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Relational OCD

Today we’re going to be looking at relational obsessive-compulsive disorder — a condition that I was only made aware of in the last year first through a friend. Relational Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a sub-type of OCD in which a person experiences “obsessive preoccupation, doubt and compulsive behaviors focused on one’s romantic partner[i]”. People with this condition report uncontrollable thoughts or obsessions about their relationship to their romantic partner and this can be very distressing and draining. What Is ROCD? ROCD or Relational Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a condition where you have repeated uncontrollable thoughts or obsessions either about your relationship with your spouse (or fiancee or boy/girlfriend) or else you have those thoughts about the partner themselves. Because of these thoughts, there are also certain actions or compulsions that arise in order to try to satisfy or calm those obsessive thoughts. Any time you have OCD in any form, the O is the obsession. That’s the uncontrollable thought. And the C is the compulsion, which is the nearly involuntary behavior to try to satisfy the thought. The classic example for OCD is hand washing. So the obsession is with germs or cleanliness and the compulsion is to try to keep washing them to satisfy the thought. When it comes to ROCD, there are two main types[ii]: Relationship-centered: obsessive doubts about whether the relationship is working, whether your spouse really loves you and fears about being with the wrong person. This could occur with a fiancée or boy/girlfriend but we’ll just talk about spouses from now on. Partner centered: obsessive thoughts about possible flaws in your spouse, or constantly comparing your spouse to others (often with regards to flaws) So those are the obsessions. The compulsive behaviors that follow are actions a person feels they need to take in order to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsessive thought. Often the behaviors may be mental acts like checking or reviewing in your mind whether you really do feel in love with your spouse. Maybe you’ll list their good qualities or make yourself remember positive experiences or you may perseverate over their flaws. You may also compulsively read marriage books or listen to marriage podcasts (*cough*). There can also be verbal compulsivity where you talk extensively to others about your spouse in order to attempt to soothe the obsessive thoughts or even constantly reviewing the pros and cons of your relationship with your spouse or else constantly asking your spouse if s/he loves you. How Does ROCD Form? ROCD often forms when a person is considering a major relationship commitment, such as getting married or having their first child. When most people experience doubt around these kinds of major commitments, they are able to deal with the doubts and anxieties fairly quickly and without undue distress. But some people end up over-estimating how important and significant these doubts are. They assign tremendous value to them. People in this situation believe that their doubts and worries are highly significant, and so feel the need to deal with them using compulsive actions (such as mental checking, reassurance seeking and so on). A mental link (or, neural pathway) therefore forms between the obsessive thought and the need to perform the compulsive action (e.g., when someone worries if their spouse is right for them, they feel the need to mentally compare their spouse to other men/women or seek the opinion of others). The more a person uses the compulsive action in response to the obsessive thought, the stronger the neural pathway becomes and the harder to get off it. So why can some people deal with these doubts easily while others fall into ROCD? Well a research study done in 2013[iii] identified several predisposing factors which make a person more likely to enter this cycle include: Perfectionism: the belief that your relationship or your spouse n...