What is Relationship OCD?
Relationship OCD involves the experience of intrusive and unwanted thoughts about the strength and quality of an individual’s intimate relationships that cause great distress. Relationship OCD falls under the category of Pure Obsessional OCD, which involves obsessions followed by compulsive reactions that may be less overtly observable than the compulsions seen in other forms of OCD. The obsessions that are seen within Relationship OCD involve a preoccupation with things such as partner compatibility, sexual desirability and level of attractiveness.
There are two common presentations of Relationship OCD, which involve 1. Relationship-centered symptoms and 2. Partner-focused symptoms. Those with relationship-centered symptoms may focus on their compatibility with their partner while those with partner-focused symptoms may focus on the physical features, social qualities or personality of their partner. Often symptoms from both presentations are present simultaneously. It is notable that those experiencing Relationship OCD find their thoughts to be inconsistent with their true feelings and thus are distressed that they are experiencing these unwanted thoughts.
What are the symptoms?
The common symptoms associated with Relationship OCD are as follows:
- Constant doubts as to whether they truly love their partner or whether their partner is “the one”.
- Fears about not truly loving one’s partner
- Fears about not being attracted to one’s partner.
- Fixation on negative aspects of one’s partner or relationship.
- Concern over harming one’s partner by choosing to stay with them if one does not truly love them.
- Engaging in sexual activity with one’s partner to check for arousal or emotional connection.
- Repeatedly confessing concerns over the relationship or attraction to other people to one’s partner.
- Frequently breaking up with one’s partner or researching relationship issues online.
- Avoiding intimacy or emotional gestures with partner.
- Avoidance of others for fear of attraction to them or their attraction to you.
- Seeking reassurance from others about the quality of your relationship and partner.
- Comparing your relationship to past relationships and the relationships of others.
Why does it occur?
As with other forms of OCD, it is difficult to pinpoint any one factor that causes Relationship OCD. It has been suggested, as with other forms of OCD, that factors such as biological factors, genetic predisposition and past experience may contribute to the development of Relationship OCD. It has also been suggested that the over reliance on an individual’s intimate relationship as the cornerstone of an individuals self-worth may be a maintaining factor of Relationship OCD.
What treatments are available?
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) has been found to be highly effective in the treatment of Relationship OCD. This involves the use of Cognitive Restructuring, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and mindfulness-based CBT. Cognitive Restructuring involves aiding clients to identify the ways in which their thoughts about their relationship are distorted and to challenge the validity of these thoughts.
Mindfulness-based CBT involves aiding the client to become aware of their obsessions and to accept them in a non-judgmental manner rather than resist them. Finally, ERP involves gradually exposing clients to situations and thoughts that induce their relationship anxiety without engaging in any compulsive behaviours to reduce the significance and threat of the thoughts over time.
Dr Ea Stewart
- Six years’ experience in clinical practice
- Clinical supervisor of university students
- Worked in public and private sectors for many years
- Worked in outpatients units
- Researcher and presenter at national conferences
- Neuropsychology and clinical psychology speciality
- Development of a treatment manual for individuals with brain injury, tumour and learning difficulties