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We need research into Relationship OCD so that it doesn’t ruin relationships

In September of this year, I began my final year of university. It was an exciting time, but also pretty daunting because I had a lot of decisions to make about my future. Although I experience anxiety from time to time, I thought I could handle the stress of uni. After all, I had coped with stressful situations many times before!

In the few weeks before term started, I began to notice I was struggling to catch my breath. Where would I be living? What job would I have? Would anyone employ me? My plan had been to move to London, where my boyfriend was living and working so we could be closer to each other. However, then a scary thought really started to worry me. I thought to myself –“Do I even love my boyfriend enough to move to London?”

Immediately, that thought triggered intense fear and panic. And more thoughts. I had never doubted us before – did this flood of thoughts mean I did not love him? Did I need to break up with him? Why was I feeling this way? Where did it come from? Did I fall out of love? Do I not feel the same? Why don’t I feel the same anymore?

Without realising it, I had begun to spiral into an endless cycle of what is known as intrusive thoughts and rumination, which was leading to more doubts about my “true” feelings. I felt in the moment of panic and fear that I would have to end my relationship. My loving, amazing, healthy relationship that was of no threat or danger to me. I felt sick, I could not eat and I cried uncontrollably. The more I tried to push the thoughts away, the more I would think of them. I honestly felt that I would never stop obsessing over whether or not I loved my boyfriend.

Thankfully, after three weeks of unremitting rumination and looking for constant reassurance that my relationship was okay, I came across a term called Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (ROCD). It sounded just like what I was experiencing. The relief I felt at finding something I could relate to was immense.

Spiral of anxiety

At the time, I thought Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) was a condition characterised by behaviours such as repeatedly needing to check the door is locked or an urge to wash one’s hands. However, ROCD is a common “theme” of OCD. It can be defined as the fear or uncertainty that you may not love your partner or that your partner no longer loves you. Often, this is not the case but your brain becomes addicted to the uncertainty and it leads to a series of compulsions and further anxiety.

Although there is information online and some helpful Facebook forums, there is not enough research on ROCD. Since relationships are a huge part of our lives, there needs to be more awareness around this condition to help people recognise the signs and equip professionals so that they can offer appropriate support. A major difficulty I had was accepting that it was ROCD I was suffering from, rather than having “fallen out of love”.

I found a counsellor who had heard of ROCD. Sadly, through online support groups, I found out that many others who seek professional help are often made to feel that their thoughts are true: that they need to end their relationship. In reality, it could just be the compulsions and intrusive thoughts leading them to feel this way, rather than any underlying relationship problems. This is why more research needs to shed light on what is really going on for people. I have heard of some therapists offering to find the root cause of the doubts – to get to the bottom of what is wrong with the relationship, which only exacerbates the obsessions even further. Those with ROCD need support with reducing their compulsions, not worsening them! This is why when the research is being done, it is so important to involve those who have previously experienced ROCD. It is difficult for someone who has never experienced it to truly understand the triggers and thought processes.

Right now, I am still working through my ROCD. I take anti-anxiety medication and I see a counsellor weekly. There are still moments when I have intrusive thoughts. But I have learned that love is a choice and that feelings will always ebb and flow, so obsessively checking whether I love my partner or not is not the way forward. For me, there is no such thing as “The One”. Instead, I’ve learned that I can choose who I love. Most of all, I have learned that anxiety is powerful but so am I.


This is a guest post from Rhianna in Ireland. If you are a young person with experience of mental health difficulties and would like to blog for us, please email racheltemple@mcpin.org

If you have been affected by this article or would like to learn more, please check out ROCD.net  OCD Action  OCDLA for more information and advice. Online private support groups can also be found via Facebook