The main symptom of ROCD is an overwhelming sense that something is wrong with your relationship, which often leads to obsessive behaviors. These behaviors include snooping on your partner’s social media accounts or phone, interrogating them about their whereabouts, checking for evidence of infidelity, and more.
Relationships are a central part of our lives, and we all want to be in good, healthy ones. But if you’re with someone and constantly question whether they love you or not and act as if everything is fine, it can be confusing and upsetting. The need for reassurance can make you feel like you are going crazy or that your partner isn’t being honest.
This type of obsessive thinking is known as relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD), and people who suffer from it need constant reassurance that their relationship is okay. Many people, who suffer from relationship OCD, have no idea what’s going on with their emotions and behaviors. They think that their feelings and behaviors are completely normal.
Although it can take many forms, relationship OCD (also known as ROCD or Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is a severe mental health condition that causes people to fixate on their relationships. This guide will explain everything you need to know about ROCD, including symptoms and how to treat it.
What Is Relationship OCD (ROCD)?
Relationship OCD (ROCD) is a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in which the sufferer experiences intrusive, unwanted, and distressing thoughts about the strength, quality, and “true nature” of their love for their partner.
As with other forms of OCD, sufferers of ROCD are trapped in a repetitive loop of unwanted intrusive thoughts they cannot control. They are often compelled to engage in compulsive behaviors or mental acts designed to reduce their distress or prevent some dreaded event or situation. But the repetitive nature of these actions only reinforces the original thoughts and makes them even more distressing.
Relationship OCD (ROCD) can occur in any committed relationship, regardless of sex, sexuality, or age. Some people with ROCD will experience behaviors such as repeatedly checking their phone for messages from a partner (to reassure themselves that they are still loved and wanted). In contrast, others may find themselves constantly comparing their relationship to those of others or what they imagine an ideal relationship might be like. This can lead them to check out other potential partners online or engage in flirtatious behavior.
How Do I Know if I Have ROCD?
The following questions may be helpful for you to reflect on whether ROCD may be a concern for you:
- Do you frequently question your feelings about your partner?
- Do you worry that your partner is “the one”?
- Are you unable to trust your feelings towards your partner?
- Are you unsure whether or not you are ‘in love’ with your partner?
- Do you feel uncomfortable if your partner does not reciprocate romantic gestures, e.g., saying “I love you”?
- Do you think this is the right relationship for me?
- Do I want to be in a committed relationship?
- Do you think you’ll be happier with someone else?
What Are the Symptoms of Relationship OCD?
People suffering from relationship OCD (ROCD) may constantly question their relationship. They may be continually doubting whether they are with the right person or not, whether they made a mistake choosing this person, or are genuinely in love with their significant other. These doubts and questions can cause considerable stress in the relationship and even lead to its end.
The symptoms of ROCD can be similar to those experienced by people with other OCD symptoms, such as:
- An inability to stop thinking about the person’s relationship or a relationship they have recently ended.
- Repeatedly questioning whether they are in love, including when they have evidence to suggest that they are.
- Not feeling good enough for their partner or not being good enough for their partner or not being good enough.
- Spending significant time looking at other people and wondering if they can do better than their partner.
- A belief that you don’t feel “in love” as much as you think you should.
- A belief that your relationship is not correct or “too good to be true.”
- Compulsively seek out reassurance from your partner that they love you.
- Avoiding physical intimacy with your partner.
- Obsessively check your phone for texts, emails, or missed calls from your partner.
- Spending excessive time researching or monitoring your partner’s online activity.
What Does Trigger Relationship OCD?
The thing about relationship OCD is that it’s a form of OCD. And what triggers OCD is the same for all types of OCD:
- The presence of anxiety
- The absence of a safe and soothing environment
- The perception of threat or danger
This is true even though the content of relationship OCD might seem quite different from other forms of OCD. For example, someone with relationship OCD can develop intrusive thoughts about his partner being unfaithful, whereas someone with contamination OCD can develop intrusive thoughts about germs and dirt.
