Relationship OCD (ROCD) is the almost constant and frustrating worry that perhaps you are not in love with your partner , or that they are not in love with you. Not surprisingly, research indicates that this can have a huge negative effect on your sex life. Here we will explore this topic further and find out what you can do to help alleviate ROCD and get your sex life back on track.
What is relationship OCD?
If you have suffered with ROCD as I have, then you know just how infuriating this sub type of OCD can be. As i´ve mentioned in a previous blog, sadly OCD has a habit of latching on to the things that are most important to us and relationships are clearly one of those things. Whereas it is normal for everyone to experience doubts about the suitability of a romantic interest, for people with ROCD these everyday relationship doubts or worries about a partner’s apparent flaws become a major preoccupation. Overtime it becomes increasingly difficult for them to not focus on these concerns, leading to time consuming rumination and stress. If left untreated, this can often bring about the end to an otherwise perfectly good relationship.
Common Relationship OCD Obsessions
· Fear that you’re not good enough for your partner.
· Constantly second guessing your love for your partner.
· Constantly wondering if you’re with the right person.
My relationship with my ex-girlfriend was a constant struggle with relationship OCD. It started off amazingly, we met at a language exchange night in Barcelona. The kind of thing that is basically just an excuse for men and women to talk to each other and flirt, without making any commitments. The first few months together were bliss, dinner dates and days out on the beach, until one day a doubt suddenly popped up into my head – what if I wasn´t physically attracted enough to her? Despite the previous two months of happiness (and a strong physical attraction), I suddenly couldn´t stop questioning if the relationship was right or not. OCD normally leads to thought fusion like this, whereas other people might instantly dismiss such a thought as negative or untrue, people with OCD tend to take these thoughts seriously. As things progressed, I became distant from my girlfriend, feeling unable to open up and share such thoughts with her, I didn´t know what to do and ultimately the relationship started to fall apart.
Janet Singer from Psych Central arguers that “Those with ROCD struggle with the belief that perhaps they should no longer be with their spouses (or significant others), either because they think they might not really love them, aren’t compatible, or whatever”. As with so many things with OCD, what the person is really looking for is certainty. They need to know 100% that there significant other is the one for them and any lingering doubt is unacceptable, so they continue to ruminate, digging themselves deeper and deeper until the relationship starts to suffer. Singer says that “The reasons the relationship has come into question are not important. What matters is that the person with R-OCD is looking for certainty; a guarantee that their choice of partner is the right one.” So how does all of this affect your sex life? Or perhaps a more pertinent question might be, how could this not affect your sex life?
ROCD and Your Sex Life
If you are constantly questioning if you find your partner attractive, or if you love them, then this is most probably going to be affecting your sex life. A study from 2014 showed this to be true. Rachael Rettner from Live Science reports that “people were less likely to be satisfied with their sex lives than people without these symptoms.” It turns out that the lower level of sexual satisfaction has a direct relationship with the lower levels of relationship satisfaction.
When people with ROCD start to question the relationship, they withdrawal from it. The confusion that they feel may stop them from doing the small things in the relationship that make such a big difference. If the partner is not aware of the problems with OCD, then it is easy for them to also start to question the relationship, leading to a domino effect. “ROCD symptoms are often overlooked by family and couple therapists,” said study researcher Guy Doron, of the School of Psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya in Israel. The new findings mean that people’s sexual problems might stem from having ROCD and not knowing it, Doron said.
In my experience with ROCD, my relationship definitely started to suffer from a lack of sex. At the beginning, things were great and there was a lot of passion, but almost immediately after me becoming obsessed with my self generated doubt, all of that began to change. You may argue that this always happens in relationships and that of course the passion is going to go down over time. It´s a good point, but in my previous relationships I had never experienced anything like this. We went from happy and fulfilled one week, to barely having sex and arguing the next.
I still sometimes feel guilty about how I must had made my girlfriend feel at that time and wish that I had opened up and talked to her about it. As mentioned earlier, ROCD often seems particularly cruel as it attacks what you most care about. Singer from Psych Central comments “Relationship OCD is one of the most heart-breaking types of OCD. It attacks one of the most basic of human needs and desires — to love and be loved”. If ROCD is not addressed, then often the relationship will struggle to continue and lead to a lot of unnecessary heart ache for both people.
