What to Know About Relationship OCD

What to Know About Relationship OCD

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Doubts, questions, and flaws: Virtually every relationship has them. But if you have relationship OCD, these issues could be continually on your mind.

Perhaps you have what most would consider an ideal relationship. Your partner is loving, attentive, and genuinely supportive. But for some reason, you have nagging doubts about them that won’t go away.

Maybe you’re in the middle of date night with your partner when someone you find attractive walks past, triggering questions in your mind like, “Am I really attracted to my partner?”

Or maybe you can’t stop finding flaws in your relationship, so you spend all of your spare time searching for answers on the internet. But no matter how much you research, you never find the certainty you need.

This constant quest to be sure may leave you feeling frustrated, full of anxiety, and exhausted. At the same time, your partner may feel confused and not know how to help.

If this scenario sounds familiar, you may be experiencing relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD). You might feel encouraged to learn that many treatment options exist that can help reduce these thoughts and behaviors.

While ROCD has recently become more popular as a topic of discussion, researchers have only begun to focus attention on this mental health condition.

The most common form of ROCD involves intimate relationships between romantic partners. It can also occur in other relationships.

Although it’s not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it’s considered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

People who have ROCD tend to be intensely preoccupied with their partner or relationship to the point where it interrupts their life. Someone with ROCD might ruminate on certain thoughts, such as:

  • whether their partner or relationship is right for them
  • the strength of their feelings toward their partner
  • perceived flaws in their partner

They might repeatedly check to see if they still love their partner by testing their attraction to others, seeking reassurance that their relationship is suitable, and avoiding situations that might trigger doubt.

Some research suggests that the symptoms experienced by people who have ROCD generally fall under two categories:

  • Relationship-centered. People who lean toward this category may repeatedly question if their relationship is right for them or how strongly they feel for their partner, or spend a great deal of time and energy analyzing the relationship’s future.
  • Partner-focused. People with partner-focused ROCD symptoms experience unrelenting preoccupations with their partner’s perceived flaws in appearance, morality, intelligence, and social abilities.

Often — but not always — a person with ROCD already has undiagnosed OCD that surfaces for the first time when they are in a relationship.

Although the cause of relationship OCD isn’t clear, there are treatments that can help.

Living with ROCD can impact your life and relationships in significant ways. Some research points out that people with ROCD may experience:

  • low self-esteem
  • attachment insecurities
  • less satisfaction in relationships
  • difficulties with sexual functioning
  • additional OCD symptoms
  • high levels of perfectionism

If you have ROCD, you may know on some level that your partner is right for you, but you’re still never sure. This can cause a lot of anxiety, and this anxiety may cause you to do things to gain certainty that your partner is truly “the one.”

You may constantly “test” your feelings, focus on flaws your partner might have, and avoid social situations that bring these issues to the forefront.

Meanwhile, your partner might begin to feel like they can’t do anything right.

And the thing is, you might know deep down that your thoughts don’t match with reality, but you can’t help feeling and acting on them anyway. You might feel like you’re at the mercy of your own mind or like you have no control over the situation.

Since ROCD impacts people in relationships, you might not experience OCD symptoms outside of that context. But research suggests that while ROCD commonly impacts romantic relationships, it can also impact parent-child relationships and relationships in a religious context, like how someone relates to a higher power.

An important life decision, such as getting engaged, planning a wedding, or having children, often triggers adult-onset ROCD.

Someone who has ROCD may experience obsessive thoughts, such as:

  • Do I really love my partner? What happens if I don’t?
  • Is my partner attractive? Am I attracted to them?
  • Is my partner’s behavior an indicator that they aren’t right for me?
  • My significant other has certain flaws. Should I stay with them?

Compulsions and behaviors associated with ROCD can include:

  • searching for reassurance that the relationship is suitable by asking friends and family or researching online
  • avoiding commitment or anything that could “tie” you to your partner
  • overanalyzing your partner’s flaws or scrutinizing their behaviors
  • mentally checking for signs or feelings that you might not love your partner
  • attempting to control what your partner wears, says, or does
  • spending a lot of time envisioning being happy with your partner to make up for the feelings of doubt

Research suggests that the following could play a role in the development of ROCD:

  • underlying OCD
  • catastrophic thinking, or tendency to dwell on worst-case scenarios
  • fears of abandonment
  • a strong sense of responsibility for thoughts and actions

If you have ROCD, situations that may trigger thoughts and behaviors include:

  • stressful events or transitions
  • being sexually intimate with your partner
  • being with or without your partner in social situations
  • being around people you consider attractive

Sometimes, just being in the presence of your partner could trigger symptoms.