Anxiety is triggered in response to an intrusive thought, even though the thought content differs. In terms of treatment, both people aim to learn how to manage their anxiety without having to do compulsions.
How Does Relationship OCD Manifest?
Relationship OCD isn’t an official diagnosis, but researchers have identified two subtypes that may help to explain your symptoms: preoccupation and reassurance seeking.
Preoccupation is when you have intrusive thoughts about your relationship, including worries about whether your partner loves you or concerns that you are incompatible. You may also feel dissatisfied with the relationship, even when your partner seems happy. This can lead to recurrent arguments and hurt feelings.
Reassurance seeking involves asking your partner or other people for constant reassurance that they love you and that everything will work out in your relationship. Asking once isn’t a problem, but repeatedly asking for confirmation can strain a relationship and prevent it from moving forward.
Diagnosis Of Relationship OCD
Diagnosis of relationship OCD (ROCD) is a challenging task. ROCD symptoms are often experienced as part of other OCD presentations, and even when experienced without other OCD symptoms, they are often attributed to different disorders.
No single test determines whether you have relationship OCD (ROCD). If you’re wondering whether your relationship issues are related to OCD, you must discuss your concerns with a mental health professional.
A mental health professional who is experienced with evaluating and treating OCD can help determine whether the symptoms being experienced are due to OCD or another form of anxiety disorder, such as social anxiety disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, a different type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD).
Being said that, the primary care provider or mental health professional will conduct a physical exam. This can help determine if any medical conditions may be causing symptoms. Tests that may be done include:
Blood tests. These check for thyroid problems or other medical conditions that can cause anxiety or depression.
Imaging tests. A brain scan, or imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan, may be done to look for signs of a brain tumor or other problem.
Psychological assessment tools. These help the provider determine if your symptoms result from relationship OCD, another obsessive-compulsive disorder, a different mental health condition like obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), or some combination.
What Are the Causes Of Relationship OCD?
Relationship OCD is a form of obsessive jealousy. It can occur when someone has experienced an insecure or unstable relationship with one or both parents in childhood. The causes of relationship OCD are not yet fully understood. However, most experts agree that it combines both biological and environmental factors. These may include:
A history of trauma.
A person with relationship OCD may have had traumatic experiences in their past, whether it was abuse, abandonment, or neglect. This type of trauma can lead to a fear of being hurt again, which causes them to fixate on the idea that the people in their lives will inevitably abandon them.
Family dynamics can also play a role in developing OCD and relationship OCD. For example, a person who grew up in a home where one parent abused or neglected the other might interpret affection as transactional or insincere (for instance, “my dad only compliments my mom because he wants her to do something for him”). They may also develop suspicions about their partner’s motives as a result.
There is some evidence that relationship OCD may be due to an imbalance of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, though more research is needed to confirm this theory.
People are more likely to develop relationships with OCD if they have a close family member with OCD. This suggests that people with relationship OCD may inherit a tendency to feel anxious and obsessive tendencies.
Types of Relationship OCD
Different types of OCD can affect relationships. Here are a few of the most common relationship-centered obsessions and compulsions:
Fear of hurting your partner.
You might have intrusive thoughts about harming your partner physically or emotionally, which causes you to question whether you can do these things. To cope with these worries, you might develop compulsive behaviors like checking in on your partner multiple times daily to ensure they’re okay.
Fear of your partner cheating on you.
If your partner is late coming home from work, it may cause you a lot of anxiety because you wonder if they’re secretly seeing someone else. You might start snooping through their emails or phone records to deal with these worries.
Fear of being attracted to other people.
If you find yourself attracted to someone at work, it may trigger obsessive worries that you’ll cheat on your partner. You may even start avoiding certain activities or locations where you think other people will be attracted to you.
Fear that marriage or commitment will lead to a bad outcome.
Obsessive anxiety about committing to your partner can also form relationship OCD. The fear is that marriage will lead to divorce, which causes some people to choose not to get married.
How Does OCD Affect Romantic Relationships?
The romantic relationships of individuals afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are typically affected by their symptoms. Yet, how OCD symptoms affect people’s romantic relationships vary considerably depending on whether they are the sufferer or partner of someone afflicted with OCD. For people struggling with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, romantic relationships can be a source of strength and support—but they can also be a source of stress.
