Everyone has concerns about their relationship at some point. They are usually fleeting notions, not based on anything significant. However, Relationship OCD (ROCD) is different. When you have this type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, you can’t stop thinking about your relationship — how it might go wrong, if you or your partner are attracted to each other, and whether you need to end the relationship. It may, thus, adversely affect your mental health and peace of mind.
You need to recognize early symptoms of the condition and work towards managing it. This article looks at what ROCD is, how to identify it, and finally tackle it. Let’s dive in!
In This Article
What Is ROCD?
ROCD is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (1). A person with ROCD has obsessive thoughts about their relationship not being perfect, correct, or ideal.
The obsessions revolve primarily around romantic relationships and how they could be improved or fixed to make them ‘perfect’. It can include doubts about the strength of a current relationship or concerns about potential future relationships. Everything, from partner’s looks to how they behave or spend their time, can cause problems for those with ROCD.
While it usually takes hold in romantic connections, people with ROCD can obsess over friendships, family relationships, and other significant connections.
There are primarily 4 types of ROCD. Read on to know more about them.
Types Of ROCD
- Relationship-Centered: Those affected by this type of ROCD obsess about their partner and the relationship. They tend to doubt the strength and quality of their current connection as well as future relationships.
- Avoidant: Those with avoidant ROCD obsess over potential future romantic partners. They want to avoid romantic relationships and try to suppress or resist urges that could lead to a relationship. It can take the form of purposefully avoiding potential partners, thoughts about them, and even engaging in compulsive behaviors.
- Uncertain: Those with uncertain ROCD obsess over the details of a potential romantic connection to try and determine if it would be a worthwhile relationship or not. They will often delay making “the right decision” by trying to gather as much information about their partner or potential partner as possible.
- Perfectionistic: Those with perfectionist ROCD obsess about whether or not their relationship is perfect. They constantly compare their relationship to other possible, imaginary, or past relationships. They often become fixated on the imperfections of their partner as well as their actions.
ROCD can develop at almost any age, though it is most common in young adults and adolescents. As with many subtypes of OCD, it tends to go undiagnosed for a long time, even decades. So, it is important to know various symptoms of ROCD to understand if you or someone around you may have the disorder.
Symptoms Of ROCD
Many signs show that a person might have ROCD. However, some people suffer from more symptoms than others. Common signs and symptoms of ROCD include (2):
- Fear of making the wrong decision about your relationship
- Doubt about whether or not your partner is ‘the one’
- Preoccupation with a potential future relationship or a past one
- Preoccupation with a specific trait, action, or body part of your partner
- Feeling as though your life would be better without them
- Anxiety around being abandoned by them
- Severe anxiety about them having feelings for someone else
- Trying to ‘figure out’ what their actions or thoughts mean
- Trying to convince yourself you don’t have feelings for your partner or potential partners
- Anxiety about them not having feelings for you
- Compulsive behaviors revolve around your relationship
- Repeatedly thinking about your partner’s past relationships or yours
Apart from the above thoughts, fears, and anxiety, be on the lookout for the common behaviors mentioned below, as they might help you gauge if a person has ROCD.
How ROCD Manifests: Some Examples
Some common compulsions, their meaning, and how they might be a symptom of ROCD are as follows:
- Checking a partner’s social media accounts, email accounts, or phone constantly could be a sign of ROCD.
- Asking your partner if they think about you when you are not with them or if they think about another person when you are together.
- Checking in with your partner constantly to see how they feel about you or if they like spending time with you.
- Repeatedly checking in with your partner to see what their feelings are towards you.
- Persistently thinking about a past relationship or wondering what it might have been like with a previous partner, even though it causes you distress and anxiety.
- Asking your partner if they like certain activities you enjoy together.
- Thinking and worrying obsessively about the future of your relationship.
- Overthinking about how much time you spend with your partner; you may worry about either spending too much or too little time together.
- Telling your partner that they should spend less time at work, be less sociable, or see their family less often.
- Asking your partner if there was a point when they first started to develop feelings for you to get into the relationship.
- Watching other people on social media and wondering if they are more attractive than your partner or if you would be happier with them.
