Relationships are the cornerstone of our lives, with romantic relationships offering love, support and hopefully a life-long partner. They are purported to provide better health and act as a buffer from stress and depression.
However, for some, intense doubts can overshadow and destroy your future with your partner. This is more than the ups and downs of relationships; these worries are intense, distressing and relentless. They are obsessional and are part of a lesser-known manifestation of OCD called Relationship OCD (ROCD).
If you are having doubts in your head regarding your relationship and you think it might be ROCD, this article will explain
- the difference between everyday worries and the doubts created by ROCD
- the signs and symptoms of ROCD to help you recognise if you might have the condition, and
- how to seek help.
ROCD does not mean there is something wrong with your relationship. Instead, your doubts and worries are the obsessive part of OCD.
Learning to identify your worries as obsessions and compulsions takes the focus off your relationship and firmly onto something that is currently happening to you that you can control.
What is ROCD?
ROCD stands for Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a type of OCD that focuses on the quality of relationships. If you have ROCD, you will have both obsessive thoughts about your relationship and perform compulsions to help you cope with the thoughts.
The obsessions are your thoughts about your relationship. They can include the rightness of the relationship, questioning your love for your partner or their love for you or focusing on what you perceive to be your partner’s flaws.
Compulsions refer to all the things you are urged to do or feel compelled to do in response to your obsessive thoughts. For example, checking your partner’s phone or social media or constantly looking for reassurance.
Like all forms of OCD, having ROCD can seriously affect your ability to carry out your day-to-day life, as the obsessions are time-consuming and can be relentless.
Table of contents
ROCD is not an official diagnosis, rather, the symptoms that you experience are part of OCD, but to try to help you, I am going to use the label ROCD.
To make this easier for you to read, I will write about a female with ROCD in a heterosexual relationship. However, these symptoms can be experienced by both men and women and those in heterosexual and same-sex relationships.
One of the most interesting things about ROCD is the type of questions I get asked. I’m a private practice psychologist and refer to questions people ask in sessions with me. Recognising yourself in this will help you too, as you might be asking yourself the wrong questions.
Many people will ask long and elaborate questions, outlining their background, the background of their relationship, the doubts they have in their head, and the anxiety they feel, and most end with the question – how do I know if I really love my partner, is this really ROCD or am I in the wrong relationship?
You will see these types of posts if you read any forums. The problem with these types of questions is that they keep the cycle of ROCD going, as they do not address the root cause of what is happening; rather, they seek reassurance. I understand why you would seek reassurance, but if I just keep reassuring you, I am not doing my job correctly and not helping you in any way.
If you ask these types of questions, I suggest you start asking a different question.
Ask yourself, what can I do to eliminate obsessions and compulsions? I understand that the urge to keep analysing everything in your head and to get reassurance about your relationship is strong. However, once you start to see these as symptoms, obsessions and compulsions, you begin to break the cycle.
Types of ROCD
Relationship Focused1, and
Relationship Focused is where you focus on the relationship itself.
ROCD or wrong relationship.
- Is it good enough?
- Is it the right one?
- What if I miss out on a better relationship by staying in this one?
- Other couples go out more, have more holidays, are more in love, are happier, and have more sex.
These obsessions can lead to many doubts about your relationship, even though 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, their intelligence, or what they are like with other people.
Finding flaws in their appearance.
How they dress; too shabby, not trendy enough, not the correct 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, and how they walk.
Finding flaws in how intelligent they are
- Did they go to university? It might be an obsession you have, and if they did, did they go high enough? No Masters? No PhD?
- Poor grammar, using the wrong words, not talking in a way that you like
- Reading the wrong newspaper, not reading books,
- Having friends, you disagree with
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, and say the wrong things.
- Their mannerisms
- They drink too much or the wrong drink; they hold the glass wrong.
How do I know if I have ROCD?
Meeting with a mental health professional for assessment will let you know if you have OCD. In the interim, ROCD, like all forms of OCD, has specific signs and symptoms which should help you recognise this condition. I shall give some examples below, or you can take our online test.
Please note that our online test for ROCD is for informational purposes only and does not replace an assessment carried out by a mental health professional.
ROCD, like all forms of OCD, has specific signs and symptoms, which I shall give some examples of below.
Symptoms of ROCD.
The best way to explain the symptoms is to split this into obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are all those thoughts in your head regarding your relationship. They differ 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 deciding that you want to take time to think about them
Examples of ROCD obsessions
- Is he the one?
- Would I be better off with someone else?
- Would I be happier with someone else?
- Does he love me?
Examples of ROCD compulsions
These are things you do to help you make sense of the thought and include seeking reassurance
- checking or finding 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
What causes ROCD?
Recent research(2) suggests that for people with OCD,’ the brain responds too much to errors’. Applying this finding to people with ROCD might explain why you spend so much time focusing on the flaws in your relationship.
When talking about causality, you must 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 think they do not have any compulsions and dismiss the OCD nature of the condition. Rumination itself is a compulsion.
Rumination involving your relationship is typical in ROCD, but someone without ROCD can also think about their relationship. The difference lies in the thinking styles.
If someone is concerned about their relationship, they 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.
Difference between normal worries and ROCD
Almost everyone worries about their relationship or questions it’s suitably at some point, and you might be confused concerning everyday worries and the worries that occur with ROCD.
|Normal relationship worries||ROCD worries|
|Frequency||Occasional||Constant and relentless|
|Impact||Significant implications for everyday life||Significant impact on everyday life|
|Intensity||Relative to the worry||Severe and not always relative to the worry, e.g. thinking about partners’ flaws can cause intense distress.|
|Relief||Resolution can bring relief||Severe and not always relative to worry, e.g. thinking about partners’ flaws can cause intense distress.|
How to get over ROCD.
People have been asking me about therapy. I now have an online course that covers everything you would do in a session with me.
If you want to learn more about it, you can watch the video below, read about the course or skip ahead to continue learning about ROCD.
You suffer not because of a problem in your relationship but because of obsessions and compulsions.
Suppose you see your thoughts (obsessions) as ‘the truth.’ In that case, you will want to investigate this further and get some reassurance or answers to questions about your relationship, which is where your compulsions can start.
For example, if you obsess about your partner’s perceived flaws, you may compare them to others. This comparison can be the start of compulsion if you find you 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
CBT and Exposure response prevention.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) works with both your thoughts (obsessions) and your behaviours (compulsions such as seeking reassurance or comparing your relationship to others.)
Exposure-response prevention (ERP) exposes you to thoughts that create distress and teaches you not to ritualise, i.e., seek reassurance or other compulsions. This model works well in that the idea is to get you to stop compulsions, which keeps the cycle of ROCD going.
Undertaking both CBT with ERP gives you the best chance of recovering from ROCD.
ROCD is not about your relationship. What you are experiencing is a subtype of OCD. Your relationship doubts are obsessions that can be treated by undertaking psychological therapy.
- 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