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Relationship OCD (R-OCD)

The OCD brain craves certainty and attacking the things we hold dear. If you value your partner and being a good partner yourself, then intrusive thoughts might creep into your relationship.

People with R-OCD often question if their partner is "the one." They might question their own motivations: Do I only love him or her for their money? I just smiled at the Safeway cashier, was I flirting? Am I attracted to him or her? If I'm attracted, does that mean I really don't love my partner? If my partner has had sex with other people in the past, maybe that means that they will cheat on me.

The compulsion piece of R-OCD might consist of mental compulsions where ones tries to answer the questions with certainty or it might drive someone to go online and take compatibility tests or search other information to gain certainty, thus reinforcing OCD and ultimately escalating anxiety.

A variety of tools can be used to reduce R-OCD's impairment on one's happiness and relationship. ERP is generally recognized as the gold standard for OCD treatment, but CBT and ACT can also lend relief. Here are five tips with the hopes that you are already working (or plan to work) with a therapist.

  1. Embrace the uncertainty. You want to know that this person is perfect for you and vice versa. You can't know for sure that your partner won't betray you or you might hurt him or her. When intrusive questions pop in, respond with "Maybe, maybe not."

  2. Externalize your OCD. "That's my OCD talking, trying to keep me safe. OCD, I don't need your help right now."

  3. Draw attention away from the mental rumination that is seeking certainty. This is where mindfulness/meditation skills are helpful. Just because you have a thought doesn't mean you have to be dragged down the rabbit hole. Allow the thought to enter your mind, don't judge it, but mindfully draw your attention away. Engage in the 5 senses for example with "Name 5 things I see."

  4. Focus on values. This is an ACT approach. If your mind runs blank at the idea of values, Google it and write a few that resonate with you. Remind yourself of those. OCD likes to shake one's perception of reality and self. Keep reminding yourself of well, um, your SELF, which at its core is based in values. Does your partner have these same values?

  5. Employ CBT skills to identify mind reading, overgeneralization and other cognitive distortions. I find these thought patterns are common with R-OCD.

  6. Exposure yourself to romance stories, particularly ones where conflict arises or perhaps where someone discovers someone wasn't who they said they were. Employ the "sitting with discomfort" skill and not engaging in reassurance or compulsions.

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