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

A Complete Guide to Relationship OCD (ROCD)

8 min read
Nicholas Farrell, Ph.D
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.

Anybody might doubt certain parts of their relationships, from their feelings for one another to whether they should be together at all. These doubts are normal, and are not always a cause for concern. For some, though, doubts like these can become overwhelming and get in the way of a healthy relationship.

This is the case in Relationship OCD (or ROCD), a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). As with all themes of OCD, ROCD is characterized by recurring intrusive thoughts or other triggers that cause distress and anxiety, followed by safety-seeking compulsive behaviors or mental actions done to feel more certain about one’s relationship, one’s feelings, or the feelings of their partner(s).

To shed light on this condition and help you make decisions about your own mental health and care options, we’ will dive into’ll cover the following questions:

  • What is Relationship OCD (ROCD)?
  • What are ROCD’s main symptoms and triggers?
  • How can I tell if my anxiety is “normal” or a sign of ROCD?
  • Effective treatment for ROCD, with a focus on exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy

What is ROCD?

ROCD is an OCD subtype that is characterized by ongoing intrusive thoughts, images, urges, or feelings about one’s relationship, including:

  • How one feels about their partner
  • Whether their partner has the “right” traits for them
  • How their partner feels about them
  • Whether they are meant to be together
  • Whether to stay in the relationship

People with ROCD feel unable to accept or move on from these worries and fears, turning to physical actions or mental behaviors—known as compulsions—for relief. These unrelenting obsessions and compulsions can often interfere severely in one’s life or even damage their relationship.

ROCD can be incredibly stressful and draining, and it can limit one’s ability to feel connected to others—especially their partner. People with ROCD may worry that these thoughts will persist forever, or that they won’t stop until they’ve found enough reassurance or certainty to feel safe in their relationship. 

ROCD Symptoms

As with all forms of OCD, the primary symptoms of ROCD include obsessions (unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause anxiety or distress) and compulsions, done in an attempt to alleviate anxiety, “prove” their doubts wrong, or prevent a negative outcome in their relationship.

ROCD obsessions

People with ROCD experience frequent obsessions that often focus on intense doubt about their relationship(s), despite little to no evidence for them. Some example doubts include:

ROCD compulsions

These doubting thoughts are often viewed as an indication that the relationship may be “flawed” in some way, fueling anxiety and driving sufferers to engage in various compulsions to gain certainty about their relationship status. Here are some common examples of ROCD compulsions:


To alleviate their anxiety, people with OCD often seek reassurance from others that they have no reason for doubt, or that what they fear isn’t true. In the case of ROCD, individuals may ask friends, family, or significant others questions like:

  • Do you think my relationship is working?
  • How did you know you met the right person?”
  • Are you still in love with me?
  • How did you feel about your previous partner?

Mental tracking/Mental review

Another common type of compulsion in ROCD is making lists in one’s head to prove or disprove their doubts. For example, someone consumed with the obsession “What if I’m not meant to be with my parter?” may come up with a list of reasons they are meant to be together, repeating it every time they have an intrusive thought to ease their anxiety. They may mentally review everything they’ve done together, list everything they don’t like about their partner, and “check” their feelings for signs of affection. 

This can be understood as a form of self-reassurance, in which a person tries to gather as much evidence as possible to disprove their doubts and assure themselves, rather than asking for it from other people.

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Social comparisons

This could involve spending hours on social media, examining other people’s relationships, and asking oneself questions like “Are they happier than we are?” If someone experiences obsessive thoughts about whether they should get married, for example, they might think about every married couple they know and investigate how long it took each couple to get married, or how the bond of that couple compares to their own relationship.

Common ROCD triggers

Though someone with ROCD may experience obsessions about their relationship without any clear cause, there are a variety of triggers that are likely to trigger obsessive doubts and the resulting compulsions. Some examples include:

  • Reading or hearing about other relationships
  • Talking with other people about their relationships
  • Finding someone else attractive 
  • Weddings or other romantic engagements
  • Thinking about previous relationships
  • Forming an emotional connection with someone else
  • Sexual intimacy with their partner(s)

How can I tell if it’s ROCD, anxiety, or a relationship issue?

Everyone experiences doubt and relationship issues from time to time, and may even engage in reassurance-seeking, social comparisons, or other similar behaviors to alleviate anxiety. So, how can you tell if your concerns are “normal” levels of anxiety, reflect genuine relationship issues, or may be a sign of ROCD?

