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What is Relationship OCD? Three Ways to Overcome Relationship OCD

What is Relationship OCD? Three Ways to Overcome Relationship OCD


Relationships can be complex, and for those struggling with Relationship OCD, doubts and fears can overshadow the joy of love. ROCD can significantly impact relationship satisfaction and personal well-being if left unaddressed. Relationship OCD can be a challenging condition that affects the quality of our relationships and emotional well-being. 

What is Relationship OCD?

Relationship OCD, often referred to as ROCD, is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder that centers on doubts and uncertainties within romantic relationships. Individuals with ROCD experience intrusive, unwanted thoughts and obsessions related to their partner or relationship. These obsessions can manifest in various ways, such as constant doubts about compatibility, fears of infidelity, or concerns about the intensity of their feelings. The compulsive behaviors associated with ROCD might include seeking reassurance excessively, analyzing interactions, or mentally reviewing past events for evidence of problems.

Three Ways to Overcome Relationship OCD

1) Engage in Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP):

When it comes to working on your Relationship OCD, engaging in Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) becomes the foundation for taking control of your OCD. As it applies to any subtype of OCD, ERP is a gold standard of treatment. ROCD can manifest as concerns about connection, fidelity, and the status of the relationship, as well as intrusive thoughts and worries about your partner themself, such as their potential and attractiveness. It can also be about your feelings about relationships in general, such as if monogamy is really possible or how to know if you’re choosing the right partner.

Before engaging in ERP in our Woodland Hills offices, we start with psychoeducation because it is important for you to understand the subtle signs of OCD that show up in your relationships before you can tackle it. This education can take place during in-person or online OCD therapy. When you build your understanding and awareness of OCD, you empower yourself to better manage your symptoms.

Exposure and Response Prevention provides you with the practice of experiencing distress and sitting with it, rather than trying to escape, avoid, or fix it. It also allows you to confront fears and triggers head-on, building your confidence and providing methods to take control of your thoughts and actions. Over time and with practice, you develop the ability to recognize when your thoughts aren’t true with greater ease and speed. Exposures can be real or imagined, either through confronting real triggers or considering your nagging fears. From there, you can begin to practice adjusting the way you respond.

ERP is a safe way to explore fears, traumas, and pain points. We utilize this technique in our Woodland Hills OCD therapy sessions to help confront obstacles gradually over time. Some of the exposure to your triggers will involve remembering your past experiences. While some of the intrusive thoughts experienced with OCD aren’t based on any reality, others can be a fixation on what has harmed you in the past. Working through those lived experiences and releasing them can alleviate some of the hold your triggers have on you, making you less sensitive to them.

The way a lot of clients feel safest to explore ERP is to have the triggers that are experienced and responded to become higher-stakes as the process goes on. This means that, at first, you will expose yourself to lower-stakes or more predictable situations. You might experience this exposure using real-life examples and situations and/or imagining potential issues. Both have their place in relationship OCD treatment. It is not up to you to try to justify your fears or determine whether your lived experiences were more significant than your worries. What matters is that you consider what harms you and enter into ERP therapy with a willingness to improve your responses to these unwanted thoughts and feelings.

Over time, you might involve your partner in your exposures if you and your therapist agree that it is beneficial. For example, if you experience persistent worries when you don’t hear from your partner within a certain amount of time, you might establish a time frame with your partner in which you do not want to hear back right away. This process isn’t about training you not to want to hear from your partner but rather how to handle the time between sending a message and receiving a response. How can you calm your body and mind and reassure yourself that you will be okay, regardless of how long it takes to hear back?

2) Mindfulness and Acceptance: 

Practice mindfulness techniques to cultivate present-moment awareness and acceptance. ROCD often involves ruminating on past events or worrying about an uncertain future. Mindfulness helps anchor you in the now, reducing the grip of obsessive thoughts. Some of our clients who attend OCD therapy in Woodland Hills are newly diagnosed and realize through sessions that the intrusiveness of their worries is one of the key symptoms of their disorder. Symptom management is best tackled in an environment that fosters honest analysis through safety and qualified guidance.

Both mindfulness and acceptance are rooted in the truth. By being mindful, you are able to acknowledge the concerns that are plaguing you as they occur. Often, we seek to distract ourselves from uncomfortable ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Through avoidance and distraction, we pretend that we are not experiencing this pain in the hopes that if we leave it long enough, it will go away on its own. Through mindfulness practice, you can learn to take note of what comes up without judgment. For example, if you are concerned about a partner’s fidelity, you might think, “I wonder about that coworker I saw; she was really pretty.” When you are avoiding, you might tell yourself not to think about it and distract yourself with something else. If you aren’t grounded in the present, you might then begin to worry about what might happen or think back to a past relationship where your partner was unfaithful with someone at work. Mindfulness allows you to take note of your concern and confront it head-on: “I am experiencing an unpleasant thought based on a negative past experience. It makes sense that I have fear around this subject. I am noticing my concern and focusing on the reality of my situation.” You can utilize your senses to root yourself where you are and remind yourself of your current reality. What can you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel? Are you connected to your breathing?