- Repeatedly thinking about other people who might make a better partner than your current one.
- Asking friends, family members, or others whether they like your partner or think that they are a good match for you.
- Getting into an argument with your partner because you feel they spend too much time at work, don’t pay you enough attention, or aren’t affectionate enough.
- Feeling anxious or miserable because you are not in a relationship or you wish your current partner treated you better.
These obsessive behaviors can become more difficult to manage over time, and a lack of diagnosis makes it harder to resist carrying out compulsions. So, it is important to get help if you believe that you have ROCD. Scroll down to know how you can cope with the disorder.
How To Manage ROCD
If you suspect that you may have Relationship OCD, it is important to speak to your doctor about getting an assessment. The doctor can also offer advice on treatment options and refer for counseling or psychotherapy if needed. ROCD often goes hand in hand with other conditions, such as depression and anxiety, so you should expect that your therapist will want to address such issues, too.
One of the most effective treatments for ROCD is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that involves meeting regularly with a therapist who has experience in treating obsessive-compulsive disorders (3). The therapist will then guide you through the different stages of CBT.
ROCD may also arise from an anxious attachment style, making people constantly seek reassurance from their romantic partners. So, if your ROCD is about fears that you may neglect your partner, it would be better to meet with a psychologist who specializes in attachment issues.
If you suspect that your partner may be suffering from ROCD, encourage them to seek help without pushing too hard. Trying to force someone into changing their thoughts and behaviors will probably not work and make things worse.
It is important to note that ROCD therapy should only be carried out under the guidance of a psychologist who specializes in the area. It involves using CBT, cognitive restructuring, mindfulness, and other techniques to learn how to identify and challenge your unhelpful thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs. Read more about them in the next section.
The key to manage ROCD lies in therapy and self-improvement. Various approaches used to tackle the symptoms are:
1. Exposure And Response Prevention (ERP)
An essential part of CBT, ERP is used to treat anxiety disorders, phobias, and OCD (4). This type of therapy involves gradually exposing yourself to the sources of your anxiety and then not carrying out the corresponding response you usually would when faced with those triggers. Here’s how it progresses:
a. Identify obsessions and compulsions.
b. Gradually expose yourself to the situations that trigger your obsessions without performing any compulsions.
c. Practice mindfulness by focusing on your breathing during exposure exercises so as not to perform any rituals.
d. Create a plan in case urges to act on your triggers become too strong during exposure exercises.
e. Continue this process for as long as necessary until your ROCD symptoms gradually improve.
2. Cognitive Restructuring
It is a method of challenging unhelpful thoughts and beliefs that you may hold about yourself and/or others. For instance, you may feel if you don’t constantly check up on your girlfriend, she might cheat on you or that you are not worthy of love. It is done by identifying such thoughts, considering the evidence for and against them, and finally testing their validity.
The process involves looking at other possibilities and perspectives regarding your obsessions and helps you learn how to be less judgmental and more accepting of yourself and your partner. Often, our past experiences, culture, and socialization lead us to internalize certain views about ourselves or others that need to be revisited.
3. Mindfulness And Relaxation Techniques
In therapy, you may also be encouraged to practice various mindfulness and relaxation techniques as a way of coping with your anxiety (5). In doing so, you can feel more in control by learning how to view difficult situations objectively rather than being overwhelmed by them.
It is also important to remember that recovery from ROCD takes time. There are no quick fixes, as it involves a combination of strong beliefs about yourself and others and behavioral issues that have been repeated over some time. In some cases, the disorder may go back as far as early childhood. As such, it will take time and patience to overcome.
Relationship OCD can be hard to recover from as it often involves overcoming our fear of rejection and abandonment and learning how to trust ourselves and others. However, with the help of therapy, there is every chance that you will overcome your symptoms and lead a more fulfilling life with better relationships. Even if you have had ROCD for a long time, it does not mean that you cannot get over it.
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- Relationship Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder: “Interference” “Symptoms” and Maladaptive Beliefs
- Relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD): A conceptual framework
- Cognitive behavioral therapy of obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Exposure and Response Prevention in the Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Current Perspectives
- Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Pilot Study