What Is Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD)?
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What Is Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD)?

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Relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD) is not recognized as a diagnosable mental health disorder but is increasingly used to refer to a specific manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is characterized by two main components: obsessions (intrusive thoughts) and compulsions (behaviors). For individuals experiencing ROCD, these obsessive, intrusive thoughts (and resulting compulsive behaviors) are specific to an intimate relationship with a significant other and tend to occur in cycles.

ROCD can strain relationships, as the constant doubts and reassurance-seeking behaviors can be exhausting for both the individual and their partner. This can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and feelings of frustration or inadequacy.

Fortunately, there is hope for individuals with ROCD and their loved ones. With the right treatment and support, many people with ROCD can learn to manage their symptoms effectively and lead fulfilling lives.

At the same time, regular insecurity, jealousy or suspicion can lead to intense reactions like snooping on a partner’s social media profile. So where do you draw the line?

This article will illustrate what cases of relationship OCD can look like and what you can do if you think you or a loved one might be struggling with ROCD.

What is ROCD?

ROCD is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) characterized by obsessive doubts and fears related to intimate relationships. People with ROCD often experience intrusive thoughts that their partner is not “the one” or that they are not truly in love. These obsessions can lead to compulsive behaviors aimed at seeking reassurance or testing the relationship.

The symptoms of ROCD can vary from person to person but generally involve obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors related to relationships. Here are some common symptoms:

  • Obsessive doubts about whether your partner is “the one” for you

  • Concerns or worries about a person’s flaws, like physical features or personality traits, that you can’t control
  • Overwhelming doubts about a person’s feelings for you or your feelings for them
  • Anxieties about past partners or your current partner’s exes
  • Obsessive distrust of your partner
  • Impaired ability to function in social situations without your partner
  • Preoccupations with one or both of your parents or your child
  • Monitoring and checking your own feelings, behaviors and thoughts
  • Interrogating your partner about their fidelity or past relationships
  • Searching someone else’s social media or snooping on their text messages
  • Testing specific qualities of your partner
  • Constantly seeking reassurance from your partner, friends, family or others
  • Attempting to fix others to fit your expectations

Types of ROCD

People with relationship OCD may show patterns of partner-focused ROCD, relationship-centered ROCD, or both. People with relationship-centered ROCD will worry about different qualities of their relationship, like whether it’s “true love” or if they will still love their partner later in life. In contrast, people with partner-focused ROCD will fixate on the qualities and behaviors of their partner. This might include physical features, personality flaws, communication styles and other behaviors. 

You may experience both partner-focused and relationship-centered ROCD at the same time, and these symptoms can build on each other. For example, you could start out with doubts about your partner’s fidelity that you can’t ignore — and cause you to rethink the entire relationship. 

Relationship OCD diagnosis

How do you know when your doubts and fears cross the line into real OCD? Well, reaching an uncomfortable level of distress with some consistency is the first sign. When your efforts to mitigate that distress start to affect the other person and spill over into other areas of your life, you may be dealing with relationship OCD. If you’re going to great lengths to try to calm yourself, or if your friends and family are starting to notice your anxiety, it’s a good idea to talk with a therapist.

The relationship OCD cycle

Another important signal that a person is experiencing ROCD is when the problem never seems to go away. You may keep bringing up issues that you’ve discussed with your partner before. You might agonize over things you can’t control or change, like a significant other’s past partners or your child’s beliefs. As you continue to worry and look for ways to get relief, an obsession and compulsion cycle will start to emerge.

Here are the four repeating stages of the obsession and compulsion cycle to look out for:

  • Obsession — Magnifying a certain issue or relationship to seem more important than it was before
  • Distress — Uncontrollable worrying or feeling anxious about the thing you’re fixated on
  • Compulsion — Trying different ways to relieve your distress
  • Temporary relief — Finding behaviors that seem to work for a while — until you start worrying again

How Lightfully helps people with ROCD

Relationships are a complex part of our lives, and we need strong, supportive relationships for mental wellness. Our unique process-based therapy (PBT) model focuses on building skills for healthy life processes rather than minimizing symptoms. We provide whole-person-centered care that includes family therapy sessions. You can choose to invite anyone you have a close relationship with to participate, such as a spouse, a parent or someone who lives with you. 

You can recover from relationship OCD and start approaching your closest relationships from a place of security and personal truth. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’re excited to help you.

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