Thousands of people suffer from relationship OCD. This disorder can take a toll on your life and relationships with loved ones. This comprehensive guide explains the symptoms, treatment, science behind it, and how you can overcome it.
There are many partners who often doubt their significant other’s love. The feelings of anxiety, fear, and paranoia appear to be the same as OCD. In other words, individuals may feel dissatisfied with their relationship and often ask themselves these questions: “Does my partner really love me? “, “When will my partner leave me?” or “Am I the best person for my partner?.”
Relationship OCD is a tricky mental disorder. It’s curable, but it will cause havoc in any relationship without treatment. Yes, a relationship may raise questions and doubts in your mind. But those who suffer from relationship OCD (ROCD) tend to turn fears and doubts into irrational assumptions and jump to the wrong conclusions.
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Table of Contents
What Does Relationship OCD Mean?
Having OCD that causes problems in your relationships has several unknown causes, symptoms, and effects. After reading this article, you will gain a complete understanding of relationship OCD. You will also learn about methods of treatment and coping mechanisms.
1. What Is Relationship OCD?
Relationship OCD is a form of OCD related specifically to relationship thoughts and interactions. Patients can become overly concerned with the way their relationship is progressing. Some common characteristics of Relationship OCD are:
- Extreme doubt about the relationship (e.g., “Are they the right person for me?”)
- The tendency of relationship comparisons and constant comparison of one’s relationship to others (e.g., “I know so many other people with better relationships than mine!”)
- Frustration over the lack of control over the relationship (e.g., “If I just try harder, then maybe I’ll be able to change the relationship!”)
Is Relationship OCD a Mental Illness?
The answer is yes. Relationship OCD is a mental illness. There are many different types of OCD, and the most common is the obsession to clean, but there are other types of OCD. Relationship OCD is one of them, and it is when you feel an obsessive need to control your significant other.
This can include monitoring their time and looking through their phone. It is essential to recognize the signs of relationship OCD and get help. Treatment is available, and it can be beneficial in allowing yourself to be a healthy and normal individual.
Is OCD Bad for Relationships?
Relationships take a lot of work — and so does living with someone who has any mental illness, including OCD. Relationships require compromise, time, patience, and understanding — but if you have OCD, that’s not always easy to come by. According to research, OCD is primarily seen in romantic relationships compared to other relationships. There are two main types of relationship OCD symptoms:
- Relationship OCD Compulsions: Relationship OCD can compel someone to perform a ritual they feel will prevent harm or bad things from happening. These rituals are often based on obsessions related to the idea that something bad is going to happen, like losing a partner or getting them sick.
As mentioned previously, these compulsions are the most apparent symptoms of relationship OCD since they’re the ones that people are most likely to notice and react to. However, most people with relationship OCD won’t admit performing them out of shame or embarrassment.
- Relationship OCD Obsessions: Relationship OCD obsessions are mental intrusions that repeat a particular relationship theme and involve thoughts, images, and impulses. Relationship OCD obsessions are generally related to the idea that something terrible will happen in the absence of certain actions. Like compulsions, obsessions don’t affect external reality; they aren’t directly causing harm. And like compulsions, they’re usually a symptom of deeper issues that you need to resolve.
Relationship OCD compulsions include:
- You always want to know where your partner or roommate is, who they are with and what they’re doing at every moment of every day.
- You need to make sure that you have the same activities planned for each weekend, even if it means that one of you has to cancel plans with friends or family members.
- Setting strict rules for the partner – these people believe their relationship will not last if their partner is not controlled.
- The individuals go above and beyond to learn about topics such as ‘successful relationships,’ ‘how to control your partners,’ and “how to spot signs of cheating.”
- They often wonder if their partner still loves them or is still paying attention to the little details of their relationship. Their minds are always filled with scenarios that could go wrong.
Relationship OCD obsessions include:
- Unwanted thoughts that they’re not good enough for their partner or that they’ll never find anyone better.
- They may also feel like a relationship is the only thing that can save them from loneliness or despair.
- People with ROCD will worry about losing their partner even when things are going well in the relationship.
- Obsessively checking their phone for texts and emails from their partner.
- Calling their partner multiple times when they’re apart, feeling like something terrible might have happened if they don’t hear back right away.
- Repeatedly going over conversations with their partner in their head, looking for signs of disapproval or lack of interest.
What Triggers Relationship OCD?
Relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder can develop or worsen due to several possible triggers. Several triggers have been identified as necessary to the development of ROCD:
- OCD, if you have an underlying OCD, you are more likely to develop symptoms in all aspects of your life. Therefore, you are more likely to have complicated relationships in your late adult years.
- A habit of negative thinking about situations that could happen to you.
