Do You Have Relationship Anxiety or Relationship OCD?Learn the difference and get advice from psychologists
- 9 August 2023
Do you experience relationship anxiety? Are you often overthinking and find yourself doubting if the relationship is right for you? Or do you constantly search for signs to feel more secure? This can involve googling "happy relationships," reading articles about love, or comparing your own relationship and feelings to others.
Here, we will discuss more about relationship anxiety and the more severe condition relationship OCD.
The difference between relationship anxiety and relationship OCD
Relationship anxiety refers to the experience of feeling anxious or uncertain about one's romantic relationship. It involves concerns, doubts, and insecurities about the relationship, such as overthinking about the relationship and questioning the compatibility or the intensity of one's feelings for their partner. Relationship anxiety is a common experience and can be a normal part of navigating and evaluating a relationship.
Relationship OCD (ROCD) is a specific subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that focuses on relationship-related obsessions and compulsions. While relationship anxiety and ROCD share similarities in terms of creating uncertainty and distress within the context of a relationship, ROCD specifically falls under the umbrella of OCD and involves more intense and persistent patterns of obsessions and compulsions related to the relationship.
Relationship anxiety is present in relationship OCD, but you can have relationship anxiety without having relationship OCD.
More about Relationship OCD
Relationship OCD (ROCD), is a term that has gained more attention in recent times. It is not a separate diagnosis but falls under the category of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
OCD involves intrusive and unpleasant thoughts that create an urge to think or behave in specific ways. Not fulfilling these urges leads to anxiety and the belief that something terrible will happen. Often, it revolves around uncertainty, such as "What if I get sick from touching that spot?" or "What if I forgot to lock the door?"
In the context of relationship OCD, the theme is focused on romantic relationships, and common thoughts include "What if my partner isn't the right one?" or "What if I'm not in love enough?" These thoughts create feelings of uncertainty, which can be distressing.
When experiencing uncertainty, the natural response is to seek control and engage in behaviors to feel better. This can involve seeking reassurance or guidance on whether to stay in the relationship or leave, ranging from thinking positive thoughts about the relationship to googling "red flags in relationships".
Often, we get stuck in a cycle between anxiety-provoking thoughts ("What if my partner isn't the right one?") and reassuring thoughts ("But we had such a great weekend, and he just texted me with a heart"). This emotional rollercoaster can be exhausting over time...
Questioning your relationship is common and can be healthy!
Relationships are important to us, and it's natural for them to evoke thoughts and feelings. Occasional questioning of whether the relationship is right for you is not unusual, especially in the early stages when we are more observant.
Most people are sometimes overthinking and may have fleeting catastrophic thoughts that can be distressing, but they usually pass on their own and don't result in constant feelings of anxiety.
If you've been struggling in the relationship for a while, it's also common to think a lot about it. This doesn't necessarily indicate obsession. The relationship may not be as you desire, and your feelings may signal that it's time to take action, whether it's leaving the relationship or seeking help.
However, in such cases, it's often clear that there are other negative aspects in the relationship, and the thoughts and feelings about your partner aren't fluctuating as much.
When repetitive rumination about the relationship occurs in a more established relationship without apparent problems, it can create difficulties, especially for the person experiencing relationship anxiety. It becomes challenging to experience the positive aspects of the relationship and fully engage with your partner.
7 Symptoms of Relationship OCD (in an established relationship)
Frequently questioning your relationship and feelings for your partner:
This can involve thinking a lot about the relationship, weighing pros and cons. You may question your partner's qualities and wonder if they are right for you.
Frequently comparing your partner and your relationship to others:
This can involve comparing with friends or others in your circle or observing others' relationships on social media.
Frequently analyzing your own feelings for your partner:
You try to assess "how it really feels" and become anxious if you notice that you don't feel overwhelmingly positive about your partner. There is often a misconception that one must always feel in love or attracted in a relationship (which is rarely the case in long-term relationships!).
Worrying about not being good enough for your partner:
You often worry about not being good enough, or constantly feeling dishonest toward your partner (e.g., because you are staying with your partner even though you might not be in love enough).
This may involve repetitively asking friends for their opinions on your relationship, or requesting your partner to show more appreciation, questioning if they truly love you over and over.
Over-consuming relationship-related information:
You may, when feeling anxious, search for articles like "how to have a happy relationship" or "signs of an unhealthy relationship."
Difficulty being content:
This can involve constantly searching for something better, "the perfect love." Thoughts may arise that say, "If I find the right one, it will feel immediate and obvious."
Common thoughts related to relationship anxiety
Thoughts about the relationship are often triggered by seemingly small external cues, such as seeing someone you find attractive or reading about a description of a happy relationship that doesn't fully align with your own experience. Anxious thoughts may sound like:
Am I really in love with my partner? Is this enough?
What if I regret it and hurt my partner?
How do I know if I'm truly in love?
Others seem to feel so much more than I do...
What if my partner isn't right for me?
I must feel something more for my partner now, otherwise, it's not right...
What if my partner meets someone else…
As we mentioned earlier, it is completely normal for these thoughts to occur in relationships from time to time, especially early on in the relationship.
How to Manage Relationship OCD - 3 tips
Relationship OCD causes significant suffering and consumes a lot of time with thoughts and rumination. In the long run, it can contribute to an overall negative relationship. When preoccupied with managing these distressing thoughts, it becomes difficult to notice moments of joy, excitement, happiness, or pride. These tips can also be helpful to you with relationship anxiety.
Accept that you don't have full control
Uncertainty is a part of life, and our desire for control is part of the problem! In anxiety, we seek control, but it only provides temporary relief. Relationships are uncertain, and we can never be 100% sure if our partner is right or if the relationship will continue to be good. Embracing a certain level of uncertainty is necessary.
Stop making it worse
Since the goal is to tolerate uncertainty, you need to resist engaging in behaviors that you typically do when feeling anxious and uncertain.
Stop googling relationship advice and unfollow social media accounts that trigger comparisons. Notice when you get caught up in rumination and find something else to occupy your mind instead of brooding (take a brisk walk, call a friend and talk about something unrelated to relationships...).
f you constantly seek reassurance from others about the status of your relationship, try to resist doing so.
Reframe your thinking about relationships
We need to dispel the myth that we should only experience positive emotions in a healthy relationship. No relationships are always rosy; it's common to feel anger, disappointment, and other negative emotions towards your partner.
Feelings of love fluctuate; they can vary from day to day and in different situations. You can be angry and disappointed with your partner and still overall love them and want to stay in the relationship. Sometimes the relationship may be 80% good, sometimes 10%, and that can be okay.
However, it's important that the positive aspects of the relationship outweigh the negative, and if the relationship remains consistently at 10% over time, something needs to change.