couples who trigger intrusive thoughts
  • Spending a lot of time on the internet researching relationships
  • Mentally reviewing past relationships to compare them
  • Mentally comparing the relationship to those of friends, family, or even characters in a story
  • Checking to see if you still “feel” in love
  • Checking to see if you feel more attracted to someone else
  • Checking to see how often you think of your partner

The thoughts are always intrusive and unwanted, going against what the person truly feels and believes.  The desire to be “sure”, especially in an area of life where most people are taught to believe there is one true soul-mate, takes over.

But just like other forms of OCD, allowing the thoughts to be there without needing to do anything about them is the best treatment for rOCD.

rOCD is heartbreaking because it attacks one of the very things that is supposed to be a source of comfort.. Sometimes you just have to take it one day at a time and say to yourself “OCD will not control this. I make my own decisions and right now at this point in my life I am choosing this relationship and this person and this love”.