What is relationship OCD (ROCD)? Do you have it?
Two case studies
Mark is 28-years-old and constantly questions his relationship with Stacey. On dates, he continually examines himself to see how he is feeling toward Stacey. He gets very anxious when he realizes that his feelings are not as intense as he thinks they should be. “Am I with the wrong person? If she’s THE ONE, would I be feeling like this?
Julie is 35 and has a strong desire to get married and have a family, but she finds herself obsessing over the perceived flaws she finds in the guys she dates. Charles is a great guy but one thing really stands out—his big ears. Every time Julie and Charles are together, Julie can’t stop noticing Charles’ ears. This constant observation causes her to lose interest in Charles. But deep inside, she continues to doubt herself, deeply torn over her desire to marry and the perceived “flaws” in Charles.
The obsessions and compulsions of ROCD
These two individuals likely have a form of relationship OCD. What is “relationship OCD” or ROCD? It is basically obsessive-compulsive disorder that has worked its way into a relationship. Those who deal with it are often preoccupied with their partner’s flaws, or internally doubting their feelings. This preoccupation causes anxiety, and they may reason within themselves, “Maybe I’m with the wrong person. It would be terrible to end up with the wrong person. I’m going to have to break up with him or her.” They seek to reduce or get rid of the anxiety through some sort of compulsion. In ROCD, these compulsions often a constant checking of internal feelings or comparisons with other people. For some people, ending a relationship or avoiding relationships in the first place are also methods of dealing with this anxiety.
ROCD clearly diminishes the quality and enjoyment of relationships. Instead of joy, there is anxiety; instead of fun, there is questioning and doubt. It can affect new relationships as well as old one. Married people are no more immune than singles. In some ways, Christians or others who believe in marrying for life have the added pressure of trying to make sure they are with the right one.
A measurement tool
One thing that is not so clear is, when do normal questions or doubts about a relationship cross over into OCD? Normal, healthy people certainly have doubts, fears, and anxieties about relationships at times. They know how they feel about someone and will at some point take note of his or her good and bad qualities. In addition, many people fear commitment and are labeled as “too picky.” Regarding this question, it’s worth mentioning that it relates to other forms of OCD as well. Does checking to make sure that you locked your door mean you have OCD? How about washing your hands twice? The difference is that clinical OCD and its anxieties are more intense, more distressing, and more constant than those of an otherwise healthy person. In many cases, this diagnosis needs to be made by a licensed professional. In recent years, a couple of measures have been created by psychologists called the Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Inventory (ROCI) and the Partner Related Obsessive Compulsive Symptom Inventory (PROCSI) (Doron, G., Derby, D., Szepsenwol. O., & Talmor. D. (2012)) which can be downloaded here.
I’m indebted to the folks at ROCD.net—and in particular Dr. Guy Doron, Dr. Danny Derby, and Dr. Ohad Szepsenwol—for providing a greater understanding of this type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. They’ve written a helpful scholarly article called “ROCD: A Conceptual Framework” which, I might add, requires some patience and fortitude to understand and get through. Their site has a lot of good posts on ROCD and a poll about what you obsess most about your partner. However, this site may be a bit too academic for some.
A couple of other alternatives are the OCD Center of Los Angeles, which has a good article with hundreds of comments. The folks at www.relationshipocd.com keep a blog, provide a recovery course, have a book for sale, and offer life coaching. If you’re wanting to understand OCD in general, check out this post.