What is ROCD?
Relationship Obsession-compulsion Disorder (ROCD) is an understudied component of OCD which involves obsessive-compulsive symptoms that focus on interpersonal relationships of an individual. In ROCD, an individual has intrusive, recurring, unwanted images, thoughts or impulses about close interpersonal relationships.
These distressing thoughts are different than simply worrying about intimate relationships. In ROCD, an individual tends to become exceedingly preoccupied with the intrusive thoughts leading to distress, referred to as Obsessions. Some of these obsessive thoughts can look like- “I know I love him but is he smart enough?”, “She’s perfect but I can’t stop thinking if she’s the right one for me”, “What will I do without them!”, “What if this love fades?”, “I love my partner but I can’t stop thinking about my past relationship”, “I love them but I can’t stop questioning my feelings” etc. Intrusive obsessions are often ego-dystonic, i.e., inconsistent with the values and self-concept of the individual, and may lead to feelings of guilt and shame for having critical thoughts about their partner/s. As a response to obsessions, individuals tend to perform repetitive behaviors or mental acts in order to relieve distress or prevent the feared event from occurring. These repetitive behaviors and mental acts in ROCD are referred to as Compulsions, that may be manifested as repetitive acts of checking and rechecking own feelings, questioning the partner about feelings towards oneself, comparing partner’s traits to others, constantly comparing current relationship with past relationship or relationships of others around them, or constantly thinking about partner’s perceived flaws.
ROCD in romantic relationships may be presented in two forms, Relationship-centered and/or Partner-focused. In Relationship-centered ROCD, one may be preoccupied with their feelings towards their relationship, their partner’s feelings towards them and the ‘rightness’ of their relationship. Symptoms may get triggered by seeing happy couples and doubting own relationship, experiencing negative feelings in the presence of the partner, boredom, or distress caused by the relationship. In Partner-focused ROCD, one may be preoccupied with perceived flaws of partner and have a tendency to compare the present partner to potential partners. Symptoms in partner-focused ROCD may be triggered by contact with the perceived flaw, in presence of a potential partner while in a relationship, or termination of a romantic relationship.
What are the factors that play a role in causing ROCD?
- Cognitive biases or beliefs like perfectionism, overestimation of threatening events, and decreased tolerance for uncertainty can increase anxiety and lead to distress. Ineffectively dealing with distress can in turn lead to behaviors like reassurance seeking, checking, and repeating compulsions.
- Low level of personal commitment in the relationship may lead to thoughts about uncertainty of the relationship and urges to leave the present partner. The uncertainity might intensify one’s perceived rightness of the relationship leading to further distress due to recurrent obsessions.
- Inconsistency, rejection by, and/or absence of primary caregivers in childhood may influence coping skills for dealing with emotions and in perceiving attachment style later in life, that may lead to distress in relationships resultantly acting as a trigger for ROCD.
- Increased presence or availability of potential partners through social media sites and dating apps may lead to indecisiveness which in turn can cause anxiety and distress and act as a trigger.
- Intrusive, recurring, and distressing thoughts, images or urges about one’s partner or relationship.
- Mental acts, rituals, or repetitive behaviors like reassurance seeking, comparing the partner or relationships with others, looking for reasons to break off the relationship etc.
- Significant amount of time is spent on obsessions and compulsions.
What are the consequences?
- ROCD leads to dissatisfaction and displeasure in relationships which causes emotional distress and difficulties in interpersonal relationships.
- Having critical thoughts about one’s relationship or partner can lead to dissonance in self-concept and self-perception.
- Spending a significant amount of time preoccupied with obsessions and compulsions might have a negative impact in one’s social, occupational, or personal life which can make one vulnerable to other psychosocial problems.
How to deal with it?
- Pharmacotherapy can help with symptom management and may lead to reduction of OCD symptoms.
- Therapeutic interventions like Psycho-education, Exposure Response Prevention and Cognitive Behavioral Interventions can help in addressing and evaluating processes involved in the dysfunction of thought processes, self-perception, defenses mechanisms, cognitive biases, attachment styles as well as maladaptive thinking patterns and behaviors.
- Counselling and Psychotherapy can help in managing anxiety and distress, enhance communication skills, identify problems and improve problem-solving skills, increase tolerance for frustration or uncertainty, work towards goal-setting, and in building resilience for future.
Clinical and Research Intern, PsychLine.in
Melli, G., Bulli, F., Doron, G., & Carraresi, C. (2018). Maladaptive beliefs in relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD): Replication and extension in a clinical sample. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 18, 47-53.
Doron, G., Derby, D. S., & Szepsenwol, O. (2014). Relationship obsessive compulsive disorder (ROCD): A conceptual framework. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 3(2), 169-180.