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Relationship OCD

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

5 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.

Signs of relationship OCD

Relationship doubts can be a sign of ROCD, but thoughts alone are not enough to diagnose someone with the condition.

ROCD is characterized by ongoing intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors around uncertainty of a relationship.

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 reassurance seeking. 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? Do they have the right eye color? Are they intelligent enough? Are they spending too much time on social media? 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. 

An important distinction between relationship doubts and ROCD is that anxieties don’t go away with reassurance when you have ROCD. They are only alleviated temporarily. If you find that you need to ask your friend the same question over and over again because it’s the only way you’ll feel less anxious about your relationship, even though she’s already given you the same answer 10 times, that could be a sign of ROCD.  

ROCD can be tricky to diagnose because practically everyone feels anxiety and doubt about their relationships at some point. Someone with ROCD might simply consider themselves the type of person who is too picky or too “high-maintenance,” or maybe just isn’t great at maintaining romantic connections. ROCD, however, is consistent overtime when not treated. While someone could have relationship doubts because they are actually in the wrong relationship, if you have ROCD, the obsessions and compulsions are carried from one connection to the next. They are not dependent on the quality of the relationship as much as on your own doubt and uncertainty. 

Treatment for ROCD

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. ERP is considered the gold standard for OCD treatment and has been found 80% effective. An ERP-trained therapist 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 a 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. ERP can be challenging because you’ll have to avoid your compulsions and sit with the anxiety that occurs. But the goal is that, over time and with practice, the compulsions will gradually loosen their grip. 

If you think you might have ROCD, or are interested in learning how it’s treated with ERP, schedule a free call with the NOCD clinical team to find out how this type of treatment can help you. All of our therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. 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.

Dr. Keara Valentine

Dr. Keara Valentine specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy and other evidence-based treatments for anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety, panic, and depression. She is also a Clinical Assistant Professor within the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, providing psychotherapy in the mood, anxiety, and OCD clinics and participating in research on novel OCD and Hoarding Disorder treatments.

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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.

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.

Andrew Moeller

Andrew Moeller

Licensed Therapy, LMHC

I've been a licensed counselor since 2013, having run my private practice with a steady influx of OCD cases for several years. Out of all the approaches to OCD treatment that I've used, I find Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy to be the most effective. ERP goes beyond other methods and tackles the problem head-on. By using ERP in our sessions, you can look forward to better days ahead.

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