Defeating Relationship Anxiety: how to identify and overcome ROCD

Disclaimer: This article does not apply to relationships involving abuse.  

You may have Relationship Anxiety if you find yourself asking these questions