Partners or spouses may feel overwhelmed by the amount of time their partner spends on compulsions; if one partner spends hours every day washing their hands, they may not have time or energy to spend with their loved ones as much as they’d like to.
OCD can have a significant impact on the course of romantic relationships. It is not uncommon for people with OCD to have difficulty initiating and maintaining relationships, resulting in loneliness and isolation. This can then lead to increased anxiety, depression, and OCD symptoms.
To help prevent this, it is essential for people with OCD to learn to identify their triggers to avoid them early in a relationship. They should also avoid dating someone who has similar triggers. People with relationship OCD should also try not to be too critical of their partner’s behavior. They should focus on what is optimistic about the relationship rather than what could be wrong with it.
In addition, they should avoid comparing themselves to others. Instead, they should be honest about their feelings and desires for the relationship and let go of expectations about how long it will last or if it will work out in the long term.
Treatment for Relationship OCD
There are several ways you can seek treatment for relationship OCD. First, you should talk to a qualified therapist who specializes in relationships. A therapist will be able to help you identify what kinds of behaviors are causing your OCD and how they relate to your relationship.
Then, you should take steps to avoid the triggers of your OCD. You should also take steps to get treatment for any other mental health disorders causing your OCD symptoms. Lastly, it would help if you considered taking medication as part of your treatment plan. Medication can help reduce the severity of symptoms related to OCD and other mental health disorders like anxiety or depression.
In general, the treatment for relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder may include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two:
A type of therapy called cognitive behavior therapy is especially useful in treating OCD. In this therapy, you’ll work with your therapist to identify distorted thinking patterns that lead to troubling symptoms and behaviors and then learn to replace these patterns with more realistic and helpful ways of thinking.
Another essential part of treatment is exposure and response prevention (ERP). This form of cognitive behavior therapy helps you face situations that trigger obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors while at the same time learning not to carry out those behaviors.
ERP uses behavioral experiments, in which you and your therapist will design experiments designed to test your fears or assumptions regarding relationships or other triggers. The goal is to help you see that you fear outcomes are unlikely to occur.
Some people with relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder experience relief from antidepressant medications, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications can help reduce the anxiety caused by obsessions.
4 Tips to Cope With Relationship OCD
Learn about it.
The first step to managing any problem is understanding it. Do some research, talk to your doctor, and talk to your partner so you can better know what you’re going through.
Take care of yourself.
OCD makes you feel like you have no control over your life, but one thing you can always do is take care of yourself. Make sure to take time to eat right, get enough sleep, exercise, and relax.
Talk with your partner.
It’s important to talk with your partner about what’s happening—even though it’s scary! They might be able to offer some helpful perspective or tell you things that reassure you.
Try focusing on being in the moment when you’re with your partner—don’t think about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. Mindfulness can help prevent obsessing thoughts from coming up first!
People who suffer from relationship OCD may have intrusive, unwanted thoughts that they feel compelled to act on or avoid. For some, these thoughts will be about harming their partner. Others may be more focused on the fear of being discovered as cheaters. All of this can be intensified by a voice inside your head—or a racing heart—telling you that you must do something to keep your relationship safe.
It’s vital to manage anxious thoughts. The first step is accepting that the thought is a symptom of your OCD, not the truth. It’s okay to be uncertain! Most people feel this way when they’re dealing with an OCD issue.
If, after addressing these fears using the above suggestions, your anxiety level remains high, or you try anxiety-management techniques for a more extended time but don’t find them helpful, remember that the chances are excellent that you have OCD. I suggest seeking professional help from a qualified therapist nearby wherever you live.
- Doron, G., Derby, D. S., & Szepsenwol, O. (2014). Relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD): A conceptual framework. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 3(2), 169–180. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jocrd.2013.12.005
- Doron, G., & Szepsenwol, O. (2015). Partner-focused obsessions and self-esteem: An experimental investigation. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 49, 173–179. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbtep.2015.05.007