Many people experience doubts about their intimate relationships. They ask themselves, “is this the person for me?,” “Does this person truly love me?, “Is my partner being loyal?” “Is my partner cheating on me?” Clinicians make it clear that while this is normal and healthy in relationships, people can sometimes find themselves excessively preoccupied with these thoughts to a point of dysfunction. This may be a sign of Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD).
What is OCD?
OCD is a potentially debilitating condition in which daily functioning is severely affected by obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that repeatedly intrude upon your thinking. They’re on a loop, the same tape playing over and over, and you can’t get it to stop. Often, people feel intense anxiety (or other emotions such as fear, doubt, and disgust) that they try desperately to get rid of.
In Relationship OCD, researchers (Doron, G., Derby, D., & Szepsenwol, O.) have found that the tape that plays on an endless loop is focused on two particular kinds of obsessions: relationship-centered and partner-focused.People with relationship-centered obsessions have lots of obsessive doubts and worries about their feelings toward their partner and their partner’s feelings toward them. They often think “Is he/she the one?” Common relationship-centered obsessions include “Does he/she really love me?” and “Is this relationship right for me?” When people have partner-focused obsessions they often struggle with obsessive thoughts such as “My partner isn’t smart enough” and “My partner isn’t as funny as other people.”To avoid or minimize the anxiety caused by the obsessions people will engage in a number of compulsions such as asking their partners multiple times questions like do you really love me? Can you tell me how much you love me? Are you sure you’re not cheating on me? Clients can also search for re-assurance about how much their partners love them or how loyal they are by asking friends or significant others about it.
It’s important to clarify and recognize that relationship doubts are part of the landscape of romantic relationships. These doubts, however, do not lead to obsessive thinking or the desperate need to make it go away- affecting your ability to focus at home or at work. If there has been a situation of betrayal in the relationship, it’s natural that you may experience relationship doubts and you may engage in behaviors that look like compulsions, as we see in relationship OCD. If you have decided to stay in the relationship, you may want to ask for help to rebuild trust with your partner without engaging in compulsion-like behaviors. If you have decided to leave the relationship because of betrayal but are still struggling with obsessive thinking about the betrayal, seeking help to prevent an unfolding into obsessive thinking, affecting your daily functioning and future relationships.Doubting is a natural way of thinking; however, excessive doubting to the degree of replaying over and over a particular scenario and being unable to perform daily tasks for one hour or longer, is a different story.
Treatment for ROCD first typically involves a solid clinical assessment of the unwanted intrusive thoughts and the unhelpful compulsions; and how these thoughts and compulsions are used to avoid or minimize the anxiety triggered by the obsessions.