How to treat relationship OCD
With all of this in mind we come to the most important question. How do your treat ROCD? The first thing to address is communication. You need to let your partner know what is going on inside, so that they don´t feel shut out and they can try and understand why you´ve been acting like you have. Once you partner is aware of what is going on, you can move onto the next step. With all forms of OCD and other anxiety orders, the key thing is acceptance. This skill can be learnt through the art of mindfulness.
As John Hershfield comments in his article from the International OCD Foundation “To be ´mindful´ means observing and accepting unwanted thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations without judging or attaching meaning to them or trying to stop or change them”. We will return to mindfulness in a minute but before we do, let´s just continue with this idea of acceptance.
As mentioned before, what the sufferer of ROCD is looking for is certainty, they want to know without any doubt at all that their partner is the right one for them. But this is what is keeping them stuck. It is hard, but they have to learn to accept that we can never have 100% certainty about anything, and relationships are no different. Before treatment can start, the sufferer needs to understand this. They also need to know that in order for them to discover if a relationship is truly for them or not, then they must first manage the symptoms of ROCD.
There are a number of tools that you can use to do this, but I would recommend that you find someone to support you with this.
First and foremost, you could try using Acceptance and Commitement Therapy (ACT – to find out more about this, check out my previous blog). In ACT, a mindfulness based cognitive behavioral approach to treatment, you firstly try to accept the uncertainty. With ROCD this means noticing the negative thought about the relationship, without performing a compulsion to neutralize it. To do this, you need to be aware of some of the compulsions you may be performing to try and deal with the thoughts. Below is a list of compulsions to look out for, many of which affected me when I was dealing with this.
You’re preoccupied with very small details that make you question everything about your relationship.
Constantly reading articles that define what a “successful” relationship looks like.
Speaking to friends about their relationships and comparing it to yours.
Always questioning and thinking about your partner’s qualities.
Becoming upset during moments of sexual intimacy because you’re desperate to find passion with your partner.
Always looking for love.
An endless quest for the “perfect” kind of love. This obsession keeps you from actually experiencing it.
Creating rules for your partner.
When they don’t uphold them, you think the relationship isn’t worth it.
By being vigilant and aware of these compulsions, you should be more able to stop yourself from performing them and thereby breaking the cycle of OCD. If you find this difficult, then as mentioned earlier, you may well benefit from practicing mindfulness meditation as this helps to exercise your awareness, giving you a greater ability to distinguish between helpful and unhelpful thoughts and to confront them. John Hershfield states that Formal meditation is “the practice of setting aside a specific period of time to focus on an “anchoring concept,” such as one’s breathing or heartbeat, while letting the internal world come and go without judgment or analysis— also provides a strategy to practice confronting OCD.”
Another important treatment option is of course Exposure and Response Prevention. This popular method of treatment involves the individual being repeatedly exposed to the very thing that they are scared of, in order to make the realization that their thoughts are in fact irrational and unhelpful. The charity OCD UK state that “Exposure therapy starts with confronting items and situations that cause anxiety, but anxiety that you feel able to tolerate. After the first few times, you will find your anxiety does not climb as high and does not last as long. You will then move on to more difficult exposure exercises.”
Here are some examples of ERP for Relationship OCD
· Talking openly with you partner about your ROCD, whilst remembering that these thoughts are irrational and don´t actually represent what you think.
· Staying in the relationship. By refusing to break up for an allotted amount of time and accepting the difficult thoughts when they come up, you are exposing yourself to doubt without performing compulsions. The trick is to refocus your attention on to something positive, instead of performing compulsions.
· Educating your partner on OCD and ROCD so they can be a better support system for you.
Another method could even be to use humour to laugh at and mock the ridiculous OCD thoughts. Remember when you stop taking the thoughts so seriously, they often go away on their own. Whatever treatment method you go for, make sure you find someone to support you.
I hope you have found this blog useful. ROCD has had a big impact on some of my relationships and at times it can be so frustrating, particularly when you are unable to see a way out. But as you can see, there is hope and by asking for help and following one of the treatment methods you can learn to have a better relationship with OCD. Whilst with OCD I personally don´t think there is such a thing as a cure, I do believe that with acceptance we can to learn to live with it. ROCD still bothers me on occasion, but now I am able to notice the obsessions and not perform the compulsions, meaning I don´t get stuck and I manage to avoid a lot of the problems that can stem from ROCD, such as problems with intimacy and relationship dissatisfaction. Please feel free to leave a message or a question and i´ll do my best to get back to you.
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