This page is to help you understand the thoughts you have in your head about your relationship. Specifically, this page aims to answer
- Is there something wrong with your relationship, or
- Are you suffering from a subset of OCD known as Relationship OCD
ROCD stands for Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and it occurs when you have obsessive, unwanted thoughts about your relationship.
Habitual, unwanted thoughts about your relationship that create anxiety can be the basis for ROCD. This type of OCD is maintained by the compulsions that you carry out to reduce your stress you feel about your relationship.
Do you obsess about your relationship? For example, do you keep analysing your relationship or questioning whether or not you love or should be with your partner?
Read more on obsessions.
Do you do things when you are obsessing about your relationship? For example, do you compare your relationship to other relationships?
Read more on compulsions.
If you have obsessions or compulsions, you may be experiencing Relationship OCD
Once you recognise that your difficulties are with obsessions and compulsions, and not a problem with your relationship itself, there are therapies available to help you overcome ROCD.
Find out more about self help and therapies
ROCD Online Self Help Course by Dr Elaine Ryan
What is Relationship OCD?
The clue is in the label itself,
RELATIONSHIP Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; ROCD falls under the umbrella of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD.) If you have ROCD, you will have both obsessions and compulsions about your relationship.
There are two types of ROCD, and you may have one or both;
- 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 fine.
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 are the symptoms?
The best way for me to explain the symptoms to you is to split this into obsessions and compulsions. ROCD is about obsessions and compulsions; your relationship is probably fine.
Obsessions are all those thoughts that are in your head about your relationship and your partner. These are different from other thoughts you might have 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 really love you, or if you really 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?
ROCD is caused by frequent thoughts about your relationship, that create anxiety, and is maintained by the compulsions that you carry out to reduce your anxiety.
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.
I shall explain what I mean by taking you through an example and I shall also explain what I meant above, when I mentioned;
- habitual thoughts
- that create anxiety
- and maintained by compulsions
If you get a thought, for example, “what if I am in the wrong relationship?” The first time this happens, it is just a thought, in that no habit has been formed in your brain. However, if you analyse the thought repeatedly and keep returning to it, you are likely to develop a ‘habit.’ Your brain learns from past experience, if you keep repeating the thought (or have similar thoughts), your brain learns, and you develop a habit (so to speak.)
Thoughts create anxiety about your relationship
These thoughts, understandably make you feel anxious about your relationship. You may even feel it in your body; nervous, feeling or edge (you can read more about the symptoms of anxiety here.)
Maintained by compulsions
When you have these thoughts about your relationship and are feeling anxious, you more than likely ‘do‘ things to help you ‘check out‘ that you are meant to be in the relationship. The things that you do, also help to temporarily reduce the anxiety that you are experiencing.
The problem is, the anxiety returns, and you start obsessing about your relationship again.
Break the ROCD loop
How to get over ROCD
People have been asking me about therapy, and I now have an online course that I designed to cover everything that you would do in a session with myself. If you want to find out more about it, you can watch the video below; read about the course or just skip on ahead to continue reading about ROCD.
Many people, when they come to see me for therapy, will ask long and elaborate questions, outlining their own 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?
The thing is, if you ask these type of questions, I would suggest that you start to ask a different question.
If you have ROCD, you will be placing too much emphasis on your thought processes (your obsessions). It is very important that I call them obsessions as I want to help you to see them for what they are; they part of OCD, as opposed to being ‘the truth.’
When you start to identify the worries you have about your relationship as obsessions, you can start to distance yourself from them and get down to working with getting over your obsessions.
You suffer, not because of a problem in your relationship, but rather, you suffer because of obsessions and compulsions. This in itself, if you think about it can start to bring some relief if you are able to see your difficulty in terms of OCD, as opposed to having a bad relationship.
If you see your thoughts (obsessions) as being ‘the truth’, of course 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.
Your obsessions will understandably make you worried about your relationship, might make you anxious and you deal with this by ‘checking out your relationship’, comparing it to other relationships, checking up on your partner, analysing over whether you really love them, or do they love you.
I want you start to see these things as ‘compulsions’ as it is the compulsions that keep your ROCD going. Let me explain.
If you have a good enough relationship and you start to obsess over it, you might start to change how you interact with your partner; you start to see them differently. If you are constantly asking them questions about your relationship, or become distant as you are analysing everything in your head, you are started to affect your good enough relationship.
The point I am trying to make is that if you have ROCD, if you start to see this in terms of obsessions and compulsions, rather than a problem with your relationship, then you get down to fixing the OCD, as opposed to fixing 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 also 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 and the ‘behavioural’ part helps with things such as reassurance seeking.
How does this help?
The problem is not your relationship, the problem is to do with how you think about yourself, and the things you do such as the constant analysis and reassurance seeking. CBT helps to 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 manage the things that 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. This is why I recommend that people also have a basic practice of mindfulness as I have said above, it is the thought processes that keep the problem going.
The need to manage anxiety in ROCD
Anxiety management is core to your recovery from ROCD, as we do not like change! Learning to change how to relate to the thoughts in your head might make you feel anxious and you need to be shown how to manage this.
Also, when you start to reduce the behaviours (such as seeking reassurance or analysing your relationship) you might find that this makes you feel anxious.
All of the above methods are included in my course which is available for you start right away.
- 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