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Relationship OCD? Will mindfulness help?

Hello Dr Ryan, and first, thanks for this website.

Here’s my problem: I’ve been in a relationship with a fantastic guy for the last three and a half years. We get along very well, and I feel relaxed and comfortable in a relationship for the first time.

I explain myself: I’m 40 years old, and every single previous relationship I had didn’t last, as I would have doubts and frequent panic attacks, asking myself if I loved the guy and if he was the one. It would become an obsession, and I would end the relationship quickly.

Of course, it also happened when I started going out with my current boyfriend, but I could feel that they were just thoughts and obsessions and that I would lose the best thing that ever happened to me if I broke up.

Those ideas disappeared – I’ve been on Zoloft for the last three years due to OCD and fear of hurting others and myself – and I’ve been thrilled until last summer, when they came back with a vengeance, for no reason, in no particular situation.

I admit I didn’t take my treatment properly these last few months, arrogantly thinking I had overcome my OCD. I’m back on Zoloft and still fight daily with anxiety and panic attacks about my relationship.

I read about ROCD and recognized myself in the description. I want to try mindfulness meditation as it was strongly recommended in many books and articles. I want your opinion on this, please.

Thank you so much for reading my rambling.

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Hi, good to hear from you, and thank you, I’m glad you find the site useful.

Let me start by saying don’t act on those thoughts!  (although from reading your question, I know you won’t.)

Do you see when you said you ‘still fight every day with anxiety and panic about your relationship’?  Try to think about it differently, as I am guessing you are struggling with thoughts and not your relationship.

The semantics are essential!

See them for what they are; thought processes.  You are struggling with obsessive thoughts about your relationship, not your relationship itself.

I am guessing that when you left previous relationships, it might have been to do with what happens when you get obsessive thoughts about relationships.  Once they take hold, it does not matter whether your relationship is good or bad, as what is going on in your head and how it makes you feel is just awful and overwhelming.

It feeds anxiety and can feel like a constant fight, so it was possibly easier to walk away and get some peace.

You will know this already, but if you are obsessing about your relationship, it is just like the old OCD thoughts relating to hurting others and yourself.  They do not reflect reality.

You said it yourself; you have a fantastic guy, and you are relaxed and comfortable in your relationship, so we need to get the thoughts to dull down and feel less important.

My thoughts on mindfulness?  Excellent. Although, please don’t go all gung-ho into mindfulness and stop your meds  (as stopping medication quickly will have its problems.)

Mindfulness, over time, will lessen the impact of your thought processes.  You know that you are happy in your relationship, but the trouble is, your habitual thought processes do not seem to realize that yet, or this is the way it might appear.

You might do, what most of us do, and wonder why you get the thoughts, or you might know that they are meaningless and just part of OCD.  That said, they can seem real.  Even if you can separate yourself from this, the thoughts alone will feed anxiety and stop you from enjoying your relationship.

Enter mindfulness.

Your thoughts are stealing you from your moments with your boyfriend.  Even the mundane aspects, such as going to Tesco, are brighter when you have a partner!

If you start a mindfulness practice, it will help you with a few things.

It will help you to focus on the reality of your relationship, which, fortunately, is good!  Mindfulness is just a practice of paying attention to what you are doing.

Say, for example, you are just walking down the street with your partner, and you start obsessing about your relationship.  If you are mindful, you will keep bringing your attention back to what you are doing, just walking down the street.

I know this sounds very simplistic and having OCD, you might think, “you’re kidding, Elaine, my thoughts are stronger than that.”  I know.

That is why it is called a ‘practice.’  I am not saying it is a quick fix; quite the contrary, it takes time to get comfortable with it.  But it won’t kill you and has no nasty side effects, so it is always a good idea to try!

Back to the example of walking down the street.  The more time you take to practice mindfulness formally, the easier it will be to note the thought and carry on walking down the street.  The more you can do this (note the thoughts and carry on), the more attention you are paying to the reality of your relationship (which is excellent!) and the less attention you are paying to your thoughts.

That is a crucial part and one of the many reasons I love mindfulness.  There can be two people with the same life and circumstances, but each can experience it differently, depending on what they attend to in their brain.  Attention is an essential thing.

Most of us do not notice what our brain attends to (by attention, I mean what we choose to think about and how we think about it.)  For most of us, there isn’t a choice either, we get caught up in our thought processes, which usually occur without an invitation from ourselves, and we can get steamrolled.

My own experience of mindfulness, really let me see the power of my own thought processes and how they can bring me to my knees or pull me up again and keep me sane, depending on the amount of control I have.

When I mention control, some people may think this goes against mindfulness, but what I mean is I can exercise choice.  I am more aware now, for example, if I feel crap or angry, to pay close attention to my thoughts, as usual where my attention is (the feeling of my thoughts) has a lot to do with keeping the negative emotions going.

Having control and exercising choice allows me to focus my attention on what is happening right now, as opposed to getting caught up in a whirlwind of thought processes.

Getting to the stage where thoughts (regardless of what they are about) have less of a hold on you takes practice.  I always think of this as a gym for the mind (and always apologize to the neuro-scientists for saying that!)  You can get locked in a thought process.  The more you think about something, the more likely you will think about it again like flexing a muscle.

If you noticed that obsessive relationship thoughts were creeping back, the more you attend to them, the stronger they become.

If you want to dull down that muscle, let it waste away. Mindfulness will help you to do this and also help to take away the emotion that comes with the thoughts.

Mindfulness will also help you to stop talking about it inside your head.  I am not sure how it plays out with you, but you might start to doubt yourself. Will it work? Is he the right guy for you?

All these thoughts come as conversations in your head (we all talk to ourselves inside our heads.) You do not want to give answers to them inside your head, as your answers will be based on negative emotions that you feel. Also, giving answers keeps the conversation alive in your head.

Keeping it alive creates doubt, takes you away from your relationship, and it is then, rewind, repeat, rewind, repeat, the same script keeps running.

If you were beside me now and we were talking about it.  You might want reassurance from me that everything is okay.  I would stop your conversation each time you start it, as the reassurance will never be enough.  I would seem quite rude 🙂 as I wouldn’t engage in the conversation; although my intention would not be to be rude, I would intend to stop keeping it alive in your head.

This is what mindfulness will do for you

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Where to start?

There are many free resources on the internet; do a Google search and see what you like.  If you have an iPhone or Android, go for Headspace,

If you want to do some reading around it, I will read Mindfulness; finding peace in a frantic world as a great place to start.

Or you can look at my course, and the video below shows a quick idea of the format.

How to start?

Slowly and gently.  There is no right and wrong way, it is not a race, and you cannot get it wrong!  Be kind to yourself ( and no, I am not going 1970s hippy on you and about to balance your chakra), but compassion and kindness go a long way when you are trying to do something new.  Kindness and compassion are also part of mindfulness.

So, if you find that you are giving out to yourself inside your head or upset at your ‘lack of progress,’ be kind, you are doing something new, and you will have a learning curve.

I do hope you start mindfulness; as I said, it won’t hurt, and there is every possibility that it will help.

I hope this helps, Elaine