What is ROCD?
ROCD stands for Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and is characterised by having unwanted thoughts and doubts about your relationship. Relationship OCD is not a formal diagnosis. It does not appear in diagnostic manuals used by mental health professionals such as DSM5; this does not mean that what you are feeling is not valid.
On the contrary, what you are experiencing falls under the category of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. There are models of therapy that can help you with this.
Table of contents
How do I know if I have ROCD?
The nature of ROCD can make it difficult to know whether the thoughts and doubts you experience are related to being in a relationship that is not right for you. Or whether you have a condition that has nothing to do with your relationship.
If you would like my help with ROCD I have an online course that is available to start immediately
Rumination involving your relationship is typical in ROCD, but someone without ROCD can also spend time thinking about their relationship. The difference lies in the thinking styles.
If someone is concerned about their relationship, they actively choose to think about it and decide based on their thought processes. In contrast, the thoughts experienced by someone with ROCD are unwanted, uninvited and obsessive. The person does not choose to have them.
Take a test. You can take my test, which is for informational purposes only.
ROCD is made up of both obsessions and compulsions
OBSESSIONS are all those thoughts that in your head regarding your relationship. They are different from other thoughts in that they are
- repetitive and do not appear to get resolved by thinking about them
- they are unwanted, in that they come into your mind without you necessarily deciding that you want to take time to think about them
- Is s/he the one?
- Would I better off with someone else?
- Would I be happier with someone else?
- Does he love me
Compulsions are the things that you do, for example
- checking or finding ways to find out if they love you, or if you love them
- comparing your partner to other people
- comparing your relationship to other relationships
- Looking for flaws in your relationship
- Analysing your relationship inside your head
Types of ROCD
- Relationship Focused1, and
- Partner Focused.
Relationship Focused is where you focus on the relationship itself.
- Is it good enough
- Is it the right one
- Other couples go out more, have more holidays, are more in love, are happier, have more sex.
These type of obsessions can lead to many doubts about your relationship, even though, objectively, your relationship may be excellent.
Partner Focused is where you focus on your partner
You might find that you obsess about your partner’s appearance, how intelligent they are, or what they are like with other people.
Finding flaws in their appearance
- How they dress; too shabby, not trendy enough, not the right labels.
- Hair colour, too long, too short, not enough of it
- Too fat, thin, not strong enough, not curvy enough
- You can zone in on specific physical features, their nose, feet, hands, how they walk.
Finding flaws in how intelligent they are
- Did they go to university might be an obsession you have and if they did, did they go high enough? No Masters? No PhD?
- Bad grammar, using the wrong words, not talking in a way that you like
- Reading the wrong newspaper, not reading books
- Having friends that you do not agree with
and the list goes on
Finding flaws in how they interact with other people
- How they speak to others
- Maybe you think they are too loud, too quiet, bad at socialising, say the wrong things
- Their mannerisms
- They drink too much or drink the wrong drink; they hold the glass wrong
What causes ROCD?
Recent research2 suggests that people with OCD that ‘the brain responds too much to errors’. Applying this finding to people with ROCD, it might give some understanding as to why you spend so much time focusing on the flaws in your relationship.
It is essential that when talking about causality, that you think in terms of OCD.
All forms of obsessions (thoughts) within OCD focus on the negative aspect of what the person holds dear. It focuses on what could go wrong, creating a cycle of doubt. The person carries out a ritual or compulsion to avoid a negative consequence.
Many people with ROCD mistakenly think they do not have any compulsions and dismiss the OCD nature of the condition. Rumination itself is a compulsion.
Your relationship does not cause ROCD. Unwanted obsessive thoughts about your relationship cause it. The condition is maintained by giving in to doubt and carrying out compulsions. Dr Elaine RyanDr Elaine Ryan
How to get over ROCD
You suffer, not because of a problem in your relationship, but rather because of obsessions and compulsions.
Suppose you see your thoughts (obsessions) as being ‘the truth’. In that case, you will want to investigate this further and get some reassurance or answers to questions you have about your relationship, and this is where your compulsions can start.
For example, if you are obsessing about your partner’s perceived flaws, you may start comparing them to other people. This comparison can be the start of a compulsion if you find you habitually compare them to others every time you are obsessing over their shortcomings.
With ROCD, once you see your difficulty in terms of obsessions and compulsions, you treat the OCD instead of repairing your relationship.
Therapy and Treatment
If you have been searching for treatment for ROCD, I would advise you to undertake Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness and anxiety management training, and I shall explain my reasons behind this now.
CBT for ROCD
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps with both the obsessions and compulsions that you experience.
The ‘cognitive’ part helps with your obsessions by working with your thought processes. The ‘behavioural’ part helps with reassurance seeking.
How does this help?
The problem is not your relationship; the problem is how you think and the things you do, such as the constant analysis and reassurance seeking. CBT helps change your thought processes into more balanced, realistic thoughts rather than the thoughts you have at the moment that are fuelled by Relationship OCD.
CBT also teaches you to manage the things you are doing that keep ROCD going, such as seeking reassurance about your relationship.
Mindfulness for ROCD
Mindfulness helps you to ‘let go of your thought processes. Having the ability to ‘let go’ is why I recommend that people also have a fundamental mindfulness practice. As I have said above, it is the thought processes that keep the problem going.
- 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.DOI: doi.org/10.1016/j.jocrd.2013.12.005
- Luke Norman, Stephan Taylor, Yanni Liu, Joaquim Radua, James Abelson, Mike Angstadt, Yann Chye, Stella de Wit, Joseph Himle, Chaim Huyser, Isik Karahanoglu, Tracy Luks, Dara Manoach, Carol Mathews, Katya Rubia, Chao Suo, Odile van den Heuvel, Murat Yücel, Kate Fitzgerald. S20. Error-Processing in OCD: A Meta-Analysis of fMRI Studies and Investigation of Changes Following CBT. Biological Psychiatry, 2018; 83 (9): S354 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2018.02.911