Although having ROCD can feel overwhelming, learning as much as you can about this mental health condition can help you cope with the symptoms.

Because ROCD is considered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, treatments that can help include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.

CBT involves finding techniques to change how you think and behave, while ERP focuses on slowly exposing yourself to situations that trigger obsessions while resisting the urge to perform compulsions. Over time, this can lessen anxiety and gradually reduce ROCD symptoms.

Certain medications could also help. Some research found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), especially combined with CBT or ERP therapy, were most effective in treating OCD.

Since someone with ROCD may have some different symptoms than someone who has OCD without the relationship-related symptoms, more research could help clarify what treatments might help with ROCD in particular.

It might also help to talk with your partner so they understand what you’re going through. Open and honest communication can help ease their worries and give them the ability to create a safe space for you within the relationship.

Caring about someone with this mental health condition can bring feelings of confusion and frustration. It could help to know that these feelings are a natural reaction to behaviors you may see and experience in a partner with ROCD.

Educating yourself on ROCD and understanding that it’s a form of OCD might help. It can also help to acknowledge that your partner with ROCD may have difficulty controlling their thoughts and actions.

Your partner may need a safe place to talk about their feelings. To foster this, you might want to consider getting involved in the treatment process.

Because of your partner’s ROCD, you may occasionally experience dissatisfaction within the relationship. If this is happening to you, it’s a good idea to communicate your concerns and work toward striking a balance between your needs and those of your partner.

But if you become overwhelmed by the impact ROCD is having on the relationship, you might want to consider talking with a mental health professional or trusted loved one. They can help you sort out your feelings as you decide what next step to take.

If you have or think you might have ROCD, your symptoms are very real and can be managed. Making an in-person or virtual appointment with a mental health professional for diagnosis — or to learn about your treatment options — could help create a plan of action that’s right for you.

Online resources could also help. Organizations including the International OCD Foundation or the National Alliance on Mental Illness provide information and support for people living with ROCD. And apps for your phone or other devices could help you manage your symptoms, too.

You can also get more info on ROCD diagnosis and research here. Whether you have or think you might have ROCD, there is a path to relief from symptoms and more security in relationships for you.

Relationship OCD: 'Is he the one?'

ROCD is characterised by agonising uncertainty about your relationship.

Mary is dating Mark. She makes eye contact with a stranger and thinks, "He's hot, hotter than Mark. Maybe I could be with someone more attractive."

Mary feels a jolt of anxiety. The thoughts feels important, urgent. She asks herself: Does this mean I'm in the wrong relationship? Would I have noticed him if I loved Mark? What if I spend the rest of my life with the wrong man?

As she continues to ruminate, her anxiety rises. To cope, she googles if it's normal to find other people more attractive than your partner. Some comments reassure her, but others make her feel more panicky.

She asks her friends if they think Mark is right for her, but their responses don't quench her doubts.

Mary starts checking Mark's appearance in more detail. She checks her emotions when she is in his company. She looks at other guys to see if she finds them more attractive. She then does the opposite, avoiding places where she might see attractive people in an effort to avoid the thoughts.

Mary's problem isn't that she is anxious, or self-centred, or insecure, or in the wrong relationship. Mary has OCD.

The stereotype of the OCD sufferer is of someone performing overt compulsions like hand-washing. However, many sufferers obsess over unwanted thoughts but don't perform obvious visible compulsions. What if I'm a paedophile (POCD)? What if I harm someone (harm OCD)? Or in Mary's case, what if I'm in the wrong relationship (relationship OCD)?

ROCD is characterised by agonising doubts and uncertainty about your relationship. This article will focus on romantic relationships, although you could have ROCD about any important relationship in your life (your children, your parents, etc).

Common ROCD obsessions include:

  • What if I don’t really love my partner?
  • What if my partner doesn't really love me?
  • Is s/he "the one"?
  • What if I am not as attracted to my partner as I should be?
  • Would I be better off with someone else?
  • Would s/he be better off with someone else?
  • What if my partner doesn't know me well enough and realises too late I'm not the person s/he thought I was?
  • Is this ROCD or am I just with the wrong person?


Checking compulsions are another feature of ROCD.

Reassurance-seeking is a common compulsion – asking others to rate your relationship or your partner's personality and attractiveness, listing reasons why you are right for each other, doing internet research to confirm your problem is ROCD and not the relationship.

Avoidant compulsions are equally common – trying not to notice attractive people, avoiding being with people that trigger the thoughts, ending a relationship to neutralise the anxiety, avoiding watching romantic movies or TV shows, and so on.

