Most of our lives are about the relationships we build. Relationships – be it with family, friends, colleagues, romantic partners, or those random people we meet along the way – are key to a healthy and fulfilling life. Romantic relationships are a crucial part of that. But when that romantic bond turns into an obsession, it gives way to Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Relationship OCD.
You might wonder: What is OCD in relationships? How are OCD and relationships related? What are the Relationship OCD symptoms? Can OCD cause relationship problems? To answer all of these questions and more, we spoke to Avantika Tripathi, who specializes in social anxiety, stress management, mindfulness, and relationship counseling through rational-emotive and person-centered therapy. Read on to know more about living and dealing with OCD in a relationship.
What Is Relationship OCD?
Relationship OCD or ROCD is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder where a person experiences obsessive thoughts, compulsive behavior patterns, or unmanageable routines with regard to their romantic partner. Their repetitive thoughts revolve around their own doubts, insecurities, and fears about the relationship. The uncertainty and fear tend to spiral out of control because they are constantly obsessing about the relationship, which eventually hurts the equation with their romantic partner.
Avantika explains, “A person dealing with OCD in a relationship keeps doubting their relationship by considering the equation as flawed and uncertain. People with ROCD carry false assumptions in their minds, which are based on little to no evidence. It makes them believe that their relationship with their partner is unsound. These false assumptions are driven by obsessive-compulsive behavior patterns that include intrusive thoughts about relationships, major insecurity issues, the act of doubting their partner and the relationship, and the need for perfection in a relationship or partner.”
A healthy romantic dynamic involves a deep emotional connection, trust, commitment, and a strong sense of intimacy between two people. But if you are living with someone with OCD and anger issues, know that it will be difficult for you to establish trust and maintain such a relationship because your partner may constantly question your love for them or their own love for you, even when things are going well. They might fear losing you or have doubts about the longevity of the partnership.
Relationship OCD can lead to toxic behavior patterns that cause a lot of stress and anxiety to the person grappling with the issue as well as their partner, who is at the receiving end of it. This is why we are here to help you identify the symptoms and causes of OCD in relationships and ways to deal with them.
Symptoms Of Relationship OCD
OCD and relationships are never a good match. It can lead to individual and relationship anxiety, stress and exhaustion, eventually affecting other aspects of life including work, family, studies, etc. Research by National Center for Biotechnology Information states the following:
“ROCD symptoms often come in the form of thoughts (e.g. “Is he the right one?”) and images (e.g. face of the relationship partner), but can also occur in the form of urges (e.g. to leave one’s current partner). Such intrusions contradict the individual’s personal values and/or subjective experience of the relationship. Hence, they are perceived as unacceptable and unwanted by the individual, and often bring about feelings of guilt and shame regarding the occurrence and/or content of the intrusions.”
Relationship OCD usually shows symptoms in early adulthood and eventually affects future relationships. Someone suffering from it might obsess over their partner’s previous relationships, or enter into several relationships themselves, or avoid getting into a relationship altogether because the distress is so strong. According to Avantika, a few Relationship OCD symptoms include:
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1. Repetitive, persistent doubtful thoughts
Persistent doubt is almost second nature to a person suffering from Relationship OCD. They are always obsessing about the relationship and their partner. Avantika explains, “When the sufferer’s mind is looking for evidence of a faulty relationship or there is a fear that makes them doubt their relationship or partner, questions like “Did I make the right decision by choosing to be with this person?”, “Are we not compatible enough?”, “Does my partner really love me?”, “Should I look for other people?”, or “Why am I thinking like this? Does this mean I don’t love my partner?” can repeatedly haunt them to the extent that they can’t think about anything else.
2. Seeking reassurance
One of the most common Relationship OCD symptoms is constantly seeking reassurance from the partner of their love and commitment. They always want to know if and how much their partner loves them. In fact, it is not just limited to their partner. They will also consult their friends, family, therapists, and even psychics and fortune-tellers if they have to, just to seek assurance and validation that they made the right choice by getting into a relationship with this person.
