What is Relationship OCD?

Published on: 16 Jul 2018
Clinically Reviewed by Bisma Anwar, LMHC
Billboard of woman towering over man on his phone as metaphor for Relationship OCD

Updated on 4/20/2022

Relationship OCD (also known as ROCD) is a lesser-known subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder — the mental health condition that causes people to have repeated behaviors or routines they can’t control (known as compulsions) related to the unwelcomed repeated thoughts (known as obsessions) they experience. 

Relationship OCD differs from the basic form of OCD in that it involves the same types of obsessions and compulsions, but in direct response to a romantic relationship. People living with ROCD experience behaviors and thoughts that can interfere with their relationships with spouses, parents, mentors, friends, children, or even a spiritual higher power. 

There are 2 types of relationship OCD people might experience — we’re discussing them both. We’ll also look at ROCD symptoms, causes, how you can cope with the condition, and most importantly, what types of treatment are available. 

Types of Relationship OCD  

The 2 classifications of relationship obsessive compulsive disorder are relationship-centered OCD (ROCD Type I) and partner-focused OCD (ROCD Type II). While they differ in symptoms and may vary in treatment, both have a fundamental similarity — people living with ROCD are consumed with obsessive doubts or intrusive thoughts about their romantic relationship. The kind of obsessive thought pattern you might experience is what splits ROCD into two distinct classifications.

Relationship-centered obsessive-compulsive symptom (ROCD Type I)

Type I ROCD is when one partner is obsessive about whether the relationship is right for them, or when they’re obsessive about if their partner feels the same way about them. It causes someone to continually survey and analyze their relationship, asking themselves and those around them if the relationship is right.

What’s relationship OCD Type I like? 

You might wonder, do I really love my partner? Or does my partner really love me?

Partner-focused obsessive-compulsive symptom (ROCD Type II)

Someone with Type II ROCD typically picks apart their partner, continually analyzing every quality or trait (or lack thereof). They might become obsessed over their partner’s looks, social life, stability (financially, emotionally, etc.), intelligence, and morals.

What’s relationship OCD Type II like? 

You might feel like you love your partner but find yourself constantly worried about or questioning their intelligence, their personality, or any characteristic.

“If you’ve found yourself in the content provided so far, know that there is hope and that neither you nor your relationships need to continue suffering from obsessive thoughts.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT

Symptoms of Relationship OCD

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what’s relationship OCD and how do I know if my partner or I have it, understanding ROCD symptoms can help. There are several signs and symptoms you might experience if you’re dealing with relationship OCD, including: 

  • Having intrusive thoughts about your partner or relationship to the point that you’re unable to focus or you feel distracted
  • Constantly worrying and wondering if your partner truly loves you
  • Seeking reassurance continuously 
  • Feeling unusually concerned about how happy your partner is
  • Having an intense sense that you should have, or could find, a “better” partner, unsure they’re the “right person.”
  • Thinking often (or always) about the flaws you find in your partner
  • Experiencing intrusive thoughts about your partner or your relationship

ROCD can also contribute to relationship anxiety, distress, relationship doubts and more.

Causes of Relationship OCD

Just like with basic OCD, we don’t have a full and complete understanding of what, exactly, causes ROCD. Though research has been done, the truth is the condition isn’t entirely understood. 

It is believed, however, that several factors might play a role in someone developing relationship OCD. Some known factors that might increase your risk of developing R-OCD include:

  • Having trouble maintaining close relationships in your life
  • Significant change in activity in specific areas of the brain
  • Having a history of abuse
  • Experiencing an extreme trauma
  • Negative experiences in your past
  • Dealing with the loss of a loved one
  • Sudden or unexpected life changes like a new job, getting married, having a baby, or moving
  • Having a poor self-esteem
  • Certain attachment styles, like anxious attachment style

“Our individual attachment styles help us to better-understand how we show up in our relationships with others. While these attachment styles started forming even before we were born, we do have the power to make healthy and positive changes for the traits that are causing us distress.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT

How to Cope with Relationship OCD

Relationship OCD can make maintaining relationships more difficult. It can make it not only difficult for you, but also for the romantic partner in a relationship with you. Nonetheless, a person with intrusive thoughts and compulsive behavior relating to ROCD can feel overwhelmed. That said, there are several ways you can learn to manage your relationship so it’s healthy and successful. The following coping techniques have been found useful for couples trying to navigate relationship OCD.

Be honest and communicate

Open communication, that’s honest and based on a foundation of trust, is important in any relationship. It’s downright essential in a relationship that’s dealing with OCD. It’s important for your partner to understand what you’re thinking and feeling. They should be aware of where you’re emotionally “at” so they can respond appropriately, rather than letting misunderstandings and miscommunications come between you.