- Abandonment anxiety.
- Relationship OCD can also stem from feelings of responsibility for actions and thoughts.
Some specific thoughts and behaviors may also trigger ROCD symptoms. Here are some examples:
- Transitions that stress you out
- Stressful life events
- Relationships involving intimacy can also cause the ROCD
- Failure to fit in
Common Misconceptions among Patients with ROCD
People with OCD indulge in various superstitions and make false rules of their own. Some widespread misconceptions about relationship OCD are:
- “I need to be 100% passionate all the time. Otherwise, my partner will leave me.”
- “I must settle down with Mr./ Mrs. Perfect.”
- “I’m not making my partner happy.”
- “I’m responsible for the success or failure of my relationship.”
- “If I feel uncomfortable, then I’m being unfaithful.”
- “My partner will cheat on me if I don’t do it/ say it/ feel it.”
- “If I am attracted to someone else, then there is something wrong with my partner, and I should leave him or her.”
These beliefs are not true. These are examples of OCD symptoms. The disorder is characterized by anxiety and repetitive thoughts that interfere with day-to-day functioning. In this case, the thoughts that interfere with day-to-day functioning are about relationships and love. A person with ROCD will have no control over these thoughts, although they may be able to reduce their occurrence by engaging ineffective treatment strategies.
Is Relationship OCD in the DSM-5?
Several “presentations” of obsessive-compulsive disorder are included in the DSM-5, the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, “Relationship OCD” isn’t one of them. The DSM-5 is a universal tool for diagnosing mental disorders. It includes sets of criteria for all disorders and their subtypes and detailed descriptions of every disorder.
The criteria for OCD itself include obsessions or compulsions that take up more than an hour a day (either in real-time or as a percentage of your waking hours), cause distress or impairment. Another condition doesn’t better explain them.
Is There a Relationship OCD Test for Diagnosis?
It is certainly possible to obtain a relationship OCD test, which relationship therapists and counselors might use to evaluate a person’s symptoms. This can help determine specific cognitive distortions, such as the need for perfection that a person suffering from OCD might have. While these tests may not be specific to OCD, they might be beneficial in addition to therapy and other treatments.
Relationship OCD Self-Test Questionnaire:
|I fear that my partner is not compatible with me.
|I think that our love is not that strong, and the thought upsets me.
|I don’t have faith in us.
|Negative thoughts about my partner are impossible for me to ignore.
|Every time I am in a relationship, I check if it is going well or not.
|I must remind myself that I love my partner as well as make sure my partner loves me still.
|It causes me anxiety to think that I am not ‘perfect’ enough for my partner.
|I feel like my romantic partner is not sincere.
|When my partner is away, I need to keep an eye on him/ her.
|I want my partner to reassure me that things in our relationship are going well.
- Each option 1 question carries 10 points
- Each option 2 question carries 5 points
- Each option 3 question carries 0 points
2. What Causes Relationship OCD?
The exact causes of relationship OCD are still not known. Still, experts believe that several prominent factors might play a crucial role in developing ROCD. Factors that can be an apparent cause of relationship OCD are:
Anomalous Activity in Certain Brain Regions
OCD has been linked to several brain areas, including the basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex. The basal ganglia are responsible for creating habits, routines, and even OCD behaviors in some people. When there is a sudden shift in these areas of the brain, it can cause drastic changes in behavior. For example, if your brain shifts towards compulsive behaviors, you may begin developing symptoms of OCD such as compulsive hand washing or constant checking on things like doors and windows being locked.
Crises in Close-Relationships
Relationship OCD is often triggered by a relationship crisis that causes trust issues, for instance, parental divorce. This can lead sufferers to believe they need to be perfect to keep their partners. And, indeed, trust issues can’t go unscathed. Mental problems and destructive behavior often accompany trust issues.
When a person experiences abuse, their brain responds with a sense of urgency and fear. This urgent response can become so ingrained in their psyche that it becomes how they see relationships. They become terrified that if they do not check every detail of their partner’s behavior, they will be abused or abandoned.
This is NOT the same thing as having trust issues. People with trust issues recognize their behavior and want to change it. In contrast, people with relationship OCD don’t even realize what they are doing until it is pointed out to them, and even then don’t believe it is a problem as much as just “being cautious.”
Past Trauma or Tragedy
Relationship OCD may stem from trauma or tragedy in a person’s life, which makes them fearful of experiencing the same thing again. This could be an experience they had, either directly or indirectly, or it could be something they witnessed happening to someone else. It could also be a combination of factors. For example, a person might have encountered something traumatic and then fear that they will not avoid a similar situation in the future.
