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Are You Having Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Know Its Types, Causes And Treatment

Every person in a relationship has doubts and concerns about his/her relationship at a point of time. These doubts are just ephemeral thoughts and not a serious one. However, there are people for whom these thoughts can be detrimental and irrational. Such people are known to be the sufferers of Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder also known as ROCD.

What Is ROCD?

Before knowing what is ROCD let us first understand the meaning of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is a mental health condition in which the sufferer has unwanted, irrational and persistent thoughts leading to compulsive behaviour. Such people will have a continuous cleaning ritual and does repetitive checks on belongings [1] .

OCD sufferers, when in a relationship, might have persistent thoughts and compulsive behaviour related to their relationship and partner. This leads to ROCD in which the doubts and irrational thoughts of the sufferers shadow the reality. This makes the sufferers obsessed with thinking whether they are with the right person or whether their partner loves them or not.

According to Jonathan S. Abramowitz, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, "People with OCD have obsessional thoughts about things that are most important to them. This means that normal everyday doubts end up escalating into clinical obsessions in the context of that need for certainty and intolerance of uncertainty"[2] .

What Causes ROCD

There are various factors that cause ROCD:

Stress and depression: People who have high levels of stress might become obsessed with what they love. They might feel difficult to stop thinking about their partner and relationship. Because they went through stress and depression, they do not want to lose their partner or might want to make their relationship a perfect one.

Childhood and past experiences: Bad experiences can trigger OCD in people. When these people get into relationships, they develop ROCD. They will constantly keep a check on their relationship and on their partner. Individals who had undergone any harm during their childhood or in their teenage years will have the tendency to make sure their partner is safe all the time. This includes making repetitive phone calls just to ensure their partner is safe or not even when there is nothing to worry about.

Perfection: Perfection is a good thing but it gets worse when people get it turns out to be obsessive. Some people might think it is sinful to make mistakes or have imperfection. For such people, perfection gives them happiness.

Controlling behvaviour: Some people may exhibit controlling behaviour at an early stage and this leads to developing OCD in them. These people develop ROCD when in relationship and love to control the thoughts and behaviour of their partner.

Types Of ROCD:

Woman comparing her relationship

There are two types of ROCD, namely,

Partner-focused ROCD: Let us take an example to understand this. Sam is of 35 years old and is happily married to his wife Ria. Sam adores his wife and thinks she is intelligent and beautiful. But whenever he looks at other women, he compares his wife with other women. He thinks if his wife looks better than other women or not.

Sometimes he asks his wife to dress up like other women and look appealing and it makes him happy to know other women are not as good as his wife. Sam never gets tired of doing an analysis of his wife all the time.

People having partner focused ROCD are obsessed with their partner's physical appearance and other qualities.

Relationship focused ROCD: We will take another example to understand this. Rachel found a guy named Jack and loves him dearly. She considers her relationship to be a happy and perfect one. After a year of dating and meeting, Jack asked Rachel for commitment. This made Rachel conscious of whether her relationship is really a perfect one. She now checks whether they are relaxed when they meet each other or if they miss each other when at work.

Moreover, she thinks, if their relationship has frequent fights. Rachel is now focused on determining if she and her partner are 100% passionate about each other or not.

People falling under this category are over-whelmed and worried about having a perfect relationship. They want to feel happy and passionate all the time.

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.

Woman Doubting her partner

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.'"

Common Compulsions Related To ROCD

Seeking Validation: Sufferers tend to seek repetitive validation from their partner. They want their partner to assure them from time to time about their love.

Making comparisons: Another compulsion faced by ROCD sufferers is comparing their relationship and partner. The comparison may include comparing the partner with fictional characters or with ex-partners. Same goes with comparing relationship. People with ROCD might constantly think they could have found someone better even if they are happily satisfied with their partner.

Monitoring thoughts: Sufferers of ROCD might spend their entire time in monitoring their thoughts. They will keep a check on if they are feeling passionate or if they are thinking and missing their partner or not [3] .

Treatment Of ROCD

"It's a very treatable problem that takes hard work because you have to face your fears, but people can and do overcome it," says Abramowitz. According to him, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for ROCD. It is a therapy, focusing on helping the sufferer to understand the relationship between his/her feelings, thoughts and behaviour. The therapy starts off with exposing the sufferers to situations, objects and images that can make them anxious and trigger their compulsions. Then, they are taught and trained on how to respond and control their compulsion.

View Article References
  1. [1] Abramowitz, J. S. (2018). Presidential Address: Are the Obsessive-Compulsive Related Disorders Related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? A Critical Look at DSM-5’s New Category. Behavior therapy, 49(1), 1-11.
  2. [2] Coghlan, D. (2017). How Might We Learn about the Philosophy of ODC Research from 24 Volumes of ROCD? An Invitation to Interiority', Research in Organizational Change and Development (Research in Organizational Change and Development, Volume 25).
  3. [3] Doron, G., & Derby, D. (2017). Assessment and treatment of relationship-related OCD symptoms (ROCD): A modular approach. Handbook of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder across the Lifespan. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley (Forthcoming).
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