If you have relationship OCD, or ROCD, you may live with persistent unwanted thoughts about your bonds and loved ones.
Perhaps you have what most would consider an ideal relationship. Your partner is loving, attentive, and genuinely supportive. But for some reason, you have nagging doubts about them that won’t go away.
Maybe you’re in the middle of date night with your partner when someone you find attractive walks past, triggering questions in your mind like, “Am I really attracted to my partner?”
Or maybe you can’t stop finding flaws in your relationship, so you spend all of your spare time searching for answers on the internet. But no matter how much you research, you never find the certainty you need.
This constant quest to be sure about your bond may leave you feeling frustrated, full of anxiety, and exhausted. At the same time, your partner may feel confused and not know how to help.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you may be experiencing relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD).
Learning more about ROCD may help you reach out for support to reduce these intrusive thoughts.
While ROCD has recently become more popular as a topic of discussion, researchers have only begun to focus attention on the link between OCD and relationships.
The most common form of ROCD involves intrusive thoughts and obsessions about intimate relationships between romantic partners. But it can also occur in other relationships.
Although it’s not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), ROCD is considered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
People who have relationship OCD symptoms tend to be intensely preoccupied with their partner or relationship to the point that these thoughts impact how they go about their lives.
Someone with ROCD might ruminate on certain thoughts, such as:
- whether their partner or relationship is right for them
- the strength of their feelings toward their partner
- perceived flaws in their partner
They might repeatedly check to see if they still love their partner by testing their attraction to others, seeking reassurance that their relationship is suitable, and avoiding situations that might lead to doubt.
- Relationship-centered. People who lean toward this category may repeatedly question if their relationship is right for them or how strongly they feel for their partner, or spend a great deal of time and energy analyzing the relationship’s future.
- Partner-focused. People with partner-focused ROCD symptoms experience unrelenting preoccupations with their partner’s perceived flaws in appearance, morality, intelligence, and social abilities.
Often — but not always — a person with ROCD already has undiagnosed OCD that surfaces for the first time when they are in a relationship.
Although the cause of relationship OCD isn’t clear, there are treatments that can help.
Living with ROCD can impact your life and relationships in significant ways. Some
- low self-esteem
- attachment insecurities
- less satisfaction in relationships
- difficulties with sexual functioning
- other OCD symptoms
- high levels of perfectionism
If you have ROCD, you may know on some level that your partner is right for you, but you’re still never sure. This can cause a lot of anxiety, and this anxiety may cause you to do things to gain certainty that your partner is truly “the one.”
You may constantly “test” your feelings, focus on flaws your partner might have, and avoid social situations that bring these issues to the forefront.
Meanwhile, your partner might begin to feel like they can’t do anything right.
And the thing is, you might know deep down that your thoughts don’t match with reality, but you can’t help feeling and acting on them anyway. You might feel like you’re at the mercy of your own mind or like you have no control over the situation.
Since ROCD impacts people in relationships, you might not experience OCD symptoms outside of that context. But
An important life decision, such as getting engaged, planning a wedding, or having children, often activates adult-onset ROCD.
Someone who has ROCD may experience obsessive thoughts, such as:
- Do I really love my partner? What happens if I don’t?
- Is my partner attractive? Am I attracted to them?
- Is my partner’s behavior an indicator that they aren’t right for me?
- My significant other has certain flaws. Should I stay with them?
Compulsions and behaviors associated with ROCD can include:
- searching for reassurance that the relationship is suitable by asking friends and family or researching online
- avoiding commitment or anything that could “tie” you to your partner
- overanalyzing your partner’s flaws or scrutinizing their behaviors
- mentally checking for signs or feelings that you might not love your partner
- attempting to control your partner, including what they wear, say, or do
- spending a lot of time envisioning being happy with your partner to make up for the feelings of doubt
Signs of abuse vs. ROCD
Because some obsessions and compulsions related to ROCD can seem to overlap with signs of abuse, it’s important to know that these are two separate things.
If you feel like your partner is trying to control what you can and can’t do (and won’t take “no” for an answer), your well-being and safety come first.
If you have any concerns about your partner’s respect for your safety and individuality, love is respect has some resources like this relationship spectrum to help you decide if the relationship is adding to or taking away from your well-being.
- underlying OCD
- catastrophic thinking, or tendency to dwell on worst-case scenarios
- fears of abandonment
- a strong sense of responsibility for thoughts and actions
If you have ROCD, situations that may trigger intrusive thoughts about your relationship include:
- stressful events or transitions
- being sexually intimate with your partner
- being with or without your partner in social situations
- being around people you consider attractive
Sometimes, just being in the presence of your partner could start symptoms.
Although having ROCD can feel overwhelming, learning as much as you can about this mental health condition can help you cope with the symptoms.
Because ROCD is considered a theme in obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD treatments can help, including:
CBT involves finding techniques to change how you think and behave, while ERP focuses on slowly exposing yourself to situations that start obsessions while resisting the urge to perform compulsions. Over time, this can lessen anxiety and gradually reduce ROCD symptoms.
It might also help to talk with your partner so they understand what you’re going through. Open and honest communication can help ease their worries and give them the ability to create a safe space for you within the relationship.
Caring about someone living with OCD can bring feelings of confusion and frustration. It could help to know that these feelings are a natural reaction to behaviors you may see and experience in a partner with ROCD.
Educating yourself on ROCD and understanding that it’s a form of OCD might help. It can also help to acknowledge that your partner with ROCD may have difficulty controlling their thoughts and actions. OCD isn’t a personal choice.
Your partner may need a safe place to talk about their feelings. To foster this, you might want to consider getting involved in the treatment process.
Because of your partner’s ROCD, you may occasionally experience dissatisfaction within the relationship. If this is happening to you, it’s a good idea to communicate your concerns and work toward striking a balance between your needs and those of your partner.
But if you become overwhelmed by the impact ROCD is having on the relationship, you might want to consider talking with a mental health professional or trusted loved one. They can help you sort out your feelings as you decide what next step to take.
If you have or think you might have ROCD, your symptoms are very real and can be managed. Making an in-person or virtual appointment with a mental health professional for diagnosis — or to learn about your treatment options — could help create a plan of action that’s right for you.
Online resources could also help. Organizations including the International OCD Foundation or the National Alliance on Mental Illness provide information and support for people living with ROCD. And apps for your phone or other devices could help you manage your symptoms, too.
You can also get more info on ROCD diagnosis and research here. Whether you have or think you might have ROCD, there is a path to relief from symptoms and more security in relationships for you.