What is Divorce OCD?
Relationship OCD (ROCD) commonly includes intrusive thoughts, worries, or images about fear of divorce occurring in a marriage, or about events that could potentially lead to divorce or separation. These thoughts are unwanted and are not based in reasonable likelihood or reality, and they can occur in a secure and happy marriage.
People with ROCD often ruminate about the status of their marriage. They could worry that their partner might want a divorce or that they may want a divorce some time in the future. Because they feel uncertain or worried about the future, and even about their own feelings, the people struggling with ROCD engage in compulsions in order to gain more certainty and resolve their anxiety in the moment.
The compulsions for fear of divorce can include behaviors such as researching common causes of divorce, seeking reassurance from their partner and others, or ruminating about the possibility of divorce. Though these compulsions make them feel better in the moment and may feel as if they have erased some doubt or uncertainty, they make intrusive thoughts, feelings, and doubts continue in the long term.
Fear of Divorce OCD – Common Obsessions
- What if my partner wants a divorce?
- What if I want a divorce?
- What if one of us wants a divorce in the future?
- Is this the best/right marriage for me?
- What if a situation happens which causes a divorce?
- What if this fight leads to a divorce?
- What does it mean if I am thinking about a divorce, do I really want this?
- How can I be sure that my partner isn’t thinking about divorcing me?
- I felt frustrated/angry/annoyed with my partner—does that mean we should get divorced?
- They seem upset—are they thinking about a divorce?.
People with obsessional fears of divorce in OCD may be triggered by situations involving divorce, annulment, breaking up, cheating, or other circumstances about their relationship ending. They could be triggered by real events or conflicts in their personal lives or the lives of people that they know personally. Situations such as celebrities announcing divorces or break ups, seeing divorces occurring in a TV show or movie, or reading about a divorce in a book/story can also be triggering.
People with this subtype of OCD may also be triggered by relationship conflict, any feelings of upset/anger/annoyance in the relationship, arguing, a perception of doing something wrong, a perception that their partner is talking to others outside of the relationship, or if their partner is not sharing information with them. These situations can lead to obsessive worries and rumination on “what ifs.”
Triggers for people with Divorce OCD fears include:
- Tension or disconnection in their relationship
- Their partner having platonic relationships with others outside of the marriage
- Seeing media/social media images, posts, videos, or announcements of a couple getting a divorce
- Thoughts of previous relationships that have ended
- Speaking with friends or family about their relationship issues
How can I tell if it’s ROCD divorce fears, and not anxiety or relationship issues?
The main difference is that with OCD, the thoughts are unwanted. Someone with fear of divorce OCD does not intend to think about divorce; nonetheless, they become obsessed with it or “stuck” on it, and the thoughts can be distressing. OCD typically occurs in a cyclical manner: thoughts lead to distress, which leads to compulsions—physical or mental actions intended to alleviate the distress. In turn, these compulsions reinforce the belief that the obsessions were rooted in reality, causing obsessions and distress to come back more and more over time.
When people with divorce fears in OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may feel the need to get reassurance of their relationship’s stability or check for signs that there will be a divorce.
Checking compulsions can include going through and checking their partner’s messages, as well as checking their belongings for signs that something will lead to divorce. People may also experience urges to get reassurance from their partner and others that divorce will not happen. They also might feel compelled to research about others’ experiences with divorce and what led up to it in order to “watch out for signs.”
Often, people engage in mental review or rumination in which thoughts continuously occur without relief. During mental review, a person will ruminate on a previous conversation or situation with their partner and review every aspect of the situation in order to look for clues that the partner is unhappy or wants a divorce.
Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with Divorce OCD fears include:
- Checking messages
- Seeking reassurance from their partner or others
- Researching causes/reasons for divorce
- Rumination/mental review
- “Checking” how they feel towards their partner (repeatedly/excessively)
- Doting on their partner or excessively expressing praise or affection
How to treat fear of divorce
|Divorce fears in ROCD can be debilitating for people who struggle with them, but all forms of OCD are highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist and addressing obsessions and compulsions, you can learn to manage OCD long-term and reduce your suffering. |
In ERP, you and your therapist work together to design exposures, or exercises done to trigger anxiety and uncertainty around the theme of divorce. After triggering your fears, your therapist will guide you in resisting the urge to respond with obsessions and instead accept the uncertainty behind your obsessions. In time, this not only teaches you to tolerate uncertainty, but can also reduce the frequency and severity of your obsessions over time.
If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.
We look forward to working with you.