What Is Relationship OCD?

Woman worrying about her partner.

Noel Hendrickson / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Relationship OCD (sometimes called R-OCD) is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder in which people experience intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors related to their relationship with their romantic partner.

The condition can create repetitive thoughts that center on doubts or fears about the relationship. The person may experience uncertainty about whether their partner really loves them or whether the relationship will last. These thoughts can then lead to behaviors that are designed to gain reassurance. This pattern can create a great deal of stress for the person experiencing OCD symptoms, but it can also place a considerable amount of stress on the relationship itself.

If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you know that your symptoms can often get in the way of establishing and maintaining romantic relationships. Indeed, many individuals with OCD are single, and those who are in a relationship often report a significant amount of relationship stress.

Of course, not every person with OCD is the same. But if symptoms of OCD are posing a serious challenge to your love life, there are ways of coping.

This article discusses the symptoms, causes, and types of relationship OCD. It also covers some of the available treatments and things you can do to cope.

Symptoms


Some signs and symptoms of relationship OCD may include:

  • Intrusive thoughts about your relationship or your partner
  • Always worrying about whether your partner really loves you
  • Excessive concern about your partner's happiness or well-being
  • Always thinking about your partner's flaws
  • Thinking that you could have found a different, better partner
  • Constantly seeking reassurance from your partner
  • Feeling distracted and unable to focus due to intrusive thoughts about your relationship or partner

In order to be diagnosed with OCD, these obsessions and compulsions must interfere with your normal activities and ability to function. In order to diagnose the condition, your healthcare provider or therapist will also have to rule out related conditions that might be contributing to your symptoms including an anxiety disorder, depression, or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.

Causes

The exact causes of relationship OCD are not entirely clear, although a number of factors may play a role. Factors that can increase a person's risk of developing OCD include:

  • Changes in activity in certain areas of the brain
  • Difficulties in close relationships
  • A history of abuse
  • The loss of a loved one
  • Trauma
  • Sudden life changes such as moving or getting married
  • Changes in serotonin levels in the brain

Factors such as having an anxious attachment style, past negative experiences, and poor self-esteem may also contribute to anxiety related to relationships.

Most people experience varying levels of relationship anxiety from time to time. However, people with relationship OCD may experience it much more severely and frequently.

Types of Relationship OCD

There are two different types of relationship OCD. Some people may experience one or the other, while some may experience symptoms of both.

  • Relationship-focused: The symptoms of this type of relationship OCD are centered around the relationship itself. A person with this type may wonder, "Does my partner really love me?" or "Am I really in love with them?"
  • Partner-focused: The symptoms of this presentation of the condition are centered on the characteristics of the individual's partner. A person with this type of relationship OCD may love their partner, but feel preoccupied with questions about their partner's personality, intelligence, and other characteristics.

How OCD Impacts Romantic Relationships

There are many ways in which OCD can get in the way of romantic relationships. For example, you may have challenges maintaining your self-esteem and may struggle with feelings of shame around your symptoms, which can lead you to avoid contact with others.

Relationship OCD can also cause people to constantly seek reassurance from their partner. This behavior can lead to feelings of frustration and confusion when the partner doesn't understand the source of the anxiety. They may perceive it as neediness or may feel as if their personal boundaries are always being disregarded.

In addition, you may feel that you have to conceal the nature of your obsessions and compulsions to avoid rejection. When your obsessions or compulsions revolve around your romantic partner as with R-OCD, it can be especially difficult to reveal the nature of your symptoms.

Secrecy stands in the way of an open, honest, and intimate relationship. Plus, symptoms of depression, which are common with OCD, can also make it difficult to establish and maintain intimate relationships.

OCD symptoms can also interfere with sexual intimacy. For example, people with OCD may experience obsessions related to contamination (like the cleanliness of their partner’s genitals) or disturbing sexual thoughts (such as sexual assault) that make it very difficult to engage in sexual activities with their partner. Not surprisingly, people with OCD are often sexually avoidant and sexually dissatisfied in their relationships.