Checking compulsions are another feature of ROCD – e.g. checking your partner's appearance to see if you are attracted to them and focusing in on physical imperfections, checking if you are enjoying kissing and sex, being intimate with them solely to check you are aroused and enjoying it, testing your feelings by flirting with others or checking dating sites, checking your emotions and how you feel about your partner's personality ("Am I bored right now?" "Would I be feeling this way if I really loved him?").

Another compulsion is confessing, which you feel compelled to do to ease guilt or uncertainty – for example, confessing your doubts about the relationship, confessing you have had sexual thoughts about others, confessing about mistakes you made before you met your partner in case they don't really "know" you.

Like all OCD themes, mental compulsions are a constant – for example, compulsively ruminating on how you feel about your partner and trying to figure out how in love you are or how funny you find them, comparing your relationship to previous relationships you had, mentally reviewing the time you spent together and the state of your relationship, and so on.

OCD causes terrible pain but it is very treatable. Unfortunately, it's often misdiagnosed, especially when the obsession pertains to relationships. Some doctors may simply think the person is anxious, depressed or stressed. Worse, some therapists may think the relationship is the problem, as opposed to seeing the thoughts as a product of compulsive rumination.

My next column will revisit this subject, focusing on certain thinking errors, or cognitive distortions, commonly seen in ROCD.

Erotomania (de Clérambault’s syndrome)

It feels great to be loved. The only issue is that many of us do not get that feeling every single day of our lives — perhaps our partners are not as passionate about us anymore, or maybe we are single and lonely.

It’s not unusual to crave love and attention, but people with erotomania take it to the whole new level: They believe that there is that one special person who is deeply in love with them.

To make things even more attractive, that special person often happens to be a celebrity or someone with a much higher status than the sufferer.

Supposedly, they confess their love via telepathic messages, special glances, and secret messages through the media.

If someone with erotomania decides that you are their secret admirer, it is pointless to deny your “feelings” — they won’t believe you. Instead, they will decide that you are trying to hide your true feelings from the world.

Another thing to be prepared for is that they will want to reciprocate: Expect phone calls, text messages, midnight visits, anything to keep “your love” alive.

Even more disturbingly, they might intentionally put you in danger so that they can offer you a rescue.

This obsession with you may last very long, much longer than a “regular” love.

Madonna’s stalker’s delusion (he believed that Madonna was meant to be his wife) was still alive and kicking even after serving ten years in prison.

Margaret Mary Ray stalked David Letterman for over ten years before shifting her attention to Story Musgrave. About ten percent of stalkers suffer from erotomania, and most of them are aggressive.

'Relationship OCD' May Hurt Sex Life

People in relationships who constantly question whether their partner loves them, or whether they've found Mr. or Ms. Right, may have a condition known as relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Now, a new study finds that, perhaps not surprisingly, people with these symptoms may be less satisfied with their sex lives than those who don't have this condition.

In the study, people with symptoms of relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD) — which can include behaviors such as constantly reassessing whether you love your partner, doubting your partner's love or thinking about a partner's physical flaws — were less likely to be satisfied with their sex lives than people without these symptoms.

This lower level of sexual satisfaction was explained by a decrease in relationship satisfaction — in other words, it seems that ROCD symptoms reduce relationship happiness, which, in turn, affects sex life, the researchers said. [5 Ways Relationships Are Good for Your Health]

The findings, which were published online June 6 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, could have implications for the treatment of some people with relationship and sexual problems, the researchers said.

"ROCD symptoms are often overlooked by family and couple therapists," said study researcher Guy Doron, of the School of Psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya in Israel. The new findings mean that people's sexual problems might stem from having ROCD and not knowing it, Doron said.

What is ROCD?

ROCD is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder — a condition that can bring unwanted thoughts or worries (obsessions), and repetitive behaviors that are carried out to address those worries (compulsions), usually to no avail.

With ROCD, obsessions usually fit into one of two categories: Questioning whether you love your partner, or questioning whether your partner loves you, said Steven Brodsky, a psychologist and clinical director at the OCD and Panic Center of New York and New Jersey. Brodsky was not involved in the study but has treated patients with ROCD.

For example, one of Doron's patients said that although he loved the woman he was in a relationship with, he couldn't stop thinking about whether he might be happier with women he saw on the street, or on Facebook.

Compulsions can involve going to great lengths to check that your partner is loyal, such as repeatedly calling them, looking at their email or Internet search histories or constantly asking them whether they "really mean it" when they express their love, Brodsky said.

It's normal to have some of these thoughts in relationships from time to time, Brodsky said, but a person is considered to have a disorder if the thoughts impair everyday life, such as the ability to do his or her job.

