Understanding Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD)

Love is a complex emotion. It can bring euphoric highs and despondent lows to our lives. Navigating the intricacies of romantic relationships almost always involves moments of doubt and uncertainty. It’s completely normal to feel this way sometimes; jealousy, insecurity, and guilt are all natural parts of a romantic relationship. However, for some individuals, these doubts can become overwhelming and obsessive.

For a very small portion of the population, relationship obsessions can completely consume a person’s life and place a heavy strain on their intimate relationships. For these people, uncertainty metastasizes into a condition known as Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Relationship OCD (ROCD). ROCD is a specific type of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that revolves around doubts and anxieties concerning a person’s romantic partner or romantic relationship.

What is Relationship OCD

In order to understand Relationship OCD, we must first understand Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder more broadly. OCD is a complex mental health condition that involves persistent obsessions or compulsions. Obsessions typically manifest in the form of persistent and intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that cause distress. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts aimed at reducing the distress brought on by the obsessions. While many people associate OCD with compulsive handwashing or checking behaviors, it can manifest in various ways, including within the context of relationships.

ROCD narrows the focus of OCD to the domain of romantic relationships. Individuals with ROCD experience persistent and distressing doubts about their romantic partnerships including, but not limited to: the nature of their relationship, their compatibility as a couple, their partner’s appearance, their partner’s previous relationships, and various other maladaptive beliefs. Over time, these partner-focused obsessions will get in the way of a successful partnership. Like regular OCD, these obsessions are accompanied by compulsive behaviors or mental rituals aimed at alleviating the distress triggered by the maladaptive beliefs and insecurities.

These specific insecurities manifest in various ways, but also double as symptoms of Relationship OCD:

  1. Constant Questioning: Individuals with ROCD may continually question their feelings for their partner. They might obsessively wonder if they truly love their partner or if they’re in the right relationship.
  2. Comparisons: ROCD can lead to constant comparisons between the current partner and past relationships or even imagined ideal partners. This can lead to dissatisfaction and a feeling of never being truly content.
  3. Fear of Infidelity: A common aspect of ROCD is the fear of infidelity, even in the absence of any evidence or suspicion. This fear can lead to compulsive behaviors such as checking partner’s messages or tracking their whereabouts.
  4. Seeking Reassurance: Individuals with ROCD often seek constant reassurance from their partner or friends, hoping to alleviate their doubts temporarily. However, this reassurance-seeking behavior can strain relationships.
  5. Analysis of Feelings: People with ROCD might spend an excessive amount of time analyzing their feelings and dissecting their emotional experiences, often leading to more confusion and distress.
  6. Overemphasis on Flaws: ROCD can magnify minor flaws or imperfections in the relationship, causing these issues to become disproportionately distressing.

ROCD is driven by anxiety. The doubts and obsessions about the relationship trigger intense anxiety and discomfort, prompting individuals to engage in compulsive behaviors as a means of managing the anxiety. These behaviors, however, only provide temporary relief and further reinforce the cycle. The more one tries to analyze or suppress these thoughts, the stronger they become.

Diagnosis and Treatment for Relationship OCD

Diagnosing ROCD can be challenging because relationship doubts are a natural part of any partnership. However, when these doubts start causing significant distress and interfering with daily life, seeking professional help is crucial.

Because ROCD is not an official diagnosis, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals will use the OCD diagnostic protocol to determine whether or not you are exhibiting the symptoms of Relationship OCD.

  1. Clinical Interview: The initial step is a thorough clinical interview. The psychiatrist will engage in a conversation with the individual to understand their symptoms, experiences, and challenges. This interview might cover the nature of their obsessions (intrusive thoughts, images, or urges) and compulsions (repetitive behaviors or mental acts), as well as the impact of these symptoms on their daily functioning.
  2. Diagnostic Criteria: OCD is diagnosed when the individual meets specific criteria for obsessions, compulsions, or both. These criteria include the presence of distress or impairment due to the obsessions and compulsions, the time spent on these activities, and the individual’s level of control over them.
  3. Assessment of Symptom Severity: The psychiatrist will assess the severity of the symptoms. OCD symptoms can range from mild to severe and may vary over time. Understanding the severity helps determine the appropriate course of treatment.
  4. Duration and Persistence: The diagnosis also considers the duration and persistence of the symptoms. OCD involves chronic and persistent symptoms, typically lasting for at least an hour per day. The duration of symptoms is considered over a period of time (usually more than two weeks).
  5. Functional Impairment: The impact of OCD on an individual’s daily life and functioning is a crucial aspect of diagnosis. The psychiatrist will assess how the symptoms affect relationships, work or school, social activities, and overall quality of life.
  6. Differential Diagnosis: It’s essential to rule out other conditions that might present with similar symptoms, such as other anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, or medical conditions that could contribute to the symptoms.
  7. Assessment Tools: In some cases, psychiatrists might use standardized assessment tools or questionnaires to help evaluate the severity and impact of symptoms. These tools can provide additional insights into the individual’s condition.
  8. Collateral Information: Information from family members, partners, or close friends can be valuable in gaining a comprehensive understanding of the individual’s symptoms and their impact.