There are several important differences between relationship stress that’s caused by ROCD and regular or healthy relationship anxiety. One key factor is how easy it is for you to let go of these thoughts. Obsessions in OCD tend to feel impossible to move on from. Ordinary relationship doubts that occur outside the context of ROCD generally aren’t nearly as gripping, and tend to be resolved once you get more information or work through your doubts.

Obsessions also lead to a significant amount of distress. When people without ROCD experience relationship doubt, it may cause brief anxiety, but it is generally weaker in intensity and shorter in duration. A powerful and enduring anxious response to doubts or intrusive thoughts regarding one’s relationship may be a sign that a mental health condition like OCD is playing a role in creating and sustaining those feelings. 

Compulsions are a tell-tale indication that what you’re experiencing is the result of OCD and not normal anxiety or relationship issues. So if you feel an overwhelming need to engage in mental or physical behaviors to alleviate your anxiety or uncertainty, OCD is likely the culprit. 

Finally, if your relationship doubts repeatedly carry over from one relationship to the next, overtaking your thoughts regardless of who you are with, or if they impact your non-romantic relationships as well, that’s a strong signal that ROCD is the source.

Treatments for Relationship OCD

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 effective for 80 percent of people with OCD. The majority of patients experience results within 12–25 sessions

As part of ERP therapy, you’d be tracking your obsessions and compulsions and making a list of how distressing each thought is. You’ll work with your therapist to slowly put yourself into situations that bring on your obsessions. This is carefully planned to ensure you’re gradually building toward your goal rather than moving too quickly and feeling overwhelmed.

The idea behind ERP therapy is that exposure to these thoughts and discomfort is the most effective way to treat OCD. When you continually submit to the urge to do the compulsions, it only strengthens your need to engage in them. On the other hand, when you prevent yourself from performing compulsions, you teach yourself a new way to respond. This will likely lead to a noticeable reduction in obsession-based stress and increase your ability to tolerate uncertainty.

Here’s an example of a potential exposure for ROCD: Let’s say you’ve identified with your therapist that every time your partner makes a joke you don’t find funny, you have intrusive doubts about whether you’re really meant to be together. In these moments of doubt, it feels like the only thing that helps is calling a friend for reassurance.

ERP therapy will help to identify this cycle, so you know how to handle the situation when it comes up. So the next time your partner makes a silly joke and your obsessive doubts kick in, instead of reaching for the phone to call your friend, you’ll try to sit with the anxiety that comes from worrying that you may be with the wrong partner. You might start by simply waiting for 15 minutes before reaching out for reassurance, and later work on accepting uncertainty by saying to yourself: “Maybe we’re not truly meant to be together. Who really knows?” Over time, you’ll start to feel less agonized when those thoughts come up, enjoying your relationship despite the uncertainty you feel. 

ERP vs. “Traditional” talk therapy

While traditional talk therapy is effective for treating many issues, it can actually be counterproductive for ROCD. Here is a brief example. 

Say you are worried about whether you’re with the right person. In talk therapy, you might focus on all the positives in your relationship so you feel more assured about your relationship status. The therapist might say something like, “I’ve known you for five years, and I think this is the happiest you’ve been with a person. Is there something specific that’s bothering you now?” 

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Although this comment may feel helpful for someone concerned about their relationship, for someone struggling with ROCD, it may fulfill the compulsive need for reassurance and rumination. It might feel good in the short term to have your anxieties relieved, but in the long run, this isn’t doing anything to help ROCD.

You can get help for ROCD

ROCD can be difficult to diagnose, because many of the signs and symptoms may look like normal aspects of a relationship. However, a mental health professional who specializes in OCD will be able to make an accurate diagnosis.

When seeking help for OCD, it’s important to work with a licensed professional who has specialty training in ERP therapy. If you think you may be struggling with ROCD, schedule a free call with the NOCD Care team to learn about working with a NOCD Therapist.

Nicholas Farrell, Ph.D

Nicholas R. Farrell, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the Regional Clinical Director at NOCD where he provides clinical leadership and direction for our teletherapy services. In this role, he works closely with our clinical leadership team to provide a high-quality training and developmental experience for all of our therapists with the aim of maximizing treatment effectiveness and improving our members’ experience. Dr. Farrell received his master's and doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology from the University of Wyoming (Laramie, WY, USA). He served as a graduate research assistant in the Anxiety Disorders Research Laboratory at the University of Wyoming from 2010 to 2015 and completed his predoctoral internship training as a psychology resident at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton (Ontario, Canada).

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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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