If you’re in a relationship, it’s normal to feel uncertainty at times about your partner or the relationship in general. However, if these concerns feel intrusive or obsessive, you might be living with relationship OCD (ROCD).
People with ROCD struggle with obsessions and compulsions about their relationships and their feelings about them. As with all subtypes of OCD, uncertainty leads to intense fear and subsequently, compulsions, such as seeking reassurance, to alleviate the fear.
If you have ROCD, the fears you have typically fall into two categories:
- relationship-centered, where you are concerned about your feelings toward your partner and if the relationship is right
- partner-focused, where you obsess over your partner’s characteristics
Another fear variant is obsessional jealousy, where you may experience intrusive thoughts about your partner thinking about or cheating with someone else.
How is ROCD treated?
Having obsessive-compulsive cycles related to your relationship can take a toll on your mental health and the well-being of your relationship. Fortunately, ROCD can be treated through a form of cognitive behavioral therapy called exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.
ERP therapy is considered the gold-standard treatment for all types of OCD, and all NOCD therapists receive ERP-specific training to offer you the most effective treatment. During ERP, your therapist will collaboratively work with you to expose you to the things that trigger your obsessions and guide you through them in order to help you resist enacting your compulsions. Over time, you will learn to let the intrusive thoughts simply exist without causing you an overload of distress or rushing to engage in compulsions.
What are ROCD exposures?
ROCD exposures allow you to lean into your unwanted thoughts and subsequent uncomfortable feelings and learn how to tolerate uncertainty. A common type of exposure used for people with ROCD is imaginal exposure. These are exposures that cannot be done in real life, but rather are done using the imagination.
For example, if you are concerned about being with the wrong person, your therapist may ask you to write exposure scripts about being with the wrong person or, even better, about never knowing or never being sure if you are with the right person. By writing this exposure script, reading it and not engaging in your compulsions, you can learn how to better endure your relationship fears.
Another variant of this would be to write an exposure script or vocalize exposure statements that you might never find the right person or that you might be stuck in a loveless relationship forever. This lets the uncertainty bubble to the surface so you can learn how to lean into it without enacting compulsions.
An exposure script may look like this:
“I can never know if Bob is the right person for me. We have been together for four years and there still might be another person out there that is a better fit for me than Bob. Even though I enjoy his sense of humor and find that our values and plans for the future match, I might be making a horrible mistake. I may never know if I am settling or making the right choice.”
This can be overwhelming to write and read, but your therapist will be alongside you the whole time to help you work through the fear and anxiety these exposures cause without giving in to your compulsions.
Other examples of ROCD exposures can include (but are certainly not limited to):
- looking at unflattering pictures of your partner
- having your partner do irritating things and resisting compulsions
- resisting compulsions such as looking at articles about relationships or asking reassurance-seeking questions
- imagining your partner having intercourse with someone else
- thinking about your partner’s former lovers
What is response prevention?
ERP therapy isn’t just about exposures — response prevention is key. Resisting compulsions is imperative to treating your OCD and is what will ultimately lead you to a healthier relationship and mental state. If you do an imaginal exposure only to leave the exposure session and ask your partner reassurance-seeking questions all night or research relationship articles online, your obsessive-compulsive cycles will likely persist.
It may feel impossible to resist your compulsions, but as you continue to work with your therapist, it will get easier. If you don’t currently have a therapist, I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment with the NOCD clinical team to find the right match for you. 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.