Written by: Blair Pallas, LCSW.
Relationships are an important and essential part of our human experience. Forming and sustaining intimate relationships is highly valued in our society and can be a major stressor for both OCD sufferers and non- sufferers alike. When OCD is present and demanding certainty within your relationship, additional stressors are created that can increase relationship discord and decrease your relationship satisfaction.
Relationship obsessions can present in several forms:
- R-OCD in which you obsess over whether or not you love your partner and whether or not this is the “right” relationship. R-OCD can also include frequent comparative analysis in which you obsess over physical, social, and/or personality attributes of your partner as a means of determining if they are “the right one”.
- Obsessive jealousy is another form of distressing ocd in relationships. This is when you obsess over the idea that your partner may leave you, cheat on you, or be attracted to others.
Below you will be provided with a brief synopsis of how these relationship obsessions may present themselves, and what treatment could look like for managing these obsessions.
If suffering with R-OCD, you likely find yourself consumed by thoughts such as “How can I be sure I love my partner?” or “What if this is not the right relationship for me?” You may also have obsessions that zero in on your partner’s attributes, such as “Is he attractive enough?” or “Is he smart enough?” In an attempt to manage the distress associated with these thoughts, you may find yourself engaging in very specific rituals. For instance, constantly comparing your relationship to that of others, frequently seeking others’ input on your relationship, or trying to recall positive memories in order to feel “certain” you are with the right person.
While you might logically think the goal of treatment for R-OCD would be to help you figure out if you do in fact love your partner, this is not the case. The goal of treatment is to help you live with the uncertainty that your OCD is telling you that you cannot handle. This will involve the use of the therapeutic modality known as CBT, using primarily, Exposure Response Prevention and Imaginal Exposure. Once you have achieved symptom reduction through this process, you will be better able to make relationship decisions based on in the moment experiences rather than fear based decision making guided by your R-OCD.
If you suffer from obsessive jealousy, you likely find yourself consumed with trying to gain absolute certainty that your partner is faithful to you. You may find yourself engaging in multiple rituals to “check” your partner’s faithfulness, including constant questioning of his/her whereabouts, going through his/her personal property, or even following him/her. You may also find yourself trying to limit/restrict your partner’s behavior, doing things such as telling him/her where they can or cannot go and how often they need to be in contact with you.
The goal of treatment for obsessive jealousy would be to help you accept and live with the uncertainty that is inherent in all romantic relationships. No one can know for sure what behaviors our partners may or may not engage in. All any of us can do is look at the information in front of us and assume that our partners are with us because they want to be. If evidence is presented indicating that we cannot trust our partner, we deal with this as it arises. We do not go looking for such evidence.
The specifics of your treatment will be tailored to you, but like treatment for all forms of OCD will be centered upon CBT using primarily exposure and response prevention.
If you suspect that you or someone you care about has R-OCD please start by getting an evaluation by a qualified OCD specialist. I say a specialist because OCD does not respond well to a standard supportive talk therapy.