Isn't it healthy to have doubts about your partner or your relationship?
Although there are many research articles on OCD there are very few on Relationship OCD as it’s really only come to light in recent years. An article by Doron et. al., (2016) defines R-OCD as “obsessive preoccupation, doubts, and compulsive behaviors focusing on one’s romantic relationship and partner.”
The key words in that definition are (obviously!) obsessive preoccupation and compulsive behaviors. The short answer to the above question about healthy doubt is YES! However, when your doubt is ruminative/obsessive, chronic, and feels compulsive, it may easily become exhausting, at times debilitating and can actually negatively impact your relationship. Doubts about one’s relationship or partner are pretty self-explanatory and arise normally during the course of any healthy relationship.
Are they the right person for me?
Are we compatible?
But when we compulsively obsess about these questions, we have entered into OCD territory. We may develop a compulsive ‘need to know,’ ‘need to figure out,’ and/or ‘need to analyze.’ These are common mental rituals in many types of OCD not just R-OCD. We may compulsively check if we are compatible, if they are right for us, how they might be wrong for us. We may compulsively seek reassurance from family, friends, the partner, INTERNET BLOGS!!!—Oh the irony!
We may check our reactions to them physically, to their behaviors or actions. Do I feel love right now? Does this feel right? We may obsess about a character flaw or a physical trait we may not like. We may ask them questions. Many… many… questions… in an effort to satisfy OCD’s never-ending quest for satisfaction. Which as you may have learned by now is only temporary. And as you may have also already experienced can be very fatiguing for the partner.
The sad reality is the number of healthy relationships that R-OCD has negatively impacted.
OCD is known as the doubting disease. With any life-altering decision there are going to be doubts. OCD easily latches on do that doubt and creates mayhem. OCD will also attach itself to tiny, seemingly insignificant decisions.
An interesting component/consequence of any OCD is decision remorse. Fear of experiencing remorse and/or anxiety post making a decision. What if I don’t like the red shirt and regret buying it? What if I’ll regret buying the SUV and experience guilt over not buying the electric car? What if in a month, a year or ten I’ll want a divorce!?
Clearly the ramifications of a divorce are not small. Nor are the consequences of a red shirt large. OCD does not care. It can attach itself to any decision.
In my clinical practice, after the initial evaluation the client and I come up with a hierarchy of fears. A list of OCD triggers/fears and set to work establishing what fears we want to address first. Normally we choose the ones that are on the bottom of the scale, creating the smallest amount of anxiety and work our way up over the course of treatment. We learn techniques for identifying that the intrusive thought is irrational (or perhaps rational but the way we are thinking about it may be obsessive). In either case they need to be considered irrational. We then go over anxiety tolerating techniques to work on tolerating the anxiety that comes from not doing the compulsive rituals. Be that a mental ritual where you are reviewing a conversation with your partner or an actual compulsive need to seek reassurance from them or a friend. We learn how to accept our thoughts, fears, anxiety.
Most importantly we learn how to become comfortable with doubts, greys and maybes. OCD hates ambiguity. It wants answers. It wants a yes or a no.
Adapting techniques from Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Exposure and Response Prevention training and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy you learn the techniques and skills to change your relationship to your thoughts, feelings and actions.
Below are links to more information on R-OCD and a link to that interesting journal article and another by the same researchers.