ROCD Relationship OCD; Symptoms, self-help and treatment

Dr Elaine Ryan

Retrain Your Brain®

If you want my help with ROCD please see my online course

Table of Contents

What is ROCD?

ROCD stands for Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. A person with ROCD has both obsessions and compulsions about their relationship. The obsessions are unwanted thoughts, doubts and urges about the suitability of the relationship, which causes significant distress—compulsions such as reassurance seeking help to ease the pain caused by doubt.

ROCD is a subtype of OCD and can fall under two types.

Relationship Focused1, and
Partner Focused.

Relationship focused ROCD.

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.

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, 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 drink 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 or not. In the interim, ROCD, like all forms of OCD, has certain signs and symptoms which should help you recognise this condition and I shall give some examples below or you can take our online test.

ROCD 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 certain 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

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

ROCD self-help

If you would like my help. Please see my online course for ROCD
Dr Elaine Ryan
  • 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. 

Example

I will write about a female with ROCD in a heterosexual relationship to make this article easier to read. Still, the following article is the same for 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 as a psychologist.

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 ROCD or am I in the wrong relationship?

If you ask these questions, I suggest you ask a different question.

Ask yourself what you can do to get rid of obsessions and compulsions?

Once you recognise symptoms in terms of OCD, instead of a problem with your relationship, you break the cycle of ROCD.

CYCLICAL NATURE OF ROCD

At the heart of ROCD are thoughts such as, what if I don’t love my partner? What if this is the wrong relationship? These thoughts (obsessions) lead you to carry out compulsions such as comparing your relationship to others to help ease the mental turmoil. The more you carry out compulsions, the stronger the initial thoughts become. You get caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions.

Hence, the key to recovery is to ask what I can do to stop the obsessive-compulsive cycle?

How to get over ROCD.

People have been asking me about therapy. I now have an online course that I designed to cover 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 other people. 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 keep the cycle of ROCD going.

Undertaking both CBT with ERP gives you the best chance of recovering from ROCD.

Outlook

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.

  1. 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
  2. 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 CBTBiological Psychiatry, 2018; 83 (9): S354 DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2018.02.911
Dr Elaine Ryan

Dr Elaine Ryan

Dr Elaine Ryan is a Counselling Psychologist with 20 years experience. She specialises in OCD and anxiety related conditions. She worked in the National Health Service before setting up private practice. Dr Ryan obtained her PsychD from The University of Surrey.