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What Is Relationship OCD?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 10, 2021

Relationships are key to health and happiness. Strong, loving connections with friends, family, and romantic partners can boost your immune system, reduce stress, and help you feel like you belong. 

Romantic relationships can be some of the most important connections in a person’s life. A romantic relationship usually involves emotional and physical closeness built upon a deep connection between two people. Relationships often include commitments like living together, getting married, and having children.

Many people have doubt and uncertainty around romantic relationships. Relationship OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is when your doubts and discomfort about a romantic relationship become uncontrollable and hurt the relationship. 

What Is Relationship OCD?

Relationship OCD (ROCD) is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental illness that involves unwanted repeated thoughts (obsessions) and uncontrollable routines or repeated behaviors (compulsions) related to these thoughts. 

For example, someone with germ-focused OCD has an obsessive fear of getting sick. They might wash their hands at least 20 times a day to prevent germs from entering their body. The hand-washing compulsion may get in the way of their daily life.

What Causes Relationship OCD?

Experts aren’t sure of the chemical process in the brain that causes OCD/relationship OCD. It likely has to do with the way different parts of the brain communicate through hormones and electrical signals.

People with OCD often want to feel certain that things are just right or complete. A relationship can be an outlet for obsessions and compulsive behaviors about the relationship’s “rightness”.

What Are the Symptoms of Relationship OCD?

Relationship OCD symptoms include obsessive thoughts about the relationship that may show up in your behavior.

Repetitive thoughts. Relationship OCD causes repetitive thoughts such as:

  • “Are they ‘the one,’ or is someone else out there a better match for me?”
  • “Am I a good enough partner for them?”
  • “I didn’t feel turned on when they kissed me just now. Does that mean something is wrong with our relationship?”
  • “Do I really love my partner or am I just going through the motions of a relationship?”
  • “I noticed that another person was attractive. Does that mean I’m not faithful enough to my partner?”
  • “What if I’ve made a mistake by being in this relationship?”
  • “Am I leading my partner on if I’m not completely certain I want to be in this relationship forever?”
  • “I don’t think about my partner all the time - does that mean I don’t truly love them?”
  • “I’m terrified of being alone if my partner and I break up.” 
  • “I didn’t feel overwhelmed with love for my partner today. Does that mean we’re not the right match?”

These thoughts can become so overwhelming that you can’t think about anything else.

Focusing on flaws. ROCD may result in an obsession with a flaw in your partner’s appearance or personality. You may have trouble overlooking the flaw even if it seems unimportant.

For example, your partner may chew food loudly in a way that annoys you. If you have relationship OCD, you might worry this is a sign that your partnership isn’t the right match. 

Asking for reassurance. You may repeatedly look for reassurance that your relationship is the right choice. You may ask friends, family, or others for their opinions on the relationship. You might also frequently ask your partner to say “I love you” or ask if everything is okay. 

Anxiety about impulses and urges in the relationship. It’s common to have passing thoughts of leaving or cheating on your partner. If you have relationship OCD you may obsess over those urges even if you don’t want to act on them. You might doubt your own commitment to your partner if you experience these urges at all.

Comparing a partner or relationship to others. You may often compare your partner’s qualities to those of another person. You may feel relieved when your partner has more of the other’s positive qualities or less of their negative qualities.

Trouble with sex. Relationship OCD may make it hard to enjoy sex with your partner. Your obsessive thoughts could distract you from being fully present during sexual activity.

What Is the Treatment for Relationship OCD?

Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) can be an effective type of relationship OCD treatment. This type of therapy involves slowly exposing yourself to triggers such as an unflattering photo of your partner. Over time, ERP can reduce the power of those triggers.

Some medications can also ease the anxiety and depression caused by relationship OCD. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a common type of drug used in OCD treatment. These medications are usually available through a doctor’s prescription.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
Frontiers in Psychiatry: “Relationship Obsessive–Compulsive Disorder: Interference, Symptoms, and Maladaptive Beliefs.”
International OCD Foundation: "Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)," "'Just Right' OCD Symptoms," "Medications for OCD," “Relationship OCD," "What Causes OCD?," "What Is OCD?."
The Journal of Sexual Medicine: “Right or flawed: relationship obsessions and sexual satisfaction.”
Sheppard Pratt: “Relationship OCD (ROCD).”
University of Minnesota: “Why Personal Relationships Are Important.”
Usera, D. Communicating to Connect - Interpersonal Communication for Today, Austin Community College, 2021

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