There are many themes in obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I see them all the time on social media, and one that seems to cause a lot of confusion is relationship OCD. Determining the boundaries that define relationship OCD, or “relationship obsession,” limerance, and dating anxiety is more than I want to get into here. But I do want to discuss relationship OCD (ROCD) since it’s something I see and treat often.
What Is Relationship OCD?
Remember in OCD, the obsession is the intrusive, ego dystonic thought that, when it appears, feels uncomfortable or distressing. Compulsions are behaviors, overt or mental, that someone does to relieve the doubt or distress.
What are Common ROCD Obsessions?
ROCD obsessions can about the relationship itself:
- What if I don’t love my partner enough
- What if they’re not the one
- What if I’m in the wrong relationship?
- What if I could love someone more?
Or they can be about your partner’s characteristics:
- Is their nose too big?
- Am I attracted enough to them?
What are Common ROCD Compulsions?
Common compulsions in ROCD include:
- Checking to see how aroused or attracted you are when you’re with your partner
- Comparing your relationship with those of other people
- Replaying situations to check for attraction and “the right” feelings
- Comparing your feelings with past relationships
- Watching (or avoiding) romantic comedy movies to see how your relationship “stacks up”
- Asking friends for reassurance
- Breaking up to avoid the uncertainty
The frequency of compulsions exists along a continuum. On one end, they can be traits. On the other end, they prevent you from functioning, affecting your quality of life.
A complaint I’ve heard across the board from clients struggling with ROCD is that they’re spending more time in their heads than they are present in their actual relationship. This differs from the butterflies we can generally expect at the beginning of a relationship when we’re bathed in oxytocin and other love hormones.
Inherent Ambivalence in Relationships
I’m not sure who truly enjoys the entire dating process, but I think it’s especially hard when you have OCD. Relationships, especially romantic ones, are defined by ambivalence — you can’t escape it. Ambivalence is when you have mixed feelings that are sometimes contradictory. And ambivalence is really hard for those who feel most at ease with rules and highly defined categories.
As Esther Perel so beautifully says
Ambivalence exists in every relational configuration, but we put a lot of pressure on romantic love, in particular, to rise above it. We are taught that love is unconditional, passion is absolute, and that finding “the one” should clear us of all doubt. But relationships are never black and white. We learn that romantic love is supposed to flood us with certainty and thus there is no room for ambivalence. But ambivalence is as intrinsic to relationships as love itself.
Relationship OCD Treatment
For those in ROCD treatment, the general goal is to learn to accept your doubts while focusing on being present in the relationship. I’m simplifying it here, of course, and I want to make sure that you understand that relationship OCD isn’t just your typical dating anxiety. People can become consumed — tortured — by their doubts and efforts to figure it out.
If you do believe you may have relationship OCD, make sure you’re being treated with an evidence-based treatment. The International OCD Foundation is an excellent resource. If you’re in Ohio and looking for treatment, please contact me.