3. Questioning their own feelings
“Do I really want to be with my partner?”, “I don’t feel turned on by my partner. Do I really love them?”, “Am I serious about the relationship or just leading my partner on?” – These questions usually cross the mind of a person with OCD in relationships. It is normal to want to leave or end a relationship at times or to not always feel love for your partner during the course of a partnership. But for a person with Relationship OCD, the slightest change in the way they think about their partner and the relationship can make them question and constantly monitor their own thoughts and feelings.
4. Drawing comparisons is another symptom of ROCD
Avantika explains, “Comparing your relationship with those of others and looking for hints to invalidate your relationship with your partner is one of the Relationship OCD symptoms. Someone dealing with OCD in a relationship is always comparing the qualities of their partner with someone else (from friends and family to even fictional characters on TV and books) and is surrounded by thoughts like “Their relationship is filled with joy and excitement, whereas my relationship lacks all these factors. Is my partner not concerned about my happiness? Should I look for another partner?”
5. The need to control
If you are living with someone with OCD and anger issues, you might notice that they try to call the shots every time. They want to control you and every aspect of the relationship. Everything should be done according to their convenience and choice. This includes the way you behave and what you do.
Says Avantika, “The need to control is one of the signs of Relationship OCD. The person suffering from ROCD often lives with the fear of losing their partner or the relationship. They are easily triggered by small issues and can really exaggerate them due to their own insecurity and uncertainty. This fear can turn them into a controlling person, always trying to dominate the relationship to make sure that their partner does not leave them.”
6. People with ROCD question their own worth
Another sign of a person with OCD in relationships is the tendency to constantly question their own worth. They feel that they don’t deserve their partner’s love. According to Avantika, “Someone dealing with OCD in a relationship always thinks and lives in the fear that they are not good enough for their partner, due to which their partner will leave them and look for someone else.”
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7. Trying to paint a happy picture
If you have a need for perfection and are always trying to paint a happy and lovey-dovey picture of your relationship, then it’s possible that you are suffering from Relationship OCD. Avantika explains, “Such people keep looking for ideas that can make their relationship look happy and perfect. Sometimes, their expectations are too unrealistic and vague, which could prove to be a bother for their partner.”
Can OCD cause relationship problems? Yes, it definitely can and does. Avantika explains, “Doubt, fear, and exaggeration of uncertainty can destroy relationships as the sufferer’s partner can get hurt and feel suffocated while trying to deal with the situation. If you are living with someone who has severe OCD and anger issues, know that it can lead to serious mental health issues because your partner may find it difficult to avoid their obsessive thoughts, which can prove to be detrimental to you and the relationship.” If you can relate to the Relationship OCD symptoms above, we suggest you read further to figure out how to deal with the problem.
Causes Of Relationship OCD
What are the causes of Relationship OCD, you might ask. Well, experts have still not been able to figure out the exact causes of Relationship OCD but research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information states that there could be several reasons that play a part in a person developing OCD in relationships like “negative personal and dyadic” experiences and “the catastrophic (mis)interpretation of normal internal or external stimuli (e.g. intrusive thoughts)”.
Someone with Relationship OCD tends to experience different levels of relationship anxiety arising from having developed an anxious or insecure attachment style early in life. A few other reasons behind people developing OCD in relationships are:
- Past negative experiences or trauma
- A history of abuse
- Loss of a loved one
- Development of an anxious or insecure attachment style in childhood
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Significant or unexpected changes in life like getting married, moving cities or countries, having a child, etc.
- Significant changes in hormones or serotonin levels in the brain
- Fear of abandonment
- Tendency to dwell on self-destructive thoughts or worst-case scenarios
People experiencing ROCD can’t get rid of their persistent thoughts. Avantika elaborates, “They become obsessive since they are always trying to correct some aspect of the relationship. Their thought process is driven by fear, doubt, illusion, and negative emotions. When they get into a relationship, they unconsciously start being doubtful. They might keep trying to make it perfect or behave like a control freak to make it stable.”
