Doubts, fears, and insecurities are commonplace in even the best of relationships. Some might even say they’re healthy and necessary.
But what happens when these doubts and fears turn into relentless nagging voices, making you question your relationship altogether? When you spend sleepless nights obsessing over your relationship and acting out by being compulsive?
If this strikes a chord with you, you might be suffering from relationship OCD.
What is Relationship OCD?
Relationship OCD (or ROCD) is a subtype of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. While countless subtypes of OCD exist, they boil down to one overarching phenomenon: unwanted, distressing, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive, borderline ritualistic behaviors to temporarily soothe the obsessions.
Hence, ROCD involves obsessions and compulsions regarding your romantic relationship.
Unfortunately, ROCD is chronic and without an identifiable cause. However, identifying and treating the underlying issue can allow you to experience healthy, stable, and secure relationships.
ROCD can be categorized into three subtypes:
- Person-centered ROCD is when your obsessions and compulsions explicitly revolve around your significant other. Specifically, you constantly doubt your partner’s physical attributes, character, and personality traits. Consequently, you question their attractiveness, intelligence, charisma, quirks, loyalty, morals, and intentions.
- Relationship-centered ROCD is more generally linked with your relationship as a whole. For example, you may question whether your relationship is “right” or if you’re actually experiencing “true love.” While some relationships are certainly not meant to last, ROCD makes you needlessly and perpetually insecure about the soundness of your relationship.
- Combination ROCD is a mixture of relationship-and-person-centered OCD. Hence, it causes you to persistently doubt your compatibility with and feelings towards your partner.
What Causes Relationship OCD?
The past few decades have seen unprecedented progress in our knowledge and understanding of OCD (and mental health in general).
But despite the proliferation of research and impressive advancements in OCD treatments, mental health professionals are yet to identify a definite cause for ROCD.
Still, they do have some theories.
Some outdated theories for the cause of ROCD refer to neurobiological diseases, chemical imbalances in the brain, and early developmental experiences. These theories have long been disproved.
More plausible causes of ROCD include various environmental factors:
- If your family members suffer from OCD, their thought and behavior patterns can rub off on you.
- The lingering effects of a previous traumatic relationship can seep into your current relationship, leading to overthinking and avoidance behaviors.
- A stressful work-life balance can engender overcompensating behavior in your relationship.
But if you dig deeper, a common trend arises: defective cognitive abilities. Cognition refers to your ability to acquire and interpret various stimuli. Hence, defective cognition can cause you to misinterpret and exaggerate otherwise inconsequential factors in your relationship.
What Are the Signs of a Relationship OCD?
If you want to recover from ROCD, you must first acknowledge the problem. To do so, you need to be able to identify the giveaway signs of ROCD.
Repetitive and intrusive thoughts
If you’re suffering from ROCD, your mind will constantly race with unwanted intrusive thoughts, making you question the validity of your relationship. As such, you might find yourself thinking things like:
- Am I really experiencing true love?
- Why is my partner with someone as unattractive as me?
- Do I really love my partner, or am I just craving intimacy?
- I am disloyal to my partner because I find other people attractive.
- My partner didn’t kiss me goodnight as they usually do, so they must be falling out of love with me.
Misinterpreting your partner’s actions
Say one night your partner returns late from work. Typically, you greet each other with a passionate kiss or a long embrace. But this particular night, they give you a quick peck on the cheek and retire to bed.
Since this is out of the ordinary, it’s normal to double-check with them if everything is alright.
But when your ROCD sets in, you’ll rack your brain over their “strange” behavior without consulting with them first. Your mind will race with countless “what-if” scenarios until you ultimately conclude they probably don’t love you anymore.
That’s a huge leap, don’t you think?
Fixating on flaws
Nobody’s perfect, and every relationship has its flaws. While certain flaws can be deal breakers, the key to a healthy relationship is overlooking the more excusable shortcomings.
Unfortunately, ROCD makes you fixate on the tiniest flaws all day long. Maybe your partner has a particularly unusual quirk, or your dynamic doesn’t live up to “normal” relationship standards.
Over time, you will misinterpret the slightest flaw as grounds to come to blows with your partner.
The overwhelming flood of doubts and fears about your relationship will keep you from being intimate with your partner. Here, intimacy refers to both sexual and non-sexual kinds.
Hence, the nagging OCD voice inside your head will stop you from enjoying any form of intimacy. As soon as these voices take over, you won’t be able to revel in the moment. Instead, you’ll question every romantic gesture and reject every intimate act.
Doubting your own intentions
It’s rare to doubt your own intentions. Even when we’re doing something deceitful, we consciously know that our intentions are contradictory to our actions.
However, ROCD makes you abandon trust in your own feelings, intentions, and goals. Hence, you’ll feel persistent anxiety even when everything in your relationship is smooth-sailing.
Since you can’t rely on your own thoughts and feelings, you’ll seek reassurance about your relationship with others.
You might turn to your partner, friends, family, or even coworkers to reassure you that everything is okay. But, unfortunately, even that won’t soothe your doubts and fears.
If you’re still on the fence about experiencing these symptoms, try taking an online OCD test.
How Can You Treat Relationship OCD?
The most common treatment for ROCD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), particularly in the form of Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP).
ERP is a kind of behavioral therapy that gradually exposes you to situations that might provoke or trigger your obsessions in a safe and controlled environment. The goal of these therapy sessions is to help you unlearn your thinking patterns and compulsive behaviors.
ERP sessions typically last 12 to 24 weeks, depending on the severity of your ROCD symptoms.
During this time and beyond, your psychologist might also prescribe appropriate medications. However, keep in mind that medication alone can not cure your ROCD.
Relationship OCD can be extremely debilitating to your relationships and take a huge toll on all aspects of your life.
But just because you have ROCD doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of isolation and misery.
While it’s easier said than done, appropriate treatment will help you reclaim your romantic life and experience healthy, fulfilling relationships.