Relationship OCD (ROCD): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Relationship OCD (ROCD) is a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in which people experience unwanted and persistent thoughts about their current or past relationships, known as obsessions. 

Many of us experience varying levels of relationship anxiety from time to time. However, for those with ROCD, these obsessions are all-consuming and uncontrollable and often get in the way of establishing and maintaining romantic relationships. 

Obsessions are intrusive and distressing, and people usually try various strategies to quell them.

An individual who suffers from ROCD will feel uncertain about a partner or relationship, which can fuel stress and anxiety, and compel sufferers to perform compulsions to neutralize negative feelings and ease anxieties. 

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors, rituals, or thoughts that are used to neutralize negative feelings and ease anxieties. 

People with ROCD find these unwanted thoughts and feelings impossible to let go of, and eventually, these unrelenting obsessions and compulsions can sabotage a relationship.

ROCD sufferers tend to experience the most distress over their current romantic relationships. However, some might even ruminate over their past relationships or relationships that are yet to occur. 

Even once a relationship ends, one might become obsessed with thoughts that their previous partner was the “right” one for them and become highly fearful that they will never find someone like their ex. 

The root of ROCD stems from an incessant need to feel like your partner and/or romantic relationship is “perfect” or “right.” For sufferers, this perfection seems to be the only way to avoid intrusive thoughts and stop worrying that something is wrong with their relationship. 

ROCD typically manifests in early adulthood, however, it can also arise during one’s teenage years, or even later in life. ROCD symptoms tend to follow you in all of your romantic relationships, unless treatment is sought. 

Types of ROCD

There are 2 “types” of ROCD: 

Relationship-centered ROCD

This type of ROCD involves fears and doubts about the relationship itself. For example, someone who suffers from relationship-centered ROCD might perpetually fear that they are not in the “right” relationship or experiencing “true love” with their current partner.

They might worry that their partner is not truly in love with them or that their partner is not “the one.”

People with relationship-centered ROCD might also experience thoughts such as, “What if there is someone better for me out there?” or “What if I am in the wrong relationship?” 

Partner-focused ROCD

Partner-focused ROCD is more specific and person-centered. Individuals who struggle with this type of ROCD tend to over-evaluate their partner’s attributes rather than the relationship as a whole.

For example, they might question their partner’s intelligence, manners, intentions, loyalty, attractiveness, morals, values, or ethics.

They might question “What if my partner is a terrible person?” or “What if my partner is not intelligent enough for my liking?”

It is also possible to have both relationship-centered ROCD and partner-centered ROCD at the same time. People with both types of ROCD stress about their relationships and their partner’s traits simultaneously.

Examples of Relationship OCD Obsessions

Obsessions are intrusive and distressing, and people usually try various strategies to quell them.

  • Is this “true love?”
  • Is my partner the “One?”
  • What if there is someone better for me out there?
  • Is my partner good enough for me? 
  • What if my partner and I are not a good match?
  • What if I am attracted to other people? Does it mean I am not in love with my partner?
  • I didn’t feel turned on when they kissed me just now. Does that mean something is wrong with our relationship?
  • How can I tell if I am truly in love with my partner?
  • Are we a happy couple? Are other people happier than we are?
  • Why do I keep obsessing over my partner’s “flaws?”
  • What if I am making a mistake by being with my partner?
  • What if I am never able to completely trust my partner because of previous relationships or a past betrayal?
  • What if I am just leading my partner on?
  • What if I regret my choice to be in a relationship in the future?
  • What if I am not good enough for my partner? What if he is not good enough for me?
  • What if other people can see that my partner is not good enough for me, and are judging me or pitying me because of it?
  • What if I am in the wrong relationship?

Examples of Relationship OCD Compulsions

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors, rituals, or thoughts that are used to neutralize negative feelings and ease anxieties. 

  • Seeking reassurance by asking friends and family what they think about your partner and whether they think their relationship is working. 
  • Coming up with lists of reasons why you and your partner are meant to be together
  • Subjecting yourself and/or your partner to various relationship tests or online quizzes to feel more assured about your relationship
  • Continuously replaying all of the good and bad times you have had with your partner
  • Constantly obsessing over your partner’s “flaws” (i.e., face, hair, body, and/or other physical characteristics) or “bad habits”
  • Obsessing over your partner’s personality and other emotional, social, or intellectual attributes 
  • Comparing your partner’s appearance and other qualities to those of another person, and even feeling relieved when your partner has more positive qualities or less negative qualities than another. 
  • Comparing your romantic relationship to romantic relationships that you see on social media or in romantic movies 
  • Or, avoiding watching romantic movies or TV shows altogether because they bring up unwanted thoughts and anxieties about your relationship
  • Searching the internet for love stories and then comparing your romantic relationship to other people’s romantic relationships
  • Comparing your previous relationships to your current one 
  • Avoiding committing to relationships or making long-term plans with a partner out of fear that it will not last and fear that something is missing in the relationship
  • Initiating sex with your partner with the intention of determining whether you are still sexually attracted to them
  • Or, avoiding being intimate with your partner for fear of not being able to sexually satisfy them, or for fear they will not sexually satisfy you

How OCD Can Affect Your Relationship

Relationship OCD can make maintaining relationships more complex as it poses challenges on both sides. As ROCD sufferers have a heightened sense of fear and lack of emotional security in their relationships, they constantly seek reassurance from their partner. 

