Relationship OCD - "constant, chronic obsession and doubt"

13/06/2022

Shannon explains how relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD) can vary from day to day and person to person, but it doesn’t have to rule your life.

Relationships are, for a lot of us, a fundamental part of being human. Whether with family, friends or a romantic partner we develop a series of relationships throughout our lives, some that last, others that don’t.

Now, imagine you’ve got a relationship that you really care about. It could be completely platonic or intimate, it is healthy, safe and something you have always longed for. Now imagine, no matter what you do, you are plagued by constant, chronic obsession and doubt for what seems like no reason at all. This is the life that someone with the sub-type relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD) may experience.

I am 27 and have been in a relationship with my partner for three and a half years. The relationship started out as a dream, everything that I had longed for after a series of failed, unhealthy or dead-end relationships. Then one day, out of nowhere a thought popped into my head ‘What if I don’t actually love him?’ and that was the start of my journey with ROCD.

  • For me, it was completely devastating. It led to time off from work, panic attacks and hours crying. I thought my relationship was over and there was nothing I could do to save it but I couldn’t understand why.

That one little thought of ‘What if I don’t actually love him?’ quickly spiralled into hundreds of thoughts a day starting as ‘what ifs’ to statements such as ‘this is never going to work, I don’t feel anything for him anymore’. For me, it was completely devastating. It led to time off from work, panic attacks and hours crying. I thought my relationship was over and there was nothing I could do to save it but I couldn’t understand why. My relationship was fun, healthy and loving - not perfect, but close enough.

One day, while scrolling online, I found an article titled ‘Relationship OCD is a thing and here’s how to tell if you have it’. After reading this article, I felt this sudden sense of relief - I ticked all the boxes of ROCD! I had previously had a diagnosis of OCD at 16 due to intrusive thinking but as this hadn’t bothered me for a number of years, I assumed I’d been misdiagnosed.

I quickly developed a lot of what I thought were coping mechanisms but it turned out, they were compulsions. I read everything I could on OCD and relationships. I spent hours Googling, watching videos, following accounts online. Some of my sneakier compulsions were (and still are) rumination, avoidance, reassurance seeking and feelings checking. I saw a lot of therapists and coaches. Each one of them categorically told me ‘this is OCD’ but due to the nature of this disorder, it isn’t uncommon to question whether it is in fact OCD or just your intuition talking.

My journey with relationship OCD is ongoing. Some days, weeks, months are great. Other times, I feel all consumed by the doubt and can’t see a way out. It isn’t linear and an important part of the journey is to accept that it is ongoing and that I shouldn’t compare my journey to others. I always remind myself that these negative thoughts and feelings soon pass if I don’t give them the attention they want.

  • My journey with relationship OCD is ongoing. Some days, weeks, months are great. Other times, I feel all consumed by the doubt and can’t see a way out. It isn’t linear

ROCD can look like:

  • Constantly checking your feelings for your partner
  • Constantly questioning your love for your partner or their love for you
  • Trying to figure out the rightness of your relationship
  • Questioning your attraction to your partner

And this is just a small number of examples, with OCD the list is truly endless. (Also, this theme can attach to family, friends and even pets but for me, it has been relationships.)

I finally found a therapy that seemed to help and began practicing Exposure Response Prevention therapy as well as learning some harsh realities about relationships. Both have helped - but not cured. OCD is a chronic condition and should be treated as such. But it isn’t a death sentence! You can function and enjoy life and your relationships. You can learn to live happily with OCD, it doesn’t have to rule your life.

For those that feel as if they may be going through a similar experience, here’s some things that worked for me:

  • Finding a licensed therapist who specialises in OCD. If you do this, don’t be disheartened if it takes a few attempts to find the right person. Therapy is a personal experience and the first therapist isn’t necessarily the right or wrong person! Do what is right for you.
  • Taking time to properly research a therapist. There are many people on social media who claim to be able to ‘cure’ your OCD - this isn’t true or safe. Make sure they are qualified and don’t be afraid to ask to see proof. Also, check online reviews.
  • I tried my best to not pay over the odds for therapy! In the UK, the NHS does offer free services but you may need to join a waiting list.
  • Trying to avoid compulsions. This is so much easier said than done but the more I alleviated them, the better I felt in the long run. However, it’s important to not beat yourself up if you find you have gone into compulsive behaviours - you’re only human!
  • I limited the amount I spoke to friends, family and my partner about OCD. It was hard but in the long run it helped me.
  • I tried to remember that thoughts and feelings are just that, thoughts and feelings. They don’t necessarily mean anything and do pass.
  • I realised that my OCD can convince me of anything and it will try to. But a crucial thing to remember is that I always have the power of choice.
  • Knowing that every relationship is unique and Hollywood romance is a lie.
  • Remembering that love is a choice, and not a feeling. On the hardest days, you can stay in your relationship, no matter what OCD says.

“Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you are failing”- Jason Manford

Please note that nothing I have written should be applied to abusive relationships. If you are doubting a relationship due to abuse, please seek specialist help.

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