Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD
OCD subtypes
Relationship OCD

Are Your Relationship Doubts a Symptom of Relationship OCD or a Wrong Relationship?

7 min read
Dr. Keara Valentine
All types of OCD include obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted and intrusive thoughts, feelings, urges and doubts, while compulsions are repetitive physical or mental actions performed in an attempt to relieve distress and anxiety.

Have you ever wondered to yourself, “What if I’m not in love with my partner anymore? What if I’ve never been?”

Practically everyone has experienced some form of doubt in a relationship. From the big questions like, “Am I in love?” or, “What if my partner is in love with someone else?” to smaller questions like, “Did I do something to make my partner upset? They are in a bad mood and it must be my fault.”

For some people, these thoughts are more than occasional. They can become constant and overwhelming, and even lead to compulsive actions like seeking reassurance to quiet them. When these thoughts and actions rise to the level of obsessive-compulsive order (OCD), they are known as relationship OCD, or ROCD.

You may be thinking that these thoughts and behaviors don’t quite fit the way you may have thought about OCD, and you’d be right. OCD is highly misunderstood, even by some mental health professionals, and extremely common subtypes like ROCD can be easily overlooked. 

But as an OCD specialist with experience treating ROCD, I want to emphasize: if you think you may be experiencing ROCD symptoms, you’re not alone, and effective help is available for you. Let’s dive in further.

Signs of relationship OCD

Relationship doubts can be a sign of ROCD, but thoughts alone are not enough to diagnose someone with the condition. For someone with this condition, relationship doubts are experienced as intense anxiety or discomfort that feel impossible to let go of, and they can often take over or sabotage the relationship. 

So what does ROCD look like? A very common symptom of ROCD is compulsively seeking reassurance. For example, you might hear your partner humming to a certain song that you don’t like, and think they have terrible taste. While someone else might dismiss this as unimportant—after all, everyone likes different music—for someone with ROCD, their mind might latch onto this thought and grow it into cause for greater concern.

Then, you might start thinking about how your partner has terrible taste in everything, not just music, and how maybe this means you’re not meant to be together. Shouldn’t you be with someone with better taste? These obsessive thoughts won’t stop, so to ease yourself of the anxiety and doubt, you call a friend to ask if they think your relationship is working and what they think about your partner’s taste in music. Maybe you call two friends. Or three. This could lead to spending hours comparing what each friend said, and maybe a few more hours Googling the band your partner was listening to, what people think about the band and what kind of people are fans. 

It’s also common to seek reassurance from your partner by continually asking them questions like whether they are in love with you or if they’ve been unfaithful. Someone with ROCD might spend hours thinking about whether they are with the right person. Other compulsions often take the form of checking and mental review. You might be engaged in what feels like endless mental tests to make sure you love your partner. You might replay questions like: Are they attractive enough? I just thought about an ex—is my relationship doomed? Are they intelligent enough? What if they cheat? What if we fall out of love? These intrusive thoughts are obsessive and unrelenting, not fleeting. 

ROCD vs. normal relationship doubts

ROCD goes beyond relationship doubts. You might find that these thoughts will go on and on, often for hours or days, and won’t leave until you can find reassurance either internally or externally to dismiss these concerns. ROCD can be incredibly time-consuming, drain someone of energy and keep them from being able to feel connected to their partner. 

The most important distinction between normal relationship doubts and ROCD is that your anxieties don’t go away with ROCD—say, when your partner reassures you that they love you, or when you decide that they really do belong together. They keep bubbling up. If you find that you need to ask your partner or BFF the same question for the millionth time because it’s the only way you’ll feel less anxious about your relationship, that could be a sign of ROCD. More clues include:

  • You fear that problems that don’t exist may surface in the future. You might have a deep and real feeling about your relationship, and no good therapist would ever discount your feelings. The question here would be whether the thoughts are based in any real fact, or whether they’re more of an imagined concern. “ROCD makes you believe that you need to feel 100% certain about the state of your relationship, but this is an emphatic lie. A key part of treatment is learning to accept uncertainty, because it exists everywhere in our lives,” says Patrick McGrath, PhD, Chief Clinical Officer at NOCD. 
  • Your doubts come and go. Ask yourself this: Do my questions about my relationship come and go, or do they hang on? If things just aren’t working, then your feelings might be more persistent. But with ROCD, they can feel more intermittent.  Paying attention to whether your relationship doubts come and go or linger can help you differentiate between ROCD symptoms and signs of relationship incompatibility. When someone is struggling with ROCD, the relationship doubts and concerns they have are more likely to be intermittent in nature. When the doubts are being caused by an actual problem or incompatibility with someone, the doubt often feels more consistent in nature.
  • But…they’re cyclical. Meaning that your obsessions and compulsions keep coming back over and over—even though you may know they’re not based in reality.
  • You feel confused, not unhappy. If you have doubts about your relationship, but you feel loved and supported by your partner, then it’s possible that what you’re dealing with ROCD. “Obsessing about your partner’s faults feeds into the doubts and uncertainty surrounding your relationship, even when you’re otherwise incredibly happy,” says Kimberly Quinlan, LMFT, a mental health therapist in Calabasas, California.

How ROCD is treated

If you have ROCD, or think you may have it, know that there’s help available. The best course of treatment for ROCD, like all types of OCD, is exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. An ERP-trained therapist like myself will help by reviewing which thoughts or scenarios are causing you the most anxiety, and then work with you to come up with a specialized treatment plan to alleviate them through gradual controlled exposure. For example, you might work with your therapist on getting to a place where you no longer feel the compulsion to call a friend each time a relationship doubt creeps into your mind. 

Here are some other possible therapy exercises that might be tailored to your specific needs and symptoms:

  • Writing “We might break up one day” without seeking reassurance from your partner that they love you
  • Saying “Maybe they’re not the right one for me” without going to online forums to compare your relationship to others’ relationships
  • Doing an activity without your partner and refraining from checking in via text until afterwards

ERP can be challenging because you’ll have to avoid your compulsions and sit with the anxiety that occurs. But using ERP for ROCD, specialists like myself consistently see that with time and practice, your compulsions will gradually loosen their grip, allowing you to develop new skills for managing anxiety, tolerating uncertainty, and living more confidently in your relationships.

Where to find effective treatment for ROCD

If you think you might have ROCD, or are interested in learning more about how your specific experience can be treated with ERP, I recommend speaking with a licensed mental health professional who truly specializes in OCD treatment. 

NOCD’s therapy network has been built by clinical leaders who developed some of the world’s leading OCD treatment programs, and every NOCD Therapist receives intensive training in treating all themes of OCD, including ROCD, with personalized ERP therapy. In fact, many of NOCD’s specialists have OCD themselves and achieved recovery with evidence-based treatment, so they truly understand the impact that ERP can have—and what it’s like to find relief from ROCD symptoms.

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NOCD Therapists specialize in treating Relationship OCD

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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp

Network Clinical Training Director

I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.

Gary Vandalfsen

Gary Vandalfsen

Licensed Therapist, Psychologist

I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist for over twenty five years. My main area of focus is OCD with specialized training in Exposure and Response Prevention therapy. I use ERP to treat people with all types of OCD themes, including aggressive, taboo, and a range of other unique types.

Madina Alam

Madina Alam

Director of Therapist Engagement

When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.

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