Relationships are important. They give our lives meaning and bring joy to our day-to-day activities. However, they’re not without their struggles, and people dealing with relationship anxiety may find them particularly difficult to maneuver at times.
Someone with relationship anxiety might find themselves focusing on stressful or worrying thoughts, but they likely won’t be drawn to act on them with cyclical behaviors. Someone with relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (or ROCD), however, has an added layer to the worries around their relationship in the form of compulsions — and it can pile on unnecessary struggle to otherwise healthy romantic relationships. Let’s take a closer look at the similarities and differences in these conditions.
Relationship anxiety refers to worries, insecurities and doubts that may pop up in a relationship, even when everything seems to be going well. It’s an incredibly common condition, and it often happens at the beginning of relationships before each partner understands the other’s level of commitment or interest.
You may have felt this kind of anxiety before in new friendships or romantic relationships, and it may pass or come back intermittently. It can cause emotional distress, fatigue and other common symptoms of anxiety, but it typically does not trigger compulsions like relationship OCD does.
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People dealing with ROCD struggle with obsessions and compulsions related to their relationships and feelings that surface as a result of those relationships. In this OCD subtype, the uncertainty of intimate relationships can lead to obsessive-compulsive cycles. Any hint of imperfection might launch these cycles, and these compulsions can consume a lot of time and energy, making the relationship more difficult.
Unlike relationship anxiety — where the trigger may simply lead to uncomfortable or uncertain thoughts about the relationship — ROCD often leads to intrusive thoughts and compulsive responses. For example, someone with ROCD might make eye contact with someone outside of their romantic relationship that they find attractive, and it could lead to all-consuming and completely intrusive thoughts. They might then feel the need to question themselves and ask their friends, “Should I be with someone more like that?” Situations like this can quickly turn into repetitive cycles that happen any time the individual makes eye contact with someone they find attractive.
Since ROCD is one form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is likewise highly treatable with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the gold standard of OCD treatment. This treatment works by exposing those with OCD to their triggers in a safe and controlled environment while they work to actively resist compulsions brought on by those triggers. It can be uncomfortable at first, but over time it helps to free those with OCD from the constraints of their compulsions and live their lives more comfortably and with more control.
In someone with ROCD, exposure and response prevention works toward showing the patient that they’re able to tolerate intrusive thoughts about their relationship without having to act on them. This allows those with ROCD to have better insight into their compulsions and understand that their intrusive thoughts about their relationship do not have to determine the trajectory of that relationship.
ERP for this condition works best when the therapist conducting this therapy specializes in treating OCD symptoms. Look for a therapist that has experience or training in ERP and OCD specifically—even better if they have experience particular to ROCD. A therapist with this training will best be able to help someone with ROCD manage their intrusive thoughts and resulting compulsions to help improve not only their relationship, but their experience with OCD.
Virtual therapy options have made mental health treatment more accessible than ever—and ROCD treatment is no exception to this. All NOCD Therapists specialize in OCD and receive training in ERP, and — because of this — our members are able to treat patients’ OCD and ROCD symptoms effectively utilizing one-on-one video therapy sessions from the comfort of their own homes.
With a network of ERP trained therapists available in all 50 states, our solution provides you with customizable, accessible treatment options for OCD and its subtypes. If you or your loved one is seeking treatment for OCD or ROCD, you can easily schedule a phone call with a member of the NOCD clinical team to learn more about how a licensed OCD therapist can help you gain more control over your compulsions.
The important thing to remember when it comes to any mental health-related struggle is that you’re never alone! It sounds cheesy, but it’s true — there’s always a network of people and providers ready to help you gain more control over your personal struggles.
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Dealing with ROCD in particular can feel isolating and make your relationships more of a struggle, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. It might seem like a lot to process at first, but once you get started with ERP treatments, you’ll be on the road to a relationship less affected by the intrusive thoughts brought on by ROCD.