Life Transitions Such as Moving in with a Partner
Experts also believe that specific life changes can contribute to certain people’s compulsive and obsessive personalities. For example, getting married can be a crucial step in life. There can be multiple factors in a marriage such as; compatibility, the personality of your partner, understanding, type of relationship, etc., which can contribute to the development of ROCD.
Relationships are an integral part of many people’s lives, and to think these relationships may be cut short by someone else’s actions is too much for some people to bear. The fear of losing a loved one can drive some people to develop relationship OCD to keep others close and safe from harm.
Current studies have found that fluctuations in serotonin levels can cause obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other mood disorders. This helps explain why many people with relationship OCD experience symptoms during stressful times, such as going through a breakup or divorce.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which carries signals to and from the brain. This is the “feel good” chemical because an increase in serotonin creates a positive mood, while a decrease creates negative feelings. Lower than normal levels of serotonin have been associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and it is thought that high levels of serotonin can cause obsessive thoughts.
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3. The Impacts of Relationship OCD
A relationship disorder can cause many problems for an individual and cause many issues in their daily lives.
Relationship OCD Friendship
Many people with OCD, especially those with the severe subtype, obsess over their relationships. They often believe that they have done something to drive a person away or that they will. This can also affect close friendships. People with ROCD may think that a friend is betraying them, or perhaps they are not repaying their friendship, or maybe they are not supposed to be friends with the person. Having trust issues, staying isolated, and cutting off socialization with close friends may result from this.
Relationship OCD Break-Ups
The sufferer begins questioning everything about the relationship, from how much their partner loves them to how often they think about the sufferer when they are apart. They become consumed by doubt and fear that they will lose their partner if they don’t “keep them happy.”
Someone with ROCD might be so determined to prevent their significant other from leaving that they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure the relationship stays intact. But in doing so, they might do things that damage or destroy the relationship anyway, thus making a breakup more likely.
Relationship OCD Cheating
People with ROCD are more likely to obsessively think that they have cheated or will cheat on their partner. Sometimes cheating OCD causes one to be gripped by unshakable fears and doubts that their spouse is cheating. Although a bit of paranoia is harmless, it can be detrimental when it keeps you from enjoying the time you spend with your partner.
If your relationship feels strained and you’re constantly anxious about your partner cheating or leaving you, your anxiety is probably misplaced. It’s easy to assume that your partner is out being unfaithful when really they’re just spending time with friends or working late. Your jealous and insecure behavior is more likely to drive them to cheat!
Relationship OCD or Wrong Relationship?
The essential question to ask is whether your behavior is driven by anxiety or whether you’re just seeking reassurance. If it’s the latter, then it’s not OCD. It’s relationship OCD if you have intrusive thoughts and a compulsion to check on your partner’s actions.
If you’re simply seeking reassurance to feel more secure, but you don’t have intrusive thoughts or compulsions, your behavior is not OCD. If ROCD is suspected, you should consult a mental health professional. Taking note of your symptoms is the next step. Also, self-questionnaires can help you identify and seek medical attention for your symptoms before they get worse.
4. Relationship OCD Treatment Options
Is There a Cure for Relationship OCD?
Many techniques can help you overcome relationship OCD. You must learn how to relax and manage stress. Also, it is essential to permit yourself to have negative feelings toward your partner without automatically assuming that something is wrong with the relationship.
For example, suppose he/ she forgot to call you back within the hour as he/ she promised. Instead of jumping to conclusions and assuming he/ she doesn’t care about you or love you anymore, try giving him/ her the benefit of the doubt by assuming he’s/ she’s just been busy or preoccupied with other things. Here is a detailed scoop on treatment approaches to ROCD:
Only a certified mental health professional can prescribe you the best medication. The most commonly prescribed medicines for relationship OCD are antidepressants.
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Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant. They are likely the most prescribed antidepressants for people with relationship OCD. The most common SSRIs prescribed to people with ROCD are fluoxetine and sertraline. They effectively treat ROCD, but they can take two to three weeks to take effect. You should also be aware that SSRIs are the only type of antidepressant supposed to be effective at reducing OCD symptoms.
Therapy for relationship OCD can help you better understand the root causes of your issues and equip you with practical tools to address the problems. Find a therapist specializing in OCD and know that you’re not alone. You can recover from relationship OCD just like anyone else! The most popular therapies are:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Most people with relationship OCD are afraid of rejection from their significant other. This causes them to question the motives of everyone around them. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps the person start believing that most other people are good. That most people are honest. It also addresses the core fear of the person with OCD. The therapist helps you to understand that you can trust your significant other.
