Relationship OCD: When OCD is the Third-Wheel in Your Love Life
If you’ve ever been in the situation of being a third-wheel, there’s a few things that can happen. First, you’re there for everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whether it's knock-down drag out fights or public displays of affection, there you are, ever present for all of it. Second, being a third wheel can be uncomfortable at times. Maybe it was the fight that caused you to want to escape and never be invited to another night out at Chili’s. Perhaps it was the public displays of affection that caused you to scroll through Tik Tok with no end in sight. Being the third wheel is often not fun, but what if the third wheel was more than "just there"? What if it were actively intruding on the relationship pointing out every bit of insecurity you had about it? This is what relationship OCD, or ROCD, is like; and if you’ve ever experienced OCD in your relationship, you know that it’s ever present and it’s incredibly distressing.
Relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD) is a subtype of OCD in which the individual experiences intense doubt and worry regarding the quality of their relationship, choice of partner, feelings towards their partner, and their partner’s feelings towards them. Though doubt is a normal part of any relationship, people with ROCD become consumed by it, causing intense distress and anxiety. This doubt can result in impairment or even complete avoidance of relationships. Even though doubt and concerns arise in every relationship, this is way more intense. It leads to a cycle of doubt and compulsions that often can lead to the breakdown of the relationship (unfortunately confirming these fears; otherwise known as a self-fulfilling prophesy).
“Does my partner love me?”/”Do I love my partner?”
“What if I made the wrong choice of partner and I’m stuck with this person for the rest of my life?”
“Are we as happy as other couples?”
“What if I find someone else attractive? Do I still find my partner attractive?
“Is my partner the right height?”
“What if I’m turned off by my partner? Does that mean I’m not in love with them?”
Reassurance seeking: Though a common compulsion in OCD, reassurance seeking can be more nuanced in ROCD. For instance, this could look like calling a friend and asking them “How did you know you loved your partner?” Reassurance seeking can also occur internally. They might remind themselves “I’ve been with my partner for 8 years and I always tell my partner how wonderful they are, I must love them.”
Comparisons: Movies, tv shows, social media, and others’ relationships are all targets for comparison in ROCD. This may take form as someone comparing their relationship to a friend’s relationship if their friend just became engaged and they want to know how long it took for their partner to propose. They may worry “Will our relationship make it?”
Checking: Engaging in intimate situations to test whether they still have passion in their relationship is a form of checking. Another form of checking is searching the internet for information about relationships such as “how do you know you found your soulmate?” or “when should we move in together?”
Avoidance: Sometimes distress caused by obsessions can cause the individual to avoid situations in which the doubt is likely to occur. They might avoid intimate situations, attempt to control their partner’s appearance or behavior, or avoid relationships altogether.
Those suffering with ROCD can find relief with treatment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that includes psychoeducation, mindfulness, and Exposure Response Prevention (Ex/RP) targets intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Psychoeducation helps individuals learn about the nature of ROCD, thus aiding in building awareness for how the disorder continuously repeats a cycle of doubt. Mindfulness skills help individuals learn to experience their emotions and thoughts in an objective way without assigning meaning to them. This helps individuals accept their thoughts and feelings for what they are and become more compassionate for themselves in the process. Ex/RP works by slowly exposing the individual to the intrusive thoughts while gradually eliminating compulsions. For example, someone with ROCD may write a story about “what if we don’t get married” without searching the internet for “common lengths of time to get married in a relationship.”
If you or somebody you know could benefit from working with Amanda, give her a call at (405) 451-3476 or email her at Amanda@PanaceaTherapyGroup.com.