Brodsky also noted that people with ROCD have unwanted thoughts even when there is no rational reason to question the relationship (i.e., their partner really does love them).

Ultimately, these symptoms can lead to rocky relationships. "These relationships can often repeatedly break up and reunite multiple times a week" or month, Brodsky said. ROCD can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy if the symptoms end up pushing a partner away, he said.

Treating ROCD

About 1 percent of U.S. adults have OCD in any given year, according to the National Institutes of Health, and a portion of these have ROCD. Brodsky estimated that at any given time, about 20 percent of the patients he treats have ROCD.

In the new study, 157 men and women in Israel filled out an online questionnaire intended to assess ROCD symptoms. Couples had been together for about 15 years, on average. Although the survey could not diagnose ROCD, Doron estimated that about 1 percent of participants had the condition, based on their responses.

The more severe participants' symptoms were, the more likely the participants were to be unsatisfied with their sex lives.

ROCD symptoms may undermine the ability of a couple to bond emotionally, and lead to stress and sadness, all of which may interfere with pleasure during sex, the researchers said.

"When you're constantly questioning and obsessing over the quality of the relationship, or the fulfillment of the relationship, it's going to impact both your physical and emotional connectedness," said Anthony Ferretti, a private-practice psychologist in Florida who specializes in relationship therapy and who was not involved in the study.

It may be better for people whose ROCD symptoms are the main cause of sexual and relationship problems to have these symptoms treated before entering couples therapy, Doron said.

In fact, typical couples counseling could worsen symptoms for people with ROCD, Brodsky said.

In couples counseling, counselors may try to sort out the relationship's problems, and find ways to help the couple communicate better, or discuss what each person sees as lacking in their partner, Brodsky said.

"If you were to begin to really analyze issues within the relationship, you would be helping the OCD sufferer to [have] a compulsion, and you would be perpetuating or worsening the OCD," Brodsky said.

Instead, people with ROCD should receive treatment for OCD. The goal of such treatment is "to help the person develop a greater tolerance for ambiguity or bothersome thoughts," Brodsky said.

Developing OCD is the result of a complex interaction between life experience and genetic risk factors. While no single gene has been identified, researchers know there is a genetic link from studies of twins, which showed when one twin has OCD the other is more likely to develop the condition.  

If you think you have OCD, you will need to see a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, to get a diagnosis. The symptoms of OCD resemble other illnesses, so it is important to seek professional help.

What You Should Know If You Love Someone With OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is an often misunderstood mental health condition that can be exhausting and debilitating for the millions of people affected by it.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 1 out of 40 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with OCD at some point in their lives.

Although the term “OCD” is often thrown around in casual conversation as a synonym for “perfectionist” or “neat freak,” it’s important to know that it’s a real disorder marked by a cycle of unwanted thoughts or doubts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or rituals (compulsions). The compulsive behaviors, such as cleaning, counting or checking, are performed in an attempt to ease the anxiety caused by the intrusive thoughts.

“There are many misconceptions about OCD,” Jon Abramowitz, a clinical psychologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who specializes in the treatment of the disorder, told HuffPost. “One is that it is only about germs or perfectionism. People with OCD might have a variety of different types of obsessions and compulsions.”

In addition to the well-documented fears about contamination or obsession with symmetry and order, other manifestations of the disorder may include an irrational belief that you’re somehow responsible for causing harm to others or yourself (e.g., What if I accidentally hit a pedestrian with my car without realizing it?) or disturbing or taboo thoughts about sex, religion or violence (e.g., What if I’m actually a pedophile, even though I have no sexual attraction to children?).

To further dispel some of the misinformation out there, we asked bloggers and HuffPost readers dealing with OCD what they wish their loved ones understood about what it’s like to live with this condition. Read on for what you need to know if you’re in a relationship with someone who has OCD.

Note: Some responses have been lightly edited or condensed for clarity. The last names of some respondents have been withheld to protect their privacy.

1. We can’t explain why we have these thoughts or engage in these behaviors

“Stop asking why I do what I do. You know by now the answer will be, ‘I don’t know, I just do.’” ― Cindy O.

2. Our diagnosis is part of us, but it doesn’t define us

“Mainly I just want it to be understood that my disorder is not the defining aspect of my life. I’m not a neat freak. I’m not going to be obsessively cleaning, like the stereotype suggests. But my compulsions need to be both taken seriously and not become the main focus of our relationship.” ― Julianna D.

