If you feel like your marriage is always on shaky ground and your spouse is never confident in your feelings for them, you may be married to someone with Relationship OCD. This form of obsessive-compulsive disorder  can be hard for couples to manage, and can put a strain on even the most committed relationship.

What is Relationship OCD (R-OCD)?

Relationship OCD is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder where the symptoms of intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are centered on their relationship with a spouse or romantic partner. Unlike other types of OCD, which might manifest based on health-related concerns, for example, R-OCD is focused on a feeling of insecurity in the relationship itself.

A person experiencing Relationship OCD may have unwanted thoughts around:

  • Whether their partner really loves them
  • When the relationship will end
  • Whether their partner is cheating or considering cheating
  • Whether they are measuring up to their partner’s needs or expectations
  • Wondering whether another partner would be different or better
  • Their own or their partners’ flaws

These intrusive thoughts (obsessions) then lead to repeated behaviors (compulsions) designed to gain reassurance and quiet the thoughts. These compulsions may include:

  • Repeated questions about the relationship, such as “do you love me?”
  • Frequent check-ins
  • Desire to monitor a partner’s phone, email, or social media
  • Desire to browse dating apps for better partners
  • Feeling distracted or unable to focus
  • Sexual dysfunction

OCD is closely related to anxiety and can create a great deal of stress for those suffering it. Relationship OCD may be caused or triggered by a history of abuse or difficult relationships, or an anxious attachment style formed during childhood. Due to the relational aspects of R-OCD, this variety can be especially difficult for couples.

How R-OCD Can Affect Your Marriage

Relationship OCD can affect your marriage in many ways. First, the need for reassurance and the repeated assurance-seeking behaviors can make a partner seem needy or clingy. The spouse of someone with R-OCD may feel like they are being smothered, or that their boundaries are not respected. In some cases, the repeated need to check in may even resemble symptoms of an emotionally abusive or controlling relationship.

OCD symptoms can also interfere with partners’ sexual intimacy. Relationship-OCD can involve disturbing sexual thoughts and concerns about partners’ satisfaction and flaws. Those intrusive thoughts may be triggered by intimate acts, causing the person to become sexually avoidant or dissatisfied.

Non-Relationship OCD Creates Marriage Stress Too

Even if your partner’s OCD is motivated by something other than your relationship, you might still struggle to maintain that relationship in the face of their symptoms. OCD centered around safety, cleanliness, or health can cause the person experiencing those obsessions to try to control their partner’s behavior to limit their exposure to triggers. When these symptoms escalate, it can create an unhealthy environment for both the person experiencing the OCD, and their family.

Options for Couples Dealing with Relationship OCD

Severe and untreated Relationship-OCD can cause marriages and relationships to break down. As a person’s OCD escalates, their compulsive behavior may become more than their partner can tolerate. In some cases, it may even become unsafe for the partner or any children they have in common. It is important for people suffering Relationship OCD to receive help from a psychotherapist who understands the symptoms and their effect on both the individual, and the couple.

Psychotherapy can be a useful tool for couples coping with OCD in all its forms. Therapy can provide coping mechanisms to help manage OCD symptoms, and help spouses and partners understand their role in the disease and its treatment. Psychotherapy can also help partners shore up their communication skills, social skills, and emotional intelligence, which can in turn help to reduce the stressors that trigger the disease.

It is also a good idea to discuss your OCD symptoms with your doctor. A physician can help rule out other causes of OCD symptoms and ensure a proper diagnosis. Some OCD patients find relief from medication that can help reduce the intrusive thoughts that lead to compulsive behavior. By pairing medication, individual psychotherapy and couples’ therapy, you can take control of your relationship OCD and save your marriage from the stress of ongoing mental health challenges.

David Stanislaw is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience. He helps adults and couples manage obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and other psychiatric issues. Contact David Stanislaw to get help for your relationship today.