Treatment

If you think you might have relationship OCD, it's important to talk to your doctor about ways to manage your symptoms. The severity of OCD symptoms is positively associated with the inability to establish and maintain a romantic relationship.

As such, an important and necessary first step toward a healthy relationship is to effectively treat your symptoms. The treatment for relationship OCD may include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two:

  • Psychotherapy: In addition to managing symptoms of OCD, psychotherapy can provide a useful framework for working on challenging areas, such as low self-esteem, difficulty being assertive, poor social skills, and a lack of self-confidence that could be impeding your ability to start or maintain a stable, long-term relationship.
  • Medication: Your doctor may also prescribe medications that can help reduce the symptoms of OCD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant that may be prescribed. Research suggests that SSRIs are the most effective type of medication for the treatment of OCD.

Be sure to review your treatment plan with your doctor, psychologist, or other mental health professional to ensure it is best possible course of treatment for you.

How to Cope With Relationship OCD

Although OCD does pose many challenges to forming, maintaining, and enjoying a romantic relationship, there are ways to cope.

Get Your Partner Involved

If you're already in a romantic relationship, it may be helpful for your partner to take a more active role in your treatment. The doctor or therapist’s office can be a safe and neutral venue to discuss the symptoms you're experiencing, particularly those that might be embarrassing or standing in the way of establishing or building intimacy.

The more your partner understands your symptoms, the more you will be able to trust one another.

Maintain Open and Honest Communication

Whether you have relationship OCD or not, open and honest communication is the foundation of any romantic relationship. This is especially important when your symptoms are intensifying or have changed.

Your partner needs to know what you are experiencing. Not being aware of the challenges you're facing could lead to misunderstandings (like "they don't find me attractive anymore") that get in the way of building intimacy and trust.

Join a Support Group

Community support groups for OCD can be excellent sources of social support that provide an opportunity to hear how others are dealing with feelings of isolation or embarrassment. Although it may be tempting to date someone you have met through a support group, proceed with caution.

Many support groups have rules in place to protect the confidentiality of attendees and may actively discourage relationships (even casual friendships) outside of the group setting. If you find the support group to be of value and the relationship ends, it may be difficult for one or both of you to return to the group.

Recap

Treating your OCD can help reduce its impact on your relationship, but there are also self-help strategies that you can use to cope. Talking honestly to your partner and joining a support group can be helpful.

A Word From Verywell

If you have relationship OCD, it is important to remember that there are treatments available that can help you and your partner cope. Learning more about the condition can help you gain greater insight into why you experience intrusive thoughts and compulsions related to your relationship. By getting help and enlisting the help of your partner, you can find a way to manage your symptoms and build a stronger, more secure relationship.

Was this page helpful?
8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Updated December 31, 2020.

  2. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Washington, DC; 2013.

  3. Doron G, Derby DS, Szepsenwol O. Relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (R-OCD): A conceptual framework. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders. 2014;3(2):169-180. doi:10.1016/j.jocrd.2013.12.005

  4. Doron G, Szepsenwol O. Partner-focused obsessions and self-esteem: An experimental investigation. J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2015;49(Pt B):173-179. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2015.05.007

  5. Moore KA, Howell J. Yes: The symptoms of OCD and depression are discrete and not exclusively negative affectivity. Front Psychol. 2017;8:753. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00753

  6. Real E, Montejo Á, Alonso P, Menchón JM. Sexuality and obsessive-compulsive disorder: The hidden affair. Neuropsychiatry. 2013;3(1):23-31. doi:10.2217/NPY.12.72

  7. Foa EB. Cognitive behavioral therapy of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2010;12(2):199-207.

  8. Del Casale A, Sorice S, Padovano A, et al. Psychopharmacological treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Curr Neuropharmacol. 2019;17(8):710-736. doi:10.2174/1570159X16666180813155017