3. Try not to take it personally if we’re having a bad day

“Don’t get annoyed with me when I have to do something over and over again. Don’t get upset because I’d rather you not touch, kiss or hug me for fear of it not being ‘right’ ― too soft, too long, too short. It’s not personal.” ― Jessica A.

4. OCD is not a “quirk” of our personality — it’s an actual disorder

“As someone who’s lived with OCD my entire life, it’s hard to find others who understand and accept the disorder for what it is — a mental illness, not just a ‘quirk.’ My husband, from the beginning, showed compassion toward my behaviors because he understood the main component: It’s not logical. Don’t try to make sense of what your partner is doing because chances are, it’s not! Keep an open mind and radically accept your loved one, unconditionally.” ― Liza Walter-Larregui

5. Sometimes we get tired of trying to educate you and others

“After living on my own for so long, I forgot that I needed to explain why and how my OCD affects my daily life. It can be frustrating to have to serve as an educator about OCD over and over, but it’s necessary to remember how difficult it is for someone without the disease to understand it.” ― Brynn L.

6. Just because we have OCD, doesn’t mean all of our fears are irrational

“I’m obsessive-compulsive and have been married for five years. I want my husband to know that I’m not always crying wolf. I worry. I have irrational fears. It’s not new. Over time, it’s easy for him to dismiss my worries as a facet of my disorder. Sometimes I need that, but I also need to be taken seriously and recognized as an adult with at least sometimes realistic fears.” ― Julie Zack Yaste

7. Your patience means everything

“The most important thing for someone to know is that OCD takes time to get used to. I, myself, in a lot of ways am still getting used to it. It requires a patience and understanding that not many people have. And that is not a judgment of them it’s not an easy thing to deal with.” ― Tara W.

8. We get distracted by our obsessive thoughts and rituals but it doesn’t mean we don’t care about what you’re saying

“I wish my boyfriend understood that my constant daydreaming when he speaks to me is due to being caught in an obsession or mental ritual, and not disinterest. Having OCD is like having two televisions running at the same time in my mind, with one playing reality and the other stuck on a ‘what-if’ reel-of-terror channel. OCD often robs me of the things I value in this way and even if I can resist compulsions, I cannot resist obsessions.” ― Megan Hambly

9. You can’t ‘fix’ us, and we don’t expect you to try

“I’ve been married for 11 years, most of that time without the help of medication, and it took time for my husband to really understand what was going on in my head. In the early days, I needed him to understand that it was impossible for me to just ‘stop worrying’ or ‘stop thinking about it.’ I needed him to understand that my thought spirals were completely out of my control, but that they would eventually pass. I needed him to understand that he couldn’t ‘fix’ anything, no matter how desperately he wanted to. But just being there to listen or hold me was more than enough. After many open, honest conversations, we finally got to a place where he truly gets it. He knows what makes me tick. I have OCD and my husband doesn’t, and we are still able to have a healthy, extremely happy relationship.” ― Kimberly Poovey

10. Getting involved in our treatment could improve the relationship

“It’s important to me that my boyfriend can empathize with that struggle instead of trying to correct or fix my behavior so that we can build trust and effective communication in our relationship. Getting involved in my treatment has strengthened our bond and helped me in my fight against OCD because now he can identify compulsive behavior and deny offering me reassurance, which worsens my condition.” ― Megan Hambly

11. At the end of the day, we’re not all that different from you

“If you love someone with OCD, it shouldn’t be any different than any other relationship. A partner should be supportive and respectful and also stick up for you.” ― Dan Fenstermacher

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Running Up that Hill

Obsessive-compulsive disorder , or OCD, is a mental health condition marked by intrusive, unwanted, and adverse thought content, together with repetitive, time-consuming, and often ritualistic behavior.

The obsessive thoughts at the core of OCD can cause the individual experiencing them to ruminate over a particular subject of concern for extended periods of time. The four most common OCD-related obsessions are:

  • Cleanliness and worrying about the chance of becoming ill due to contamination.
  • Catastrophizing concerns revolving around a terrible occurrence affecting the individual’s life or that of a loved one. Focusing on a catastrophe such as the house blowing up because they forgot to unplug the iron can lead to checking and rechecking behavior (more on that in a moment).
  • Organization or “just right” thinking, which ceaselessly draws one’s attention to items that are out of place, not set at a right angle, and so forth.
  • Taboo thoughts, which relentlessly cause the individual to imagine actions or scenarios that go against social norms or that are considered unacceptable in their society.

OCD-related compulsive behavior often stems from OCD-related obsessions, which initially accost the individual with such troubling and distracting thought content that they eventually develop some sort of ritual in an effort to calm themselves down. Over time, though, these same rituals become impossible to skip, otherwise the individual will feel the same rush of stress and disquiet. As these repetitive rituals begin to feel mandatory, they are added to the individual’s obsessive thoughts, as another cyclical and sisyphic symptom of their disorder.

