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Relationship OCD: What It Is and How to Cope

Relationship OCD (sometimes known as R-OCD) is a specific type of obsessive-compulsive disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors related to romantic relationships. Like all OCD, symptoms exist on a large spectrum. However, they often go undetected and may be misdiagnosed for other anxiety disorders or even dismissed as low self-esteem or clinginess.

Understanding Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Although it's not a specific mental health disorder, relationship OCD is generally considered a sub-type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Like Pure O, it entails themes of rumination, repetitive behaviors, and significant distress related to a romantic partner.

Common ROCD symptoms include:

  • consistently assessing your own feelings about your partner to ensure you care about them or that they are actually the right person for you

  • seeking reassurance about the state of your relationship

  • recalling "positive" parts about your partner when you feel ambivalent about the relationship

  • constantly comparing your relationship to other people's relationships

  • avoiding situations where you may be exposed to other people in "good" or "perfect" relationships to avoid being triggered

  • experiencing concerns about whether the relationship is perfect enough

  • becoming preoccupied with your partner's previous relationships

  • experiencing ongoing mistrust or doubt about your partner's loyalty

Relationship OCD can coincide with other OCD symptoms, and it often overlaps with anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health conditions. However, it's important to recognize that these symptoms tend to be chronic and pervasive over a span of time. They do not necessarily go away just because the relationship is going well.

Why Do People Develop Relationship OCD?

Experts have not pinpointed a single origin or cause for relationship OCD. Instead, like all mental health conditions, it's likely that certain variables may predispose someone to developing this condition. Some of the main risk factors include:

History of emotional instability or abandonment: Many people with OCD have histories of trauma, particularly within relational contexts.

Perfectionistic thinking: Perfectionistic, rigid thinking may coincide with similar thought patterns within intimate relationships.

Other anxiety disorders: Anxiety is associated with catastrophic, all-or-nothing thinking patterns. This can lead to developing obsessions and compulsions to manage the anxiety.

Genetic factors: Genetic factors may play a role in certain mental health conditions, including OCD.

How Is Relationship OCD Best Treated?

Life with OCD can certainly feel unbearable, and you may worry that things will never improve. In addition, it can be challenging to discern OCD thoughts from reality. You very well may have good reason to believe your partner is being dishonest or that your relationship isn't ideal.

OCD treatment is often multifaceted, and it can include many components based on the specific symptoms.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on targeting maladaptive beliefs into more realistic ones. This can help interrupt a consuming OCD cycle and reinforce healthier habits.

Some common CBT exercises include:

Identifying cognitive distortions: Cognitive distortions can include all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophic thinking, and faulty assumptions about control. Seeing how these apply to your romantic relationship can help you better understand your triggers.

Thought stopping: Thought stopping refers to using a specific visual or tactile cue to "stop" intrusive thoughts in real time. By disrupting the thinking cycle, you may mitigate or avoid engaging in compulsive behaviors.

Cognitive restructuring: Cognitive restructuring includes identifying cognitive distortions, disputing them, and replacing thoughts with more realistic ones. This technique can help reduce common relationship doubts and lessen the severity of your relationship distress.

Mindfulness exercises: Mindfulness can help you when you're experiencing relationship-related OCD symptoms. Instead of acting on your impulse, you can take deep breaths, meditate, journal about how you feel, or simply engage in a mundane task without any distractions. This can help alleviate initial anxiety.

Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP)

ERP is a specific type of therapy that focuses on safely exposing yourself to feared situations that trigger obsessions without engaging in usual compulsive behaviors to cope. You basically learn to lean into anxiety and eventually become more desensitized to it.

Over time, intrusive thoughts become more neutral rather than debilitating. You feel more of a sense of agency about whether or not you want to act on them.

Knowing what triggers relationship OCD is the first step of ERP. With your therapist or support team, you will develop a fear hierarchy and then gradually confront your fears. Your anxiety will feel heightened at first, but you will learn that your thoughts and feelings can't actually hurt you. You'll also see that the fears are less likely to come true than you originally thought.

Treating Obsessive and Compulsive Behavior at Resurface Group

At Resurface Group, we help strengthen all relationships, including romantic relationships, parent-child relationships, and the relationship you have with yourself. In a relationship-centered world, feeling connected to others is paramount for your mental health.

You deserve to enjoy a sense of emotional stability with your loved ones. If obsessive-compulsive disorder ROCD symptoms are holding you back, consider seeking professional support.

Contact us today to learn more about our dynamic programs.

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