Exposure-Response Prevention (ERP)
The idea behind exposure and response prevention therapy is to gradually expose yourself to things that may cause you anxiety or fear while preventing yourself from performing the compulsive response. It sounds simple, but in practice, it’s very difficult. The goal of ERP is to rewire your brain and break the pattern of OCD behavior. The ultimate goal of ERP therapy is for you to learn how to go about your daily life without engaging in compulsions.
Exposure therapy is known to be the most effective type of behavioral therapy. It has the following classes:
- In-vivo exposures – The therapist creates experiences that a person experiences in their everyday life that usually lead to mental health problems.
- Imaginary exposures – The therapist uses various writing and reading techniques to create imaginary exposures. This is done when it is not possible to conduct in-vivo exposures.
Mindfulness-Based Behavioral Therapy
The positive impact of mindfulness-based behavioral therapy for relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder is excellent, to put it mildly. It is the conclusion of decades of research-backed up by brain findings in the realm of relationships. Mindfulness is a mental state that is focused on the present moment. It is, in essence, non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of current situations.
This type of therapy is used in various settings, but one of its most common uses is in couples counseling. Group therapies are based on the idea that people can better deal with problems by talking about them with others who have similar issues. Group members set overall goals for the duration of their time together. These could be anything from becoming more aware of how their actions affect others to improving communication skills to set basic rules for interacting with one another.
OCD Intensive Treatment Program
OCD intensive treatment programs have very high efficacy for advanced OCD cases. The overall treatment plan is around three weeks long. This program targets especially the compulsions and obsessions related to OCD. The tailored program has a recommended protocol that is individually planned for every person. And only your mental health expert or therapist can plan out the best protocol considering your overall goals and symptoms intensity.
Learning how to make lifestyle changes can improve your life and relationships far beyond what you think is possible. This condition is not something to be ashamed of. ROCD is a part of you that simply needs to be accepted and integrated positively. You can take steps to reduce ROCD anxiety by cutting down caffeine, overcoming substance dependence, and so forth.
5. Tips to Manage ROCD
What to Do If Your Partner Has OCD?
It is not uncommon for ROCD to be mistaken as jealousy or insecurity when it is a separate condition. You cannot control whether your partner has ROCD, but you can focus on understanding it better to support your partner better.
- Educate Yourself about ROCD: The first step towards managing ROCD is to learn more about it. Read up on the condition and understand what your partner might be going through. That way, you will be able to empathize better and offer support.
- Acknowledge the ROCD of Your Partner: Instead of seeing this condition as a flaw or something “wrong” with your partner, try to understand the origins of their condition. Look at the way they were raised and what influences have shaped their behavior all along. This might help you see that they are not intentionally hurting you but are just struggling with a mental health issue.
- Be Open About It: This will help you manage it better once you know what is going on for your partner as well. You might even decide to see a therapist together so that you can support them. Communicate your concerns with care to your partner and ask for support. If you have been avoiding talking about your OCD out of fear that your partner will think there is something wrong with your relationship, now is the time to start talking about it.
How Do You Stop OCD in a Relationship?
Compulsive checkers (aka OCD patients) are hardwired to believe that just because something is missing from their lives, it’s a dire emergency. Their desire for order and control in every aspect of their lives can be oppressive. ROCD can lead to poor communication and misunderstandings between partners, making it difficult for couples to have fun together. It can strain marriages when one partner has OCD and the other does not. Here are some essential tips to nip in the bud.
- Practice Mindfulness: Breath deeply and count to 10 before you react. This can help you stop catastrophizing your relationship and will make you less likely to check up on your partner obsessively and more able to trust them.
- Own your feelings, but don’t own them so much that they become all-consuming: Make sure you have other things going on in your life, as well. When you’re busy with other things and not spending every waking moment trying to figure out what your partner is doing, you’ll feel calmer and more centered on yourself.
- List down the pros and cons of your relationship with no filters or censorship: The more fair-minded you are about it, the better picture you’ll get of your relationship and whether it’s worth fighting for or walking away from.
- Acknowledge your partner’s feelings: In a relationship with someone with OCD, it can be easy to take their behavior personally. It’s essential to acknowledge your partner’s feelings and validate their frustrations. Therapists recommend actively listening to your partner and understanding where they’re coming from — even if you disagree.
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Many people have witnessed or experienced some kind of relationship OCD involving a romantic partner. It’s normal to want the person we love to love us back, but some people take it too far. Relationship OCD is a real disorder, and if you suffer from it, you need professional help.
Relationship OCD is best treated before it gets too late, so if you think you have it, don’t wait until this condition ruins your relationships. You can overcome your relationship with OCD with the help of a good therapist or psychiatrist. Just make sure that you get professional help before it’s too late.