Mindfulness allows us to intercept thoughts and disrupt behavioral cycles that keep us in a loop that feeds our obsessions and compulsions. When triggered, we can experience intrusive and persistent thoughts that become obsessions. The result of these obsessions are feelings such as fear and shame, which we then try to rectify by enacting a compulsion. The behavior that we enact can lead to further obsession, which leads to increased feelings of discomfort, which increases our desire to act upon our compulsions. Mindfulness allows us to observe when thoughts that aren’t true are intruding on our well-being, or that the behavior we are compelled to do isn’t going to solve the problem.

When you are mindful, you can register that you are experiencing distress and have a relatively neutral conversation with yourself about the validity of your distress. You can respond with behaviors that support your goals and awareness rather than your worries. This is also where acceptance comes into play; you accept that the trigger has occurred or the thought is happening and that you are likely to begin fixating on the thoughts and feelings that usually follow. When you know that this is an issue, you can also be aware that you have the tools to take it on.

Acceptance is at the core of self-love and self-care. Accepting that you have ROCD and that it will show up in your life, and that you deserve happiness anyway is a big part of your ability to maintain focus on your desired outcomes. The goal is for you to be able to experience optimism, trust, and happiness without denying any part of yourself and your situation. Think of the people in your life who matter to you and consider how you accept them. Think of how you would feel about them if they had ROCD and were trying to navigate it; would you support them? Accepting yourself with the same vehemence will allow you to care for yourself and do the work necessary to navigate your relationship and ROCD.

3) Communication and Relationship Skills: 

Open and honest communication is vital in overcoming ROCD. Relationship dynamics are something I hear a lot about as an OCD counselor in Woodland Hills; no doubt, you want to be able to facilitate understanding with your partner about your OCD. Share your struggles with your partner in a constructive manner. Educate them about ROCD so they can understand what you’re going through. A fundamental understanding of OCD will benefit your partner so that they can understand how intrusive it is and, from there, be reassured that your ROCD is not indicative of something that is wrong in the relationship.

Work together to establish healthy boundaries around reassurance-seeking behaviors. Healthy boundaries are a key factor in all relationships, not just those that are impacted by ROCD or other mental health disorders. You should each be able to set boundaries with respect for one another and respect for yourselves without fear of isolating the other person or of some sort of retribution. You will want to determine boundaries for yourself, such as limiting behaviors that can be triggered by your relationship, and communicate them to your partner so that they can support you in your goals.

Intrusive thoughts such as, “I should leave my partner” or, “What if my partner isn’t interesting enough for me?” can be alarming and frustrating. Your instinct may be to pull away from your partner, but instead, leaning in and deepening the connection can be beneficial. Concealing your experiences from your partner can only lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, as opposed to feelings of comfort and support. Over time, as you pull away from your partner, that rift in the relationship can do untold damage. Consider if disclosing your ROCD has more potential for disruption than distancing yourself from your partner will. The odds are good that it is better for you to talk about your feelings and include your partner in your experience than it is for you to “protect them” from the thing that is plaguing you.

For example, in response to an intrusive thought, you might choose to embrace your partner for a while or set aside quality time together, such as a dinner date or movie night.

Communication skills involve mindset, discernment, engagement, and adaptability. Often, we lose sight of the goal when we are having tough conversations with the people we love. Communicate from the place of solving the problem together, whatever it may be, rather than accusing or blaming one another. Utilize discernment when there is something you wish to say; are you yourself calm enough to speak without saying something you’ll regret? Is your partner in the middle of something urgent, and interrupting will only start the conversation off on the wrong foot? This doesn’t mean that you won’t ever make a misstep in starting to talk or being clear about what you mean; it just means that you try your best to determine positive circumstances that give your conversation its best chance at being productive. Engagement means that you are listening to understand, not solely to respond. It means that you choose words that invite understanding and growth and that you take responsibility for yourself. In order to engage, you also have to be adaptable. How will you respond if and when your partner tells you something that surprises you? In what ways can you regulate yourself so that you can roll with the conversation when needed, rather than insisting it stays on a topic that it evolves away from?

Revisit your communication skills on a regular basis. Check-in with one another to ensure that you are taking the time to foster your relationship. Cultivate an environment in which you can both talk about issues that arise because of your ROCD or anything at all. The more you practice talking about things, the less daunting it will feel to talk about tough stuff, like triggers and symptoms of your OCD.

It can feel like the deck is stacked against you when you are trying to build and maintain a healthy relationship in the face of your mental health disorder. You may have experienced difficulties with relationships in the past, whether they were romantic, familial, or platonic, due to your Obsessive-Compulsive disorder. What often accompanies these experiences is low self-esteem and concerns about worthiness. Try your best not to get mired in fears, but rather approach your concerns with curiosity and self-love; nurture your relationship with yourself. All relationships come with unique dynamics that can offer challenges. Having ROCD doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy relationship with your partner. Through communication, mindfulness, and therapeutic tools and techniques, you can have a very successful relationship.

OCD Treatment in Woodland Hills 

We offer OCD treatment in person at our Woodland Hills office or online wherever you are at your OCD recovery journey. Whehter you have worked with an OCD specialist before or this is your first time, we will work collaboratively to assess the current signs and symptoms of your OCD, the areas of your life it is impacting the most, and the values you like to regain. By working with one of our OCD specialists, we will practice utilizes ERP, CBT, ACT, and mindfulness techniques to best address and manage your OCD symptoms, no matter the subtype.

Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Admin Team today!

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