How To Deal With Relationship OCD
Relationship OCD does pose a challenge to enjoying and maintaining a healthy, romantic relationship. Having said that, dealing with OCD in relationships is hard but not impossible. If you are in a relationship, you and your partner need to be in this together. Relationship OCD symptoms can be managed with the right help and guidance. You can treat the problem and reduce its impact on your bond. Here are three ways you can cope with OCD in relationships:
1. Communicate openly and honestly with your partner
Honest communication is key to a strong and healthy relationship. It becomes all the more important if you are obsessive about your relationship. Your partner needs to know how you are feeling so that they can help you deal with the problem. Not being aware of the problem will create misunderstandings, trust issues, and resentment between both of you. Communicating with your partner will help them understand your symptoms better and how they feel about your situation. It will build trust and intimacy.
2. Introduce healthy and mindful changes in life
Avantika recommends introducing healthy lifestyle changes to deal with Relationship OCD. She says, “Meditation, practicing positive self-talk, and making a habit of introducing small and mindful changes in everyday life can really help in managing Relationship OCD symptoms. Introducing healthy patterns like reading self-help books can also help in dealing with OCD in a relationship.” Practice relaxation techniques to deal with stress like listening to music, going for a walk, working out, practicing yoga, and more.
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3. Seek professional help
Avantika recommends therapy for both the sufferer and their partner as an effective way to deal with Relationship OCD. She says, “Living with someone who has OCD and anger issues can ruin your mental health because intrusive thoughts combined with anger can make life tough and unhealthy. It is always better to reach out to a therapist who can help both you and your partner deal with and overcome the problem.”
In the previously-mentioned research, the treatment for ROCD “highlights the importance of challenging catastrophic beliefs regarding relationships, including overestimation of the negative consequences of staying in relationships and the negative consequences of being alone, in addition to OCD-related beliefs. Other extensions to CBT may also be useful, such as exploring self-worth on relational aspects, attachment worries and anxieties, particularly fear of abandonment. Finally, the client may need to be taught social skills for relationships such as communication and conflict resolution.”
If you are suffering from OCD in relationships, you can also join a support group to share your experience and hear other people talk about their battle with Relationship OCD. Or you can reach out to Bonobology’s panel of licensed and experienced therapists. They are only a click away.
- Relationship OCD is a form of an obsessive-compulsive disorder where a person experiences repetitive thoughts, insecurities, and compulsive behavior patterns with regard to their partner
- Some of the contributors to OCD in relationships are past trauma, history of abuse, low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, and an anxious or insecure attachment style
- Some common Relationship OCD symptoms are seeking reassurance about your partner and the relationship, questioning your feelings and self-worth, need for control and perfection, and comparing your partner or relationship to those of others
- To deal with Relationship OCD, introduce healthy and mindful changes in daily life, communicate with your partner, and seek therapy
If you are dealing with Relationship OCD, know that there are treatments available and that your symptoms are manageable. If you are with a partner who is obsessive about the relationship, help them cope with their situation. Be supportive of their battle with the condition. Engage in an open and honest communication with them. Learn more about the problem yourself for better insight. It’ll help you figure out the reason behind such persistent and obsessive thoughts. If you work together as a team, you’ll be able to find ways to deal with ROCD and build a stronger relationship.
Yes. OCD can have damaging effects on your relationship because your repetitive and intrusive thoughts, doubts, insecurities, and fears can spoil your equation with your partner making it very difficult to maintain a romantic and healthy relationship. They might feel suffocated due to your compulsive and unmanageable behavior patterns.
There are ways to manage Relationship OCD. You can introduce small mindful changes in your daily life. Practice meditation and positive self-talk. Read self-help books. Talk to your partner about your situation. Seek therapy to better understand the underlying symptoms and find ways to manage and treat them.
It is possible but not necessary. There’s no hard and fast rule that says those suffering from OCD are or will be obsessive in relationships. They can have perfectly healthy relationships.
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