Relationships can be challenging for most people, but if you or someone you love struggles with relationship OCD, you know that it’s a completely different type of challenge to face. Relationship OCD, sometimes referred to as ROCD, is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that causes cyclical thoughts and compulsions around one’s relationship. If you’ve realized you or your partner are experiencing relationship OCD, it can be hard to know where to begin. The good news is that there are solutions for managing relationship OCD and gaining more control over the compulsions it can bring on.
What is relationship OCD?
We’ve actually covered ROCD before. Here’s an example we used as to what Relationship OCD looks like:
Trigger: Made eye contact with someone attractive
Intrusive Thought: I could be dating someone more attractive
Catastrophic Assessment: The thought feels important, even urgent
Obsession: I could be stuck in the wrong relationship forever
Distress: As obsessions continue, the sense of inner tension increases
- Googling “Is it normal to find strangers more attractive than my partner?”
- Asking a friend if they think you could do better
As the name implies, relationship OCD causes obsessions and compulsions related to relationships. In ROCD, the uncertainty that naturally comes along with many intimate relationships often leads to obsessive-compulsive cycles. For a person with ROCD, any detail they consider imperfect or uncertain in the relationship could potentially launch these cycles.
While we all struggle with intrusive thoughts or fleeting concerns here and there, especially in intimate relationships, it’s consistently returning thoughts — or a repeating cycle of them — that can be a sign of OCD, or in this case, ROCD. If you suspect you or your partner might be dealing with ROCD, it may be time to reach out to a licensed therapist with experience treating OCD.
What’s the best therapy for ROCD?
Because ROCD is a subtype of OCD, it’s highly treatable with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. ERP is the gold standard of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for OCD. The treatment works by exposing those with OCD to potentialtriggers in a safe and controlled environment. It’s incredibly important to find a therapist who specializes in ERP so they can lead you through confronting your compulsive responses to triggers and decrease those responses over time. While the process may feel a little uncomfortable at first, eventually it can help to free those with OCD from the constraints of their compulsions.
With ROCD specifically, exposure and response prevention focuses on showing people that they can tolerate the intrusive thoughts that arise around their relationship without needing to act on those thoughts. For example, they can have the thought “maybe I’m not with the right person” without engaging in reassurance seeking or other compulsions. Those with ROCD are then able to gain further insight and learn that they don’t need to do anything about intrusive thoughts nor let them determine the relationship’s trajectory.
Should you involve your partner in your ROCD therapy?
In some relationships, the partner without ROCD might actually be inadvertently enabling the symptoms or compulsions of the partner with ROCD — often through things like reassuring their partner about their feelings or connection — which could be unintentionally hindering progress. That’s why clinics like the University of North Carolina’s Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic have developed and begun testing the effects of CBT treatment conducted as couples-based therapy. In this method, the couple learns to navigate ROCD symptoms together so that one partner doesn’t unintentionally reinforce the other’s OCD symptoms.
This kind of specialized couples therapy is not widely available, and therapists that serve individual clients in ERP may not be versed in couples therapy. If you’re considering bringing your partner into your ROCD treatment, start by discussing it directly with your therapist. A good therapist will be able to advise and help you come up with a plan that best serves you and your partner while continuing to work on improving your ROCD symptoms.
Online therapy for relationship OCD
Digital therapy has made a variety of mental health treatments more accessible than ever, and NOCD’s nationwide network has therapists who specialize in ERP available to work with anyone who is struggling with OCD and its subtypes, including ROCD. Utilizing one-on-one video therapy sessions, NOCD members are able to treat their OCD and ROCD symptoms effectively with customizable, accessible treatment options from the comfort of their own homes.
If you or someone you care about is looking into treatment options for OCD or ROCD, you can schedule a call with someone from the NOCD clinical team to learn more about how our therapists can help. You can also join our Relationship OCD community and get 24/7 access to personalized self-management tools built by people who have been through OCD and successfully recovered.