Relationship OCD: What It Is And How It Negatively Affects Your Relationships

You’re dating someone amazing and you’ve never been happier. You’ve also never been more stressed and anxious in your life. It seems like no matter how great things are going, your mind is consumed with racing thoughts about all the things that could go wrong. It’s so intense sometimes that you can’t concentrate on anything else. You could be dealing with relationship OCD, and if so, it needs to be dealt with immediately. Here’s what you need to know about the condition.

What is relationship OCD?

You may have heard of obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental health condition in which sufferers experience uncontrollable repetitive thoughts and behaviors. However, relationship OCD (often referred to as R-OCD) centers on thoughts and behaviors that happen specifically within a romantic partnership. This condition encompasses a variety of “symptoms,” many if not all of which can be harmful to the relationship, if not fatal.

As licensed therapist Dana Hall, LLC, tells Bolde, R-OCD is “a condition where a partner is bombarded with repetitive thoughts that center on doubts or fears about the relationship. It’s important to emphasize that these intrusive thoughts are not based on ‘real’ issues/faults with a partner.”

Ways it negatively affects a relationship

  1. Excessive jealousy A small amount of jealousy in a relationship is normal, especially in the early stages. However, once you settle into things, this should dissipate. For those with relationship OCD, jealousy levels never abate. In fact, they continue to increase, often becoming overwhelming. The sufferer may be suspicious of anyone else their partner speaks to, from a work colleague to the cashier at the local grocery store. Even connections that are clearly platonic may appear problematic to someone with R-OCD.
  2. Constant doubts A person with R-OCD will find it difficult to ever be fully secure in a relationship. That’s because they regularly second-guess their own feelings as well as their partner’s. They wonder if the relationship can really last, or if they’re being taken for a fool. They worry that their feelings might change or their partner’s might. This means they can never truly live in the moment.
  3. Paranoia leading to unfounded accusations Jealousy and doubt are a deadly combination. The paranoia that a partner is somehow betraying them will often lead to explosive fights. The person with R-OCD will accuse their partner of being dishonest, cheating, etc. Despite there being no indication of those things being true, their paranoia tells them otherwise.
  4. Extreme insecurity/low self-esteem Doubting your partner’s feelings all the time is bound to bring you down. Because they never fully believe their partner cares for them or has their best interest at heart, they feel bad about themself. They worry that there is something fundamentally wrong with them or that they’re unlovable. It takes a real toll on self-worth.
  5. Fear of commitment Someone with relationship OCD will always be hesitant to commit. This is because they don’t trust their own feelings or their partners. Therefore, getting into a serious relationship seems ill-advised since it will be doomed to end, potentially badly.
  6. Inability to focus on anything outside the relationship The sad thing about R-OCD is that it can take over your entire life. Sufferers don’t just obsess about their relationships when with their partners. It becomes an all-encompassing cyclone that distracts from everything else in their life. They may find their other relationships failing or their work performance being impacted. It can certainly spiral if not dealt with swiftly.

Why it happens and who’s most likely to suffer

While there are a variety of reasons people suffer from relationship OCD and sufferers can come from all walks of life, there are some similarities across the board.  “Those with R-OCD are often highly driven, intelligent, and perfectionist individuals with a history of anxiety,” Hall says. “R-OCD is believed to result from a combination of neurobiological, genetic, behavioral, cognitive, and environmental factors, and symptoms generally worsen when an individual is experiencing greater stress.”

In other words, those who experience the condition aren’t weak, silly, or desperate. It may be that they experienced past trauma that has led to their current condition. It could be that their generalized anxiety is heightened in a relationship setting. The cause differs depending on the person. However, with the right treatment, these harmful patterns and behaviors can be confronted and fixed.

What to do if you suffer from relationship OCD

The most important thing someone with this condition can do is seek therapy. A specially trained therapist with experience dealing with anxiety and compulsive disorders will have the tools and skills needed to help. They will aid in helping to find the root of the issue as well as work to correct problematic ways of thinking and acting that allow relationship OCD to continue unchecked.

While the therapy will likely involve the sufferer’s partner at some point, much of the work is a solo endeavor. “Through patience and
transparency, we can take some of the power away from the R-OCD symptoms by helping partners develop strategies to de-escalate episodes of R-OCD,” Hall advises. She suggests mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy, which “teaches people to identify, understand and change negative thinking patterns and behaviors.”

It may also be helpful to seek exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) in which the person with R-OCD is slowly exposed to triggers known to set off the worst symptoms. Over time, it’s believed that this type of therapy can reduce the power of these triggers and therefore lessen the likelihood of having an extreme episode.

Of course, keeping a healthy sense of humor and practicing self-care are just as important when trying to deal with relationship OCD as it would be with any other condition.

Jennifer Still is a writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience. The managing editor of Bolde, she has bylines in Vanity Fair, Business Insider, The New York Times, Glamour, Bon Appetit, and many more. You can follow her on Twitter @jenniferlstill