~ APRIL 2023 ~
- Relationship OCD means having intrusive thoughts and doubts throughout a healthy relationship.
- It involves seeking frequent reassurance that your partner is the one or that you’re really in love.
- It makes trusting your gut harder because you might be trusting your fear or anxiety instead.
But for many people, even the early and loving days are anxiety-inducing.
You may spend first dates preoccupied with analyzing every micro-movement of the person in front of you, while bigger milestones trigger agonizing spirals of doubt.
Sheva Rajaee, a marriage and family therapist who wrote “Relationship OCD” and founded the Center for Anxiety and OCD, told Insider these intrusive thoughts can be symptoms of relationship OCD (rOCD) or anxiety.
While there’s no silver bullet to “cure” yourself of rOCD, Rajaee says some strategies can help you distinguish between your anxieties and your reality so you can build a healthy, comforting relationship.
You seek frequent reassurance that your relationship is worth staying in
According to Rajaee, rOCD is part of a larger OCD or anxiety diagnosis.
In this case, the fixation is figuring out if you should stay in your relationship. It can look like:
- Googling if you should break up
- Asking your partner multiple times a day if they love you
- Consulting your friends or family on how they feel about your relationship
- Comparing your current relationship to previous ones
While Rajaee says doing these things once or twice is “pretty typical” for most relationships, people with rOCD may have these compulsions all the time.
“It can be incredibly devastating — it can be hours a day of obsessions about the relationship,” said Rajaee. “And it can be incredibly disruptive to relational health.”
Drop the Hollywood ideal
Rajaee feels that our cultural norm of searching for one person to fulfill all our emotional and sexual needs is harmful to all relationships, but she said it can make it especially hard for people with rOCD to navigate dating.
“We’ve got one definition and it’s kind of like Hollywood’s version, and we are trying to fit all of our relationships into that,” she said. “The truth is, some relationships don’t start out as passionate, and they’re still totally valuable.”
If anything, she noted that people with rOCD often “walk into love with both eyes open” rather than “fall” for someone because the early stages of dating make them anxious. At the same time, they can worry if their partnership is romantic enough.
As a result, Rajaee said we could be “blowing through good relationships, trusting our fear when we really think we’re trusting our gut.”
How to spot a genuine red flag versus what’s in your head
One of the most common questions Rajaee gets asked is the difference between rOCD compulsions and spotting red flags.
“The only real red flag in my opinion is abuse,” she said, stating that you shouldn’t stay in a relationship “if your partner is physically, verbally, sexually, or spiritually abusive towards you.”
Everything else is about incompatibilities. “There is no such thing as an incompatibility that can’t be worked with if two people are willing to work with it,” she said, noting that every couple has one, whether it’s related to sex or different upbringings.
There’s a big gap between questioning if your partner treats you respectfully or if your relationship is good enough, Rajaee said.
The best strategy is to slowly lean into your relationship fears
Rajaee said one of the best ways to heal is to differentiate between anxiety and “your truth” — what you want out of life and love.
“Anxiety is urgent and sometimes feels a little irrational,” she said. But if you have an incompatibility you want to address — either by talking it out or breaking up — “that’s a calmer feeling, that’s a more consistent realization.”
She also recommended therapy — specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure and response prevention (ERP) over traditional talk therapy.
According to Rajaee, the goal is to slowly expose yourself to the relationship milestones that scare you. It can start with sending a romantic text and progress to moving in together.
“Even if you’re anxious about it, even if you’re scared, it’s moving forward anyway,” she said. “That tells your brain, ‘This isn’t really that big of a deal, we don’t need to act like this is a catastrophe.'”
A version of this article originally appeared here on insider.com