A partner might find themselves incessantly saying things such as, “Yes, I love you” or “Yes, I am happy to be with you.” The need to constantly feel validated and the need to continually provide this validation can be exhausting for both members of a romantic dyad.

It can also lead to feelings of annoyance and confusion when the partner doesn’t understand the source of the anxiety. 

Most people will experience doubts in their relationships occasionally, but for those suffering from ROCD, this insecurity and doubt will often become the primary focus of the relationship.

Sufferers will speculate obsessively about their relationship, and their thoughts will center around their loved ones. 

Partners of people with OCD must take on a lot of emotional responsibility. Depending on the severity of a sufferer’s OCD, this anxiety and mistrust can result in resentment on the other side.

At the same time, partners must live with that daily questioning of the relationship, watching their significant other “check out” strangers, take relationship tests online, or express their doubts verbally to others. 

Additionally, relationship OCD may make it hard to enjoy sex with your partner, as obsessive thoughts can be distracting and all-encompassing. 

If left untreated, ROCD can create a great deal of stress for both parties and pose a serious challenge to your love life.

Why do ROCD Thoughts Happen?

Truthfully, researchers are not quite sure what exactly causes ROCD. It likely has to do with how different parts of the brain communicate with the cells in the body through hormones and electrical signals. 

Yet, they are not sure exactly which chemical processes in the brain cause OCD. Some experts believe that ROCD is genetic, while others believe ROCD can be triggered by traumatic experiences, such as a history of abuse or dysfunctional home life. 

Other factors that might increase one’s risk of developing ROCD include dealing with losing a loved one, sudden or unexpected life changes, or past difficulties in close relationships.

How Do I Stop OCD From Ruining My Relationship?

Other than seeking professional treatment (which is the optimal way to stop OCD from affecting your relationship), there are several ways you can learn to manage your relationship, so it is both healthy and satisfying. 

First, it is essential to recognize that your thoughts and doubts are just symptoms – not facts! Just because you are questioning whether your relationship is right does not mean that it is not right; it simply means that your OCD voice will not allow you to feel settled and comforted by your relationship. 

Open communication is the foundation of any romantic relationship, but it is particularly essential in a relationship where one partner suffers from ROCD. 

Your partner must understand what you are thinking and how you are feeling so they can support you and respond appropriately. The more your partner understands your symptoms, the more you can trust one another.  Poor communication will result in misunderstandings and miscommunications, jeopardizing the relationship. 

Practicing mindfulness is another strategy to help manage ROCD. Obsessive thoughts tend to run rampant when your mind has time to wander, so OCD sufferers can practice calming the mind before it begins to race. They can practice recalibrating their mind and thoughts throughout the day to catch themselves before their obsessive thought patterns run rampant. 

Journaling, self-talk, and joining a support group are other examples of ways you help reduce the impact of ROCD on your relationship. 

ROCD Treatment

Like most other OCD subtypes, ROCD is most effectively treated using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. ERP is a type of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy considered the first line of psychotherapy for OCD. 

In ERP, patients are deliberately and gradually exposed to their OCD triggers so that they can become desensitized to them over time.

This therapy is intended to purposely invoke more anxiety in attempts to disrupt the neural circuit between the processing and action parts of the brain and “rewire” the brain so that the intrusive thoughts and ritualistic behaviors lose their power. 

By staying in a feared situation and leaning into the discomfort and uncertainty without anything terrible happening, patients learn that they do not need their compulsions to cope and that their fearful thoughts are just thoughts, and nothing else. 

An ERP therapist would review which thoughts or scenarios are causing you the most anxiety, and then work with you to alleviate them through gradual, controlled exposure to them. 

Patients with ROCD might learn to sit with the anxiety of thinking they may be with the wrong partner. They are taught to take power back from the relationship anxiety and to reframe their thoughts.

For example, “I have no clue if this is the right relationship, and I’m choosing to go forward anyway because this person matters to me.”

While ERP can feel very challenging and time-consuming, over time, patients learn that they can cope with their thoughts without relying on ritualistic behaviors.

ERP is one of the most powerful tools for treating OCD because it directs the patient to live with the anxiety and see that nothing terrible will happen.


  • 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.
  • Hezel, D. M., & Simpson, H. B. (2019). Exposure and response prevention for obsessive-compulsive disorder: A review and new directions. Indian journal of psychiatry, 61(Suppl 1), S85–S92.

Saul Mcleod, PhD

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Educator, Researcher

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education.

Julia Simkus

Research Assistant at Princeton University

Undergraduate at Princeton University

Julia Simkus is a Psychology student at Princeton University. She will graduate in May of 2023 and go on to pursue her doctorate in Clinical Psychology.