Once the diagnosis is established, the psychiatrist will work with the individual to create a treatment plan tailored to their needs. Treatment for ROCD typically involves a combination of therapies:

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT, particularly Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP), is the gold standard for treating ROCD. ERP involves facing anxiety triggers without engaging in the associated compulsions, helping to weaken the anxiety-doubt cycle.
  2. Couples Therapy: If both partners are open to it, couples therapy can provide a safe space to address relationship issues and improve communication.
  3. Medication: Medication, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or anxiolytics, is often prescribed to help manage the anxiety and obsessions associated with ROCD.
  4. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy: TMS is a non-invasive medical procedure used to treat various mental health conditions, including depression and, in some cases, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It involves using a device that generates focused magnetic pulses to stimulate specific areas of the brain.

Relationship OCD (ROCD) Medications

While therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) including exposure and response prevention (ERP), is often considered the first-line treatment for OCD, medications can also play a crucial role in managing the symptoms, especially when the condition is severe or significantly impacts a person’s daily life. Here are some common medications used to treat all types of OCD:

  1. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): These are the most commonly prescribed medications for OCD. SSRIs work by increasing the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in the brain. Higher serotonin levels are believed to help alleviate the symptoms of OCD. These medications usually take a few weeks to start showing noticeable effects, and the dosage may need to be adjusted over time to find the right balance between effectiveness and side effects.
  2. Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs are another class of antidepressants that work by increasing the levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. While they are not typically the first choice for OCD, they might be considered if SSRIs don’t provide sufficient relief.
  3. Augmentation Strategies: In some cases, when a single medication isn’t providing enough relief, doctors might consider augmenting the treatment by adding another medication. For example, adding an antipsychotic medication like aripiprazole (Abilify) can sometimes enhance the effects of an SSRI.
  4. Benzodiazepines: While not usually recommended as a first-line treatment due to their potential for dependence and withdrawal, benzodiazepines like clonazepam (Klonopin) might be used in certain cases to help manage anxiety and distress associated with OCD symptoms.
  5. Other Medications: Some other medications, such as buspirone, might be used to manage anxiety symptoms. However, they are generally less commonly prescribed specifically for OCD.

Medication response can vary widely among individuals, and finding the right medication and dosage might involve some trial and error. If you have been diagnosed with ROCD, or if you believe you are struggling with ROCD and want to learn more about medication to treat ROCD, reach out to Neuro Wellness Spa to schedule a same-day appointment with a psychiatrist.

It’s important to reiterate that experiencing occasional doubts, insecurities, or moments of uncertainty within a relationship is a normal part of the human experience. Just because you identify with some of the symptoms associated with Relationship OCD (ROCD) doesn’t automatically indicate a diagnosis of ROCD. ROCD is characterized by intense and persistent obsessions and compulsions that significantly interfere with daily life and well-being. Occasional doubts or worries do not equate to a clinical condition, however, if these concerns are causing excessive distress and disrupting your ability to function or enjoy your relationship, seeking guidance from a mental health professional can provide clarity and help differentiate between normal relationship challenges and the presence of a more serious condition.

Coping Strategies and Self-Help

While professional help is crucial for lasting remission of ROCD symptoms, there are also strategies individuals with ROCD can try on their own:

  1. Educate Yourself: Learning about ROCD can help you understand that your struggles are not uncommon and can be managed.
  2. Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself and recognize that having doubts doesn’t mean you’re a bad partner or person.
  3. Limit Reassurance-Seeking: As difficult as it may be, try to reduce the number of times you seek reassurance from your partner or others. This can help break the cycle of anxiety.
  4. Mindfulness and Grounding: Engage in mindfulness exercises and grounding techniques to stay present and manage anxiety.
  5. Journaling: Keeping a journal can help you track your thought patterns and identify triggers for your obsessive thoughts.

Breaking Free from ROCD’s Grip

In the intricate landscape of love and relationships, Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ROCD) can seem insurmountable, especially if your relationships have been affected by your ROCD in the past. However, it’s important to remember that help and healing are within reach. With the guidance of mental health professionals, the support of loved ones, and the implementation of coping strategies, those struggling with ROCD can find relief and regain control over their lives and relationships. If you or someone you know is seeking to learn more about their mental health symptoms, consider reaching out to Neuro Wellness Spa. Through a personalized approach, you can embark on a journey toward understanding, self-discovery, and ultimately, fostering healthier connections with both yourself and others.

If you’re ready to take the first step toward healing, call Neuro Wellness Spa to learn more about their specialized services tailored to individuals facing challenges like ROCD. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Embrace the possibility of a brighter future and a deeper connection with yourself and those around you.

• • Get in touch • •

Contact Us

    Could TMS Therapy Be Right For You?

    I struggle with depression, OCD or anxiety.

    I am experiencing sadness, low energy, difficulty sleeping, poor concentration, appetite changes, irritability or weight gain/loss.

    I have tried, or am currently on, 1 or more antidepressant medications.

    I have tried talk therapy

    Has your doctor/therapist suggested you try TMS?

    Mental Health, Reimagined.
    Call Us Today

    Call Us Today