Identifying ROCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by persistent thoughts or urges that cause anxiety or distress. 

Obsessions are unwanted thoughts or images that cause anxiety and distress. They involve fears of contamination, aggression, sexuality, death, or other obsessions. Furthermore, compulsions are repetitive behaviors performed to reduce stress. These include checking locks, counting items, repeating prayers, or excessive hand-washing.

People with OCD often experience unwanted thoughts, such as fears of contamination or doubts about their actions. Engaging in repetitive behaviors such as excessive hand washing or checking locks is also possible to shield yourself from these thoughts.

OCD affects between 2% and 3%¹ of the global population, and the disorder's consequences can impact the affected person’s relationships, work, and overall ability to function. 

Relationship OCD (ROCD) is a type of OCD that can occur independently or along with other OCD symptoms. This article explains what relationship OCD is, why it affects relationships, and some practical ways to treat it.

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is relationship OCD?

It is common to think about someone else. Whether it was your old love interest or a friend from college, you probably wonder about them now and then. Sometimes, you might even start craving their presence. This craving is known as being obsessed with another person.

If you obsess over a romantic partner, you may suffer from relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD). 

ROCD is when you become preoccupied with thoughts and feelings relating to a romantic partner. If you have it, you are obsessed with thoughts and feelings of having or keeping a perfect relationship. You feel compelled to change something in your partner or relationship to stay happy. While this obsession can seem harmless at first, it can become problematic.

The condition manifests through intrusive thoughts and images of your lover. These thoughts are associated with negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, anger, jealousy, fear, sadness, loneliness, guilt, and frustration. Extreme actions such as excessive checking and seeking reassurance can stem from this concern. 

Obsessive thoughts cause you to try to control your partner through manipulation, intimidation, or even violence. This type of behavior can damage both the individuals and the relationship.

Can you have ROCD without being in a relationship?

Sometimes, ROCD may manifest as obsessions about a past relationship. In such a case, the patient may be reluctant to enter another relationship.

How is ROCD triggered?

Your ROCD triggers can be diverse. They can include:

  • A fight in the relationship

  • Changes in your physical intimacy

  • Irritation from your partner's flaws

  • Wondering what your partner is up to when away

  • Comparing relationships when around other couples

Being aware of your triggers is an excellent step toward managing your ROCD.

Types of ROCD

ROCD presents primarily as relationship-focused ROCD or partner-focused ROCD. They can happen simultaneously. Sometimes, one of the presentations reinforces the manifestation of the other. 

Relationship-focused ROCD

This ROCD subset can present through signs like:

  • Questioning if the relationship is right

  • Comparing your relationship with others and researching blogs for minor uncertainties

  • You can't stay present with your partner because you doubt if they are the right one

  • Wondering if your partner loves you or not

The uncertainty that comes from relationship-focused OCD affects you in your personal and professional engagements.

Partner-focused ROCD

Manifestations of this subset include:

  • You question the attractiveness of your partner's physical features

  • Obsessions on the personality attributes of your partner, for example, intelligence and ambition

  • Comparing your partner to your friends or colleagues

  • Checking behaviors when with your partner

Partner-focused ROCD drains both partners emotionally. 

Causes and symptoms of ROCD

If you suffer from ROCD, you may sometimes go through a phase of denial. You may believe you don't have the problem because you aren't thinking about your lover. However, these thoughts are usually persistent and cause distress.

Individuals suffering from ROCD try to ignore their obsessions, but this worsens matters.

OCD has no known cause or cure. Symptoms include persistent thoughts, urges, or distressing images and interfere with daily life. These intrusive thoughts often involve contamination and checking behaviors.

Common ROCD obsessions

When you have ROCD, your brain may continuously want to know:

  • If you have the right partner

  • That you need to decide if this is a long-term relationship or if you are passing time

  • If staying with your ex would have worked out better

  • The reason you keep seeing flaws in your partner's physical appearance

  • What true love is like

  • That you will not regret being in the relationship

  • If you are settling for less than you could get

  • Why do you experience fluctuations in finding your partner attractive

  • That you are not making a mistake by sticking by your partner

Common ROCD compulsions

Compulsions are the mental or physical activities you indulge in to eliminate or distract anxiety and obsessions. For ROCD, they include:

  • Comparing your friends' relationships with how you relate with your partner

  • Analyzing if your past relationships were better than your current

  • Asking your friends for reassurance that your partner is the right one

  • Thinking that a perfect relationship is like what celebrity couples have and trying to match them

  • Confessing to your partner your uncertainties about your love for them

  • Avoiding intimate moments with your partner

  • Breaking up with your partner from your uncertainties rather than from differences

  • Comparing your partner's social, intellectual, and physical attributes to those around you for reassurance

Why does my partner need constant reassurance?

It is normal to have occasional doubts when in a relationship. However, your partner could have ROCD if the need for reassurance persists even when the relationship is working. You can help your partner with ROCD  by suggesting therapy, listening to their needs, offering solutions, and being present.

Treating ROCD

If you are experiencing ROCD, it's essential to seek professional help. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is the most common type of treatment. Sometimes, your therapist may include serotonin reuptake inhibitors as medication during your therapy. 

Cognitive behavior therapy for ROCD

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the gold-standard treatment for OCD. 

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy 

This technique in CBT aims to teach patients how to identify their triggers and develop coping strategies to manage them. The core principles of CBT include identifying negative thoughts, changing them into more positive ones, and then acting on these new beliefs. As a result, you develop a healthier sense of self and a more remarkable ability to cope with your relationship obsessions and compulsions.

Mindfulness-based CBT 

This therapy focuses on exploring unconscious conflicts and urges that may be causing your obsession. You learn that obsession and compulsiveness only strengthen and reinforce your triggers. 

Through mindfulness therapy, you embrace that everyone experiences intrusive thoughts, and it is your reaction that matters. 

How to get help for ROCD

If you struggle with controlling your thoughts, obsess over your partner, or feel trapped in a functional relationship, you can get help. While most people suspect their symptoms relate to ROCD, it is best to get the diagnosis from a specialist.

Clinical trials

Medical researchers use clinical trials to learn more about effective ways to diagnose and treat conditions like ROCD. Participating in a clinical trial can help others in a similar situation and provide you with better insights or treatment options for your condition. 

Search for trials actively recruiting ROCD patients here. 

The lowdown

ROCD gives you a feeling of being trapped in an unsatisfying relationship, while at the same time, you fear being alone, away from your partner. It may cause you to interpret everyday experiences with your partner, like needing personal space, as incompatibility. 

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

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