What is ROCD-related fear of falling out of love?
|Relationship OCD, also known as ROCD, causes intrusive thoughts, images, and/or urges, called obsessions, about a relationship—typically an intimate relationship. These can create great anxiety and discomfort. In an effort to rid themselves of these uncomfortable feelings, people with OCD often will perform rituals or compulsions. Compulsions are actions, either mental or physical, that serve to neutralize uncertainty or worry or prevent a feared outcome. |
Thoughts, feelings, images, or urges about falling out of love may include: What if I never loved my partner? What if someday I realize I feel differently? What if I love someone more? Maybe this person is not my soulmate. Maybe there is someone who suits me better. How can I be sure that this is my soulmate? If you experience the above symptoms regularly and in excess, you might be experiencing ROCD.
ROCD, like all forms of OCD, causes intense doubt and anxiety. When someone has a fear of falling out of love, they may question whether any relationship of theirs will last the test of time. Will they still feel the same way years later? They may try to anticipate or ruminate about the future of the relationship. They notice that they can never feel certain enough that they are in love. They may focus on any potential flaw in their partner and wonder if they can stand or tolerate that for the rest of their lives, agonizing over their attempts to solve any perceived problem or worry.
The fear of falling out of love may include fears surrounding whether they will find their mate attractive always, desirable always, and feel love towards them always—questions that are impossible to satisfy fully. They may appear clingy or, on the other hand, distant; they may pull away at the slightest hint of discord, fearing that they are no longer in love. They may constantly research relationship compatibility, and take online quizzes that claim to define their “perfect” partner. They may repeatedly ask others what they think about their relationship, looking for reassurance. They may confess every doubt they have about their relationship to their partner, or to their friends or family, in a search for certainty.
Fear of falling out of love – Common obsessions
- What if I am not really in love or in love enough?
- What if I could love someone else more?
- What if we are incompatible?
- What if I lose attraction?
- What if I string them along?
- What if I hurt them in the long run because I don’t really love them?
- How can I be certain that I am truly “in love”?
- What if I am really just feeling lust and not true love?
- Is this just a “honeymoon phase”?
People with fears of falling out of love in ROCD may become triggered by any feelings in their relationship that are different from previous feelings. As they are together longer and become more comfortable within the relationship, they may start to feel that the relationship has changed, or that they no longer are experiencing the same level of love that they once did. They may be hyper-aware of small nuances in the relationship that once posed no issues. They may ruminate on past relationships and others’ relationships, compare them to their own. They may also start to compare their own relationship to others. They may ruminate on the relationship and try to solve any issues that could potentially lead to separation.
Triggers for people who have ROCD and experience a fear of falling out of love may include:
- Reading about or hearing about the “perfect” relationship
- Seeing compatibility quizzes or articles online
- Talking to friends/families about relationships
- Thinking about past partners
- Romantic movies or television shows
- Weddings or engagements
- Talking about the future
- Having an emotional connection with anyone other than their current partner
- Feeling anger or indifference toward their partner
- Feeling a lack of attraction or libido
How can I tell if it’s ROCD focused on a fear of falling out of love, and not an actual lack of love for my partner?
This is an excellent question. To know if you may be suffering from OCD, you need to learn to recognize the OCD cycle.
The OCD cycle is composed of: 1) intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges; 2) anxiety or distress that comes as a result; 3) compulsions performed to relieve the distress and anxiety brought on by the intrusive thoughts, images or urges. Understanding this cycle can help you distinguish OCD from other conditions. Something to keep in mind is that if you are feeling an intense urgency to know something immediately and with certainty, that is a red flag that OCD may be at work.
Intrusive thoughts can and do happen to everyone. Most people who do not have OCD are able to brush these thoughts off rather easily. They are better able to recognize them as random, insignificant, natural, or fleeting.
However, people with OCD struggle to do this. They often believe that if they think something, it must mean something. This is where OCD holds its power. People with a fear of falling out of love with their partner have extreme difficulty tolerating the uncertainty inherent to all romantic or intimate relationships.
When people with ROCD focused on a fear of falling out of love experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may engage in compulsions: behaviors or mental acts that one does to alleviate the distress and discomfort caused by intrusive thoughts or doubts. Compulsions may provide temporary relief, but do nothing to keep obsessions from returning again and again, causing more and more anxiety as uncertainty and doubt persist. Performing compulsions often inadvertently strengthens obsessions and fears, reinforcing the idea that obsessions posed an actual threat or danger in the first place.
Here are some examples of common compulsions for people with a fear of falling out of love in ROCD:
- Seeking reassurance from their partner
- Seeking validation and reassurance from family or friends about the relationship
- Rumination: trying to determine for sure if they are really in love
- Body-checking: Do I feel the same as I used to? Do I have butterflies?
- Comparing their relationship to others
- Taking personality/compatibility quizzes
- Researching love and what keeps people in love
- Comparing the current relationship to past relationships
- Disengaging from any uncomfortable discussions with their partner
How to treat fear of falling in love
Fears of falling out of love related to ROCD can be debilitating, but all OCD themes are highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you can find freedom from the OCD cycle.
ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD and many other anxiety disorders. It is backed by decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness, and shows promising results within 12-25 sessions on average. With ERP, you will be able to teach your brain that your obsessions don’t have any real meaning, and that you are able to sit in the discomfort of unpleasant feelings and uncertainty.
In ERP, you’re gradually and safely exposed to the thoughts and situations that are likely to trigger obsessions and anxiety about falling out of love. With your therapist’s guidance and support, you will learn how to resist the urge to respond to these doubts and worries with compulsions. By doing this over time, you learn that you are able to tolerate anxiety and you will feel more confident in your ability to sit with uncertainty and discomfort surrounding your relationship.
Examples of possible exposures done to treat a fear of falling out of love in ROCD may include:
- Writing a script about breaking up and falling out of love and reading it out loud several times per day.
- Write out all the qualities you do not like about your partner.
- Create a loop tape of all the ways in which you are not perfect for each other and listen to it repeatedly.
- Watch romantic movies and television shows.
- Read about people who have been together for many years who break up or fall out of love.
It is important to note that alongside practicing exposures, it is crucial to resist compulsions, so OCD is not further reinforced. Response prevention allows you to sit with the discomfort of your fears without engaging in compulsions, thereby breaking the cycle of OCD and allowing you to develop a tolerance for uncertainty. In time, this allows you to live with confidence, without relying on compulsions to feel safe.
As an OCD specialist, I’ve used ERP to help many people regain their lives from OCD. I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment. 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.