It may be OCD
|What if my partner leaves me? Am I attractive enough for them? Am I a good enough partner? Did my actions/behaviors bother my partner? What if they don’t care enough about me? What if I end up alone forever? What if nobody will ever love me?|
Do these obsessive thoughts sound familiar? If you find yourself thinking about this theme constantly, it may be a sign that you have a subtype of OCD known as Relationship OCD (ROCD).
Relationship OCD is a subtype of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that can cause you to doubt your relationship, your partner, or you as a partner for countless hours, everyday. Several of these intrusive thoughts, known as obsessions, fill your day with worry, distress and panic. It feels as if these thoughts and uncomfortable feelings will never stop unless you do something to confirm that these thoughts are wrong or to make sure that your fears aren’t true. As a result, you engage in actions or mental routines called compulsions.
Compulsions can be defined as purposeful and repetitive physical or mental actions that a person feels compelled to do in order to relieve distress, eliminate uncertainty, or prevent a feared outcome from happening. These actions are usually very specific and often have their own strict rules.
Rather than actually resolving fears or uncertainty, compulsions only reinforce the vicious cycle of OCD. By providing a temporary sense of relief in the moment, they make you believe that as long as you keep doing them, your fears will not come to reality, or that you can feel absolute certainty about your doubts. Unfortunately, despite all of the efforts you make and time you spend keeping up with compulsions, the panic and discomfort surrounding your fear do not go away, and OCD demands a certainty that is impossible to achieve. This cycle makes you more dependent on your compulsions over time, as they provide some short-term relief but lead to more and more long-term suffering.
What if my relationship fears are legitimate?
|Intrusive thoughts caused by OCD are ego dystonic, meaning that they are in opposition with who you are as a person, with your intentions and your values. What this means is that no matter how hard you try to rationalize with these thoughts, the anxiety/distress will not decrease. OCD feels very real despite the rational understanding that you may have about these thoughts. |
This ego-dystonic factor of OCD makes this disorder extremely distressing. Sufferers spend hours per day analyzing, rationalizing, or ruminating about their relationship and its meaning, hoping to find some type of relief or absolute certainty in order to put their doubts, worries, and discomfort at bay. What this really involves is mental compulsions, which keep the OCD cycle going and actually provide less relief over time.
If this sounds similar to your experience, please know that you are not the only one experiencing these types of intrusive thoughts. Many, many people with ROCD are not only distressed, but also feel ashamed of having these thoughts about themselves, their partner, and their relationship. Nevertheless, ROCD is very common, it can happen to anyone, from all walks of life, and it doesn’t mean anything about you, your partner, or your relationship. Fortunately, there is a way to manage these thoughts more effectively and finally start to feel better.
How to treat ROCD fears
|If fears about your partner leaving you or related to relationship OCD are causing you to suffer, know that you can get better. It is important to find an OCD specialist who has been thoroughly trained in Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, the most effective treatment for OCD. |
ERP includes exposing yourself safely to your fears, but the most important piece of recovery is the response prevention component of ERP. By teaching yourself that you can accept obsessive doubts and uncertainty about your relationship without resorting to compulsions, you can learn to better tolerate the discomfort associated with those obsessions and see that thoughts do not actually pose any “risk” to you, your partner, or your relationship. Exposures are introduced to you gradually and your therapist will guide you through effective response prevention. Remember, you do not have to do this alone!
Examples of possible exposures done to treat obsessions that involve fears about your partner leaving you
- Refrain from texting your partner for (an hour, a day, a week)
- Put on your least favorite outfit before seeing your partner.
- Write down worst-case scenarios to embrace the uncertainty of the possibility of your partner leaving you.
- Read articles or material about breakups.
- Imagine living without a partner.