Examples of OCD-related rituals can be incredibly diverse, at times intuitively linked to the obsession that brought it on (such as repeatedly sanitizing all the surfaces in one’s house for fear of picking up allergens), and at times seemingly random (repeating an elaborate dance to “counter” the chance of a beloved friend getting into an accident).

In addition to compulsive behavior, OCD can also induce compulsive thinking: for example, a disturbing thought about committing an act of violence (an OCD-related obsession) can be warded off by repeating the lyrics of a specific song in one’s head (an OCD-related compulsive thought pattern). Regardless of whether their OCD triggers a repetitive action or thought pattern, OCD compulsions eventually only add to one’s frustration from the condition’s effects on their quality of life.

1%-2.3% of US children and adolescents, as well as 2.3% of US adults face OCD. While symptoms of this condition can develop at any age, they most commonly appear between the ages of ten and early adulthood. That said, patients on average only receive an official OCD diagnosis, and are treated for it, between the ages of 14-17. This is due to OCD often being hard to identify, as many times its behavioral symptoms are initially rationalized as personal eccentricities, rather than signs of a mental health condition.

Some Common Obsessions In ROCD:

Doubts: Sufferers of ROCD will constantly doubt his/her choice. The doubt includes if their partner is right for them or not. They might suspect every action of their partner. For them, doubt may occur anytime anywhere.

Constant check: ROCD sufferers will constantly do a check on their partner. They do this to find if their partner is faithful or not. They might even keep a check on their partner's colleagues and friends. This will include asking about every single detail of their (partner's) whereabouts. In addition to this, sufferers will keep a check on their own feelings as well. They will keep on questioning themselves if they are into the right relationship or not or if their relationship is better than other people's relationship or not.

Fear: Sufferers fear if they are good enough or not for their partner. They will do every possible thing to be the best for their partner. Suppose a girl(A) is having ROCD and her partner sees another girl(B) walking on streets, A will try to look better than B even if it costs her health.

These obsessions in turn manifest the thoughts and behaviour of the sufferers.

Abramowitz said to Healthline, "The senseless thoughts and doubts about the relationship don't make sense to the person and they get upset that they're thinking them. They might say, 'if I love my partner, why would I have these thoughts? Maybe I don't love them.'"

Sigmund Freud&rsquos Theory Of Repetition Compulsion

In his paper &lsquoRemembering, Repeating and Working,&rsquo Sigmund Freud termed the phrase repetition compulsion and claimed different types of this compulsion. In the first case, the individual with the repetitive compulsions does not know they are repeating them. Freud believed this was an unconscious repetitive pattern done without thought. However, he thought there was another form of repetition compulsion that is more thoughtful. For example, when a baby throws its toy out of the crib and cries for it. When the baby notices that their parent or someone else will pick up the toy and give it back, they repeat the behavior as entertainment. Another form of repetition compulsion was an act of a repressed past, in which the person repeated repressed experiences from the past instead of just remembering them. Finally, Freud&rsquos last theory was neurosis. Similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder, Freud believed this character trait was part of an individual&rsquos personality.

Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

When it comes to relationships, there is a special type of obsessive-compulsive disorder called relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder or ROCD. Those suffering from this type of repetition compulsion will constantly doubt their relationship and believe that their relationship is doomed. The individual with this condition will most often have other related illnesses such as an attachment disorder, anxiety disorders, or depression. However, these symptoms are usually a side effect of obsessive-compulsive disorder and can be treated with therapy and/or medication. In fact, there are licensed therapists and counselors at who can help you online without an appointment.

How Repetition Compulsion Affects Your Relationships

Those who suffer from repetitive compulsion in relationships will either return to the same bad relationship repeatedly or gravitate toward those partners with the same or similar issues. Because our unconscious sees trauma as normal, you will not even realize that you are dooming yourself to failed relationships over and over again. The cycle continues because that is what you are used to, and you unconsciously believe that it is normal. This may be due to an incident that happened when you were young.

Reliving What We Already Know


For example, if you were abused as a child or lived in an abusive household, you are more likely to be in an abusive relationship in the future. Our minds like to stick to what they know, so even if your relationship history is unhealthy, your mind does not realize that and sticks to what it knows. It may have been a single traumatic event you had as a child or a lifetime of abusive relationships that cause the repetition of trauma. Repetition compulsion is just that, a compulsion. We are not doing it on purpose. It is a learned response to what we already know.

