Relationship OCD (ROCD) is a subtype of OCD where the obsessive thoughts fixate on your relationship. Some common examples of obsessive thoughts include concerns over whether your partner loves you enough if your partner is the right person for you, or questioning if the relationship is the right relationship for you. OCD demands certainty, and in relationships, the stakes feel very high and the absolute certainty OCD needs can never be met.
The fears and intolerance of Uncertainty fuel the compulsions, which provide a temporary decrease in distress. Some common compulsions with ROCD include checking on your partner repeatedly, confessing your doubts, or FEARING that you find another person attractive and seeking reassurance either from your partner or others. Below are some relationship moves to avoid if you are living with ROCD.
1. Avoid the “normal trap.”
This goes for OCD in general. Living with OCD requires a consistent commitment to accept uncertainty and resist compulsions. Questions that come up in therapy that reference the “normal trap” sound like, “Well isn’t it normal to check on your partner, tell your partner what you’re thinking, express concerns about your relationship, etc.?” The short answer to this is, yes… if you’re not living with OCD. Beating OCD means not falling prey to the “normal trap,” or engaging in compulsive behaviors because it’s what everyone else is doing. Your friends might take relationship quizzes online for fun to see how compatible they are with their partner, or check in with their partner regularly to see how satisfied and happy the other person is in the relationship. Friends and family may also talk to one another about their relationships and try to get feedback or advice when they are struggling. You might even hear stories from others about how being completely open and honest in a relationship is the key to success. These behaviors are enticing and may seem harmless, however, we know that if you give OCD an inch, it takes a mile.
There will be times when behaviors that were or are compulsions will be helpful for your relationship; for example, telling your partner you love them or checking in with them when they are unhappy. Since not doing these things at times can be potentially harmful to the relationship, make sure to put some boundaries in place. Establish some ground rules for “normal” behaviors. When it comes to behaviors that are or were compulsions, it can be helpful to ask yourself if you want to do the behavior, or if you feel like you have to do the behavior. If you want to do it, proceed with caution. Give it a limit. Do the behavior once, and if you don’t trust the answer, or it doesn’t feel right, still only do it once. If you feel like you have to do it, or if you’re doing it to just make sure or get certainty, don’t do it! Learn to tolerate the uncertainty instead and choose to not do the compulsion.
2. Trusting your gut.
OCD is known as the doubting DISORDER — so it makes you doubt EVERYTHING. Family and friends will often give the advice of “just trust your gut” when you talk about relationship concerns. It comes from a good place, but this advice is unhelpful if you’re living with OCD because your gut gives you tons and tons of false red flags.
Please know that your gut may not tell you the truth, and do things to move toward the anxiety and uncertainty. Learn to live with doubt. If you drive a car, you live with doubt every day – you never know if you will or won’t get in an accident, but you drive anyway. You may never fully know everything your OCD wants you to know about your relationship, but you can still enjoy it every day.
Living and being in a relationship with ROCD is possible and can be very fulfilling. If you’re struggling with ROCD, find a therapist trained in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy that can help you to live life according to your values and not feel like you’re subject to the whims of what OCD wants. 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.