Get support and help

If the relationship OCD symptoms discussed apply, getting the support you need can be crucial in ensuring your relationship survives. There are community support groups available for people who are living with OCD. These groups can be key in helping you figure out how to make your relationship succeed. Somehow, having the social support you gain from others who understand what you’re going through can be a game changer.

Encourage your partner to be more involved

Sometimes encouraging your partner to become active in your treatment can help establish trust and regain some of the intimacy you might have lost in your relationship. Additionally, a therapy session is generally thought of as a safe space, so it can be a neutral place for you both to openly discuss what you need to, without fear of being ridiculed or ostracized.

Don’t compare

It can be easy to compare our relationship to our friends, family members, or even those we see in the media, on social media, or on TV. However, doing so can create unrealistic, not to mention unhealthy, expectations about your relationship.

Make a list

For many of us, being stressed or anxious can make us focus on the negative aspects of our lives, like our relationships. Stopping that negativity in its tracks, perhaps by looking at the big picture of your relationship, can be done with a pros and cons list.

Take an in-depth look into your current relationship and pull out all the positives you can find. It’s easy to list the negative aspects first, so give yourself time and permission to work on this exercise in a calm, relaxed setting. 

Sometimes creating a list can allow you to see the big picture. Often, that will present in a more favorable light, which can help you put any distress or anxiety you’ve been focusing on into perspective.

Practice mindfulness

Obsessive thoughts can start when your mind has time to wander, or it doesn’t have something to focus on. Practice recalibrating your mind and thoughts throughout the day so you can start to catch yourself in the “act” before the snowball of obsessive thought patterns starts. 

To use mindfulness meditation, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and think of a place or time that brings you peace and tranquility. Your goal here is to calm the mind before it begins to race. If you have trouble focusing, try downloading a guided meditation app. 

Own your feelings (but don’t get stuck in them)

You can learn to defeat the obsessive thoughts about your relationship. How? 

Learn your triggers by journaling: One effective strategy is by learning your triggers. Journaling can be a good way to identify what might be a trigger that sends you into a spiral of negative, obsessive thoughts. 

Talk to your thoughts: Obsessive thoughts can be the result of your mind trying to protect you from emotional pain that stems from past experiences. 

If you realize you’re starting to have obsessive thoughts about your relationship, try talking to them. It might sound silly, but it can work. Let your thoughts know they’re present, you’re allowing them to visit, but they cannot stay. Then, continue with your activities. If you start thinking again, remind yourself that you are in control. 

Your relationship is what you make of it, and your thoughts have no power over that. 

“Therapy can help with any sort of obsessive or compulsive thoughts and behaviors. Many clients with ROCD have found successful ways of overcoming their symptoms with cognitive and cognitive-behavioral therapy approaches.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT

Treatment for Relationship OCD

If you think you have ROCD symptoms, it might be time for you to talk to your doctor. Learning how to treat your symptoms in an effective way can help you establish and maintain relationships that will be fulfilling and rewarding for both partners. 

Relationship OCD treatment techniques can include talk therapy and medication. Often a combination of these two options is most effective. 

  • Talk therapy: Talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy) offers a healthy, effective way for you to address the thoughts and behaviors that are adding to your relationship OCD. Online therapy is another option of talk therapy that can be beneficial for a person’s convenience. Having a hard time being assertive in your relationship, experiencing low self-esteem, feeling a lack of self-confidence, or lacking social skills can all interfere in a healthy relationship. Effective forms of talk therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) have been proven in studies to be extremely effective in treating various forms of OCD.
  • Medication: Medication to treat OCD has been helpful for many people, especially when combined with therapy. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant that have been found effective in treating OCD. Much of the research done on obsessive-compulsive disorder suggests SSRIs should be a first-line agent in treating OCD. Other options might include tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and benzodiazepines. 

If you’re in a relationship that’s being affected by ROCD, remember that help is out there. Talk to your doctor or reach out to a therapist to start the process of healing and rebuilding your relationships. You deserve to be happy, and with the right support, information, and guidance, you can be…in every relationship in your life.

Sources: 

1. Doron G, Derby D, Szepsenwol O. Relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD): A conceptual framework. J Obsessive Compuls Relat Disord. 2014;3(2):169-180. doi:10.1016/j.jocrd.2013.12.005. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2211364913000924?via%3Dihub. Accessed March 25, 2022. 

2. Cognitive behavioral therapy of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorders. 2010;12(2):199-207. doi:10.31887/dcns.2010.12.2/efoa. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181959/. Accessed March 25, 2022. 

3. Drug treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorders. 2010;12(2):187-197. doi:10.31887/dcns.2010.12.2/mkellner. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181958/. Accessed March 25, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

You May Also Like
man holding gaslight dark background
Read More
Published on: 13 Sep 2017

What Is Gaslighting?

Published on: 13 Sep 2017
The details are still a little hazy. A girl was staying at my apartment for two weeks. I…