Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

7 Ways to Stop Relationship OCD From Ruining Your Love Life

Relationship OCD makes intimacy difficult. Here's how to handle it better.

Key points

  • Relationship-centered OCD could cause people to question whether they really love their partner or if they are loved when in a good relationship.
  • Research suggests that attempting to force relationship-centered OCD thoughts to stop can actually make them worse.
  • Getting professional help for ROCD and learning not to exaggerate the impact of the thoughts can help.

“I don’t know,” said Dan*, as he struggled to decide whether to ask his girlfriend to marry him. “Is she the right person for me? I keep finding things that I don’t like about her. Maybe there’s someone else who’d be a better fit. But I feel so comfortable with her. Sex is great. I love her sense of humor. But then, she gets on my nerves, and I think I can’t live with her for the rest of my life. What should I do?”

Janine* worried that her boyfriend wasn’t in love with her anymore. “I’m trying to figure out what he meant in this text,” she said. “Was he being sarcastic? It just didn’t sound like he was feeling loving toward me. Was he angry about something? Did I do something wrong?” Janine confessed to me that she had had similar issues with a previous partner. Somehow, all her worrying and trying to sort out what each behavior and every text meant had never led to her being able to know if a man was the right person for her.

Adi* told me that her wife of several years was “ridiculously jealous. She thinks every other woman is out to steal me away from her. She’s always checking my phone to see if I’m talking to other women, and she tries to parse out everything I say or write or text or anything to see what the underlying message might be. I’d think she was paranoid, but it only happens with me these days. Although I know it happened with the woman, she was involved with before we got together.”

These thoughts and behaviors, which can include obsessional thinking about, preoccupation with, and compulsive actions that center on a relationship with a romantic partner, have been referred to as “relationship-centered obsessive-compulsive phenomena” or “relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder” (ROCD). While many people question how well a relationship is going, especially in the early stages, if you have relationship-centered OCD symptoms, you may continue to repeatedly question whether you really love your partner or they love you long after you should be settling down into a solidly intimate relationship.

You may ask yourself and everyone else you know whether the relationship is right for you. And whether or not these questions make sense to you or even if you want to have them, they may seem to intrude on your thoughts at all sorts of unwelcome moments, no matter what you do to make them go away. In fact, research suggests that trying to force yourself to make these thoughts stop can actually make them worse!

When you consider leaving the relationship, for instance, you get overwhelmingly anxious, while the idea of staying with the person leaves you stuck with never-ending doubts. The thoughts and worries will obviously affect your love life, but they could also hurt your self-esteem, mood, and even your ability to function at work. And just to complicate an already difficult picture, with “relationship OCD” you may feel that there is no action you could take to make things better.

But take heart. If you suffer from these symptoms, there are some things you can do to help yourself move into a better frame of mind–and a more satisfying relational life!

1) If you suffer from ROCD, it’s important to recognize that your thoughts might be symptoms, not facts. Of course, if you are unhappy or feeling mistreated in any relationship, that should be dealt with no matter what other diagnosis, psychological, or emotional issues might be present. No one has the right to hurt you physically or emotionally.

2) But if you suspect that you do struggle with ROCD, you should get a thorough evaluation from a professional with experience in OCD. ROCD is an “additional dimension” of OCD, which means that a professional who works with OCD could be an excellent resource for helping you manage your symptoms, often through some combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, and talk therapy.

3) However, research has also shown that while many individuals with OCD have an exaggerated sense of the power of thought (for example, the idea that thinking about being angry at a driver who cut you off is as bad as yelling and cursing at them), people with ROCD feel even more responsible about their negative thoughts and doubts about their loved ones.

4) Therefore, therapy that helps you recognize that your thoughts are not the same as actions and that questions about a relationship are normal, not hurtful in and of themselves, can help you with your ROCD.

5) Talking to your loved one can sometimes help, too. The crucial thing about such discussions is that you acknowledge that your doubts are not facts. In other words, questioning whether the relationship is right doesn’t mean that it isn’t right; it simply means that you have a disorder that won’t allow you to settle into the kind of intimacy you and your partner both would like.

6) Of course, as Freud is reputed to have said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. That is, if you genuinely think the relationship is bad for you, then use your personal and professional support system to get help yourself get out of it.

7) But if the evidence seems to suggest that it’s a good relationship, or would be if you could stop questioning your own responses, your partner’s love, and the validity of what you have, then, by all means, get some help to deal with your ROCD. And let yourself settle down into a caring, meaningful relationship!

*names and identifying information changed for privacy


More from F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W.
More from Psychology Today
5 Min Read
People who have Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) are preoccupied with orderliness, perfectionism, and control.
More from F. Diane Barth L.C.S.W.
More from Psychology Today
5 Min Read
People who have Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) are preoccupied with orderliness, perfectionism, and control.