Treating The Problem

Repetitive compulsion is a neurotic disorder that can be treated, but first, it has to be recognized. When it comes to obsessive-compulsive disorder, the underlying disorder or illness has to be addressed first. For example, if you have an attachment disorder, you will need to address that before dealing with your repetitive compulsion. However, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a complicated disorder that needs therapy to be controlled. It will not be completely cured in most cases, but it can be controlled with cognitive behavioral therapy or another type of psychotherapy. In more intensive cases, medication or other therapy may also be used.

Signs Of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Over 264 million people in the world suffer from an anxiety disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). In fact, obsessive-compulsive disorder was diagnosed in one out of every 40 American adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMC). Besides repeating relationship patterns, some of the other signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder include:

  • Obsessive fear of something specific like germs or contamination
  • Unable to control bad thoughts such as sex or self-harm
  • Needing to put things in order either alphabetically or by size
  • The need to have things symmetrical
  • Constant cleaning and washing of hands
  • Checking the doors and windows constantly to see if they are locked
  • Compulsively checking the oven or stove
  • Counting things compulsively
  • Spending at least one hour a day stressing over one of these obsessions
  • Actions or thoughts interfere with daily activities and relationships
  • Repeating words over and over
  • Tapping on something or another repetitive motion

If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms, it is best to talk to a therapist or counselor right away. In most cases, you can talk to someone online by text, chat, or videoconference. You do not need an appointment and can talk to them anytime you need to, 24/7/365. has over a thousand licensed professional mental health experts who can help you right now.

How Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Affects Your Relationship

Having obsessive-compulsive disorder affects every aspect of your life, but many people do not even bother to get treatment until it becomes a problem. This usually happens when you get into a serious relationship. When someone is around you all the time, they start to notice your obsessive hand washing or cleaning, lining up shoes, and alphabetizing the canned goods, for example. You may have been able to hide it before, but once that person lives with you, they will start to see your obsessions and compulsions. Of course, it is not your fault, and your new love interest will probably understand. But you will realize that it is time to get some treatment for your repetitive compulsion and obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Different types of psychotherapy can treat an obsessive-compulsive disorder, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness, psychodynamic therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy. The type of therapy you choose should be a joint decision between you and your therapist or counselor. Often, you may think you know what is best for you, but you are not an expert. It is best to leave that decision to the professional to help you decide.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This form of behavioral therapy helps you determine what triggers your obsessive-compulsive disorder or repetitive compulsion. The therapist can teach you how these triggers are causing your negative repetitive behaviors and help you find more positive repetitive behaviors. It works by the idea that we behave either positively or negatively, depending on our environment's perception. In other words, if we constantly believe our hands are dirty, we will be compelled to wash them.


Mindfulness therapy encourages you to consider both your mental and physical health together. The therapist will teach you different exercises and positions, such as breathing exercises or yoga positions. You will be encouraged to focus on your physical sensations while learning to relax your body and mind. You will be able to grasp better what is going on around you and focus on the moment without any distractions.

Psychodynamic Therapy

With psychodynamic therapy, you will learn how to focus on your unconscious processes as they affect your present behavior. It is all about self-awareness and how the past influences the present. The therapist will teach you to look at unresolved conflicts and past relationships that may be causing your obsessive-compulsive disorder or repetitive compulsion. This is one of the oldest and most widely used therapies, brought forth by Sigmund Freud in 1896.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Another form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, this type of therapy, teaches you to live in the moment. You will learn how to forget the past and cope with everyday stressors more positively. As the name states, dialectical behavior therapy is focused on dialectics, which make three assumptions. These assumptions include that opposites can be integrated to form a better view of the truth, change is inevitable and constant, and that all things are connected.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is typically only used if no other therapy type is successful for your obsessive-compulsive disorder. This has to be done by a licensed neurologist in conjunction with your therapist. The neurologist will use a strong magnet to send magnetic pulses to the brain. Specific areas of the brain are responsible for certain functions, so this has to be done by a physician who specializes in neurology. After a physical examination is done, the doctor will use a magnetic coil to send pulses or frequencies to the brain areas that they feel are responsible for your obsessive-compulsive disorder or repetitive compulsions. There are some minor side effects like headaches, discomfort in magnetic stimulation, tingling, and lightheadedness.

Keep Working On Your Relationship


Regardless of what type of therapy you and your therapist agree to try, it is important to continue to see your regular therapist for couple therapy. No matter how significant your obsessive-compulsive disorder or repetitive compulsions, it will likely affect your relationship, so continue to work on that while you treat your obsessive-compulsive disorder. has a number of excellent therapists and counselors who can help you with this, and you do not even need an appointment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are repetitive behaviors?

Repetition compulsion is a neurotic disorder in which a person repeats an event or its circumstances repeatedly. Repetitive compulsions are often caused by past traumatic experiences and can present challenges in our personal relationships, particularly when an individual has a compulsion to repeat trauma.

How do you treat repetition compulsion?

Psychotherapy can be an effective way to treat obsessive-compulsive disorders, including repetition compulsion, and medication can also help in some cases. Psychotherapy includes cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness, psychodynamic therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy. If you live with repetition compulsion, speak with your therapist or counselor to determine which type of treatment is right for you.

Why do we repeat the past in our relationships?

If you find yourself exhibiting repetitive behaviors in your relationships, you may be living with a type of repetition compulsion called relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder. People who experience compulsive repetition constantly question their relationship, or time and again, they may be drawn to individuals who are not good for them.

Why do I keep repeating my mistakes?

Repetitive compulsion is not intentional. Instead, it is a learned response to what we already know. Although we understand that these types of relationships are unhealthy, our unconscious sees trauma as normal, repeating the patterns.

Why do we repeat childhood trauma?

Repetitive compulsion is often based on a traumatic event that you either remember well or have repressed from your childhood. As an example, if you were abused as a child or lived in an abusive household, you are more likely to be in an abusive relationship in the future. If you need support working through repetitive compulsions, consider reaching out to a counselor. Together, you can explore what is causing you to repeat the repressed material and move forward on a treatment path.

What to Know About Relationship OCD - Psychology

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a relatively common mental health issue in the UK, with around 1.2% of the population experiencing some form of it. People often tend to characterise the condition in finite terms, with the classic example of ritualistic behaviours used as the quintessential case. It is, however, a condition that can take many forms and can be more complex than the tendency towards a single compulsion. There are, in fact, five main subtypes of OCD, which include checking, contamination, symmetry and order, ruminations and hoarding.

A little less well-known amongst these is the occurrence of relationship OCD, also referred to Relationship Substantiation or ROCD, which falls within the checking archetype. It has been reported to affect a broad spectrum of people and is the onset of extreme doubt regarding the health of a relationship. It causes the experiencer to question the love for their partner, their attractiveness, and compatibility as well as their partner’s love for them. If you’re unsure if either you or your partner has ROCD, some of the most common compulsions can be found below:

Obsessive Questioning

Having an open, two-way communication is part of any healthy relationship, but there needs to be balance. If you’re constantly questioning your partner over every trivial detail of your relationship, it can quickly become very exhausting for them. If you’re concerned that you might be exhibiting this trait, the next time you’re about to ask a question, pause and use your discernment. Ask yourself whether what you want to know is necessary for the health of your relationship? Does it have the potential to offend? And how would you react to being asked the same thing?

Relationship gurus have become something of their own micro-industry, and while many of them undoubtedly do fine work, it can be all too easy to get drawn into the volumes of information that is in print and online. The problem with taking in so much outside material about relationships is that every expert will have their own perspective on what does and does not constitute the right way to do things. This information overload can lead you into a tailspin where your better judgment is replaced with that of someone who has never even met you, so can’t possibly know what your version of healthy looks like.


This very much runs parallel to the habit of researching with the comparison of your circumstances with other couples having much the same effect. But remember, your situation, personal circumstances and relationship dynamic is unique to you. Both you and your partner have your individual characteristics, that, when combined produce a chemistry that is all you own based on the needs you provide for one another. To look at someone else to contrast, compare and judge the success of your relationship does nothing, but cause unnecessary doubt and resentment.

Endless Reflection

Even if you’re not the sort to verbally question your partner about their habits or the validity of your relationship, engaging in a constant mental dialogue can have a similarly detrimental effect. It’s important to remember when you find yourself getting caught up in these patterns of thinking that no one is perfect, and you yourself have your own flaws that are accepted by others as part of your character. Cultivating a practice of mindfulness can help you get around this, by becoming more aware of what thoughts are serving your best interest versus those that are bringing down the quality of your thinking.

Creating Rules For Your Partner

Relationships at their heart, are cooperative. Hence the term partnership literally describes what the goal of a successful relationship should be. They’re founded on mutual respect both in terms of ideals and boundaries. And if one side is constantly taking the lead in setting an agenda which the other must adhere, it creates a severe imbalance in how you relate to one another. Over time, this can lead to resentment from the oppressed individual through having to conform to an unrealistic set of expectations. However, the same is equally true of the aggressor who will also feel aggrieved – however unjustly – that their standards aren’t being met.

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