Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder ROCD

Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD) is a type of OCD in which the person suffers from intrusive, unwelcome and distressing thoughts and obsessive doubts about their intimate relationships. The person may repeatedly question if they are happy with the relationship or if their partner is really the one for them. Such obsessions can make the person extremely frustrated, confused, and shameful of their thoughts, which causes negative implications on their relationships. The age of onset for relationship OCD is still unknown. Some patients reported symptoms in early adulthood. There are others who can trace back their symptoms to the first time they had to decide on life-changing, commitment-related issues, such as moving in together or getting married. ROCD obsessions may also plague those outside a romantic relationship (e.g., obsessive thoughts about old relationships), but greater distress and disruptions are waiting for those who develop the condition while in a romantic relationship.For some individuals, ROCD symptoms may be triggered by separation. These people may report having obsessive thoughts about their previous relationship. Other symptoms of extreme fear and regret may arise, accompanied by compulsive comparisons (i.e., with current partners or other men/women), seeking self-reassurance (i.e., convincing oneself why the relationship must end), and compulsive recollection of past issues (e.g., relationship fights and confrontations). Some people avoid getting into romantic relationships for fear of hurting others with their condition (e.g., "I will only drive him/her crazy," or fear of experiencing their ROCD symptoms again. In some instances, patients may report avoiding going back to the dating scene for years for fear of having unwanted thoughts about their partner's flaws or fear of making someone overly attached to them.

What Relationship OCD Looks Like?

ROCD is different from typical relationship doubts. For a person with this type of OCD, their doubts contradict their true feelings. Someone who really loves their partner will find the thoughts distressing because they are inconsistent with what they truly feel. These intrusive thoughts are called ego-dystonic. On the other hand, typical relationship doubts are often ego-systolic, which simply means that their thoughts are expressions of their true feelings, and while these thoughts may be saddening, it doesn't plague the person to the point of distress.

Obsessions in ROCD:

Relationship obsessions may come in the form of thoughts (e.g., "is their someone better for me?") and images of their partner. It may also come in the form of impulses, such as leaving one's current partner. People with ROCD are often preoccupied with their partner's appropriateness as a mate, their long-term compatibility, and their partner's overall attractiveness and sexual desirability. Although it's common for anyone to doubt many things about their current relationship, people suffering from ROCD engage in compulsions to relieve their anxiety. Below are the common intrusive thoughts in relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder:

  • • "What if I don't really love my partner?"

  • • "I don't think about my partner all day; do I really love him/her?"

  • • "I enjoyed the times when my partner was away, maybe I don't really love him/her."

  • • "Sometimes I think about cheating on my partner, maybe I secretly want someone else."

  • • "I noticed an attractive person a while ago, I must be in the wrong relationship."

  • • "I don't always enjoy our intimate moments together; I'm probably not attracted to him anymore."

Compulsions in ROCD:

The compulsions in ROCD often come as mental compulsions and may not be as obvious to an outsider. This leads to misdiagnosis wherein therapists would often misattribute the symptoms as simply falling out of love or "maybe you're not just into him/her." The compulsive behaviors in ROCD may include:

  • • avoiding being around people they may find attractive

  • • mentally comparing partner's appearance or behavior to others

  • • asking friends and family about their thoughts in their relationship compatibility

  • • comparing their relationship to another couple's

  • • mentally checking one's arousal during intimate moments

  • • mentally comparing one's relationship to the ones depicted in movies, songs, and romantic novels.

  • • frequent breakups

  • • flirting with others to check one's feelings

  • • repeatedly detailing one's doubts and feelings to their partner

Effects on Relationships

Little information can be found about relationship OCD, its causes, presentations, and treatment options. ROCD has been gaining traction and now being actively discussed in online forums, support groups, and other mediums. Even though it's common for most people to have constant doubts and worries regarding their intimate relationships, this type of OCD is characterized by symptoms that can be incapacitating and severe - it gets in the way of fully enjoying a relationship. A person's doubting obsession about their partner's perceived flaws (even though their relationship is going well) can become time-consuming, impairing, and stressful.

The relationship may turn chaotic if one person has ROCD. Even the most understanding and most compassionate human being will get tired of hearing over and over again how the person they love doubts their feelings for them. Instability due to constant misunderstandings and conflicts can lead to separation, wherein the person with OCD could develop more obsession and compulsions related to the failed relationship.

    Types of Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

  • ~ Relationship-Centered ROCD

    People with this type of OCD have strong doubts and worries related to the true nature of their feelings towards their partner or if their partner truly loves them. They would often doubt if they're in the right relationship or if the relationship is "meant to be." These people would constantly check and reassure themselves that their relationship is real. Thoughts about ending the relationship give them terrible anxiety, but staying in the relationship renders them vulnerable to nagging doubts and worries regarding the validity of their relationship.

  • ~ Partner-Focused ROCD

    This type of OCD involves repetitive, intrusive thoughts about the characteristics of one's partner. Their partner's physical attractiveness, social skills, career and personality traits are often in question. The patient would constantly compare their partner to a friend or someone else's partner. They are often focused on their partner's shortcomings, and always fail to acknowledge the good qualities of their partner. Exaggerating their partner's flaws to prove that their relationship is not ideal is also common. These symptoms can strain any relationship no matter how strong it is, and the OCD sufferer often falls into shame and great distress.

  • ~ Treatment Options for ROCD

    Just like other types of OCD, the best treatment for Relationship OCD is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Initially, the client must acknowledge that their obsessions and compulsions hinder them from enjoying their relationship to the fullest. Upon experiencing significant symptom reduction through treatment, they would come to understand the true nature of their relationship by fully experiencing it, rather than by listening to their relationship-related doubts and fears.

  • Doron, G., Derby, D., &Szepsenwol. O. (2014). Relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD): A conceptual framework. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 3, 169-180.
    Guy Doron, PhD, and Danny Derby, PhD, are Clinical Psychologists and Co-Directors of the Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Research Unit at the School of Psychology, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, Israel ( They have recently published a summary of findings from their lab’s research on Relationship OCD in the Journal of Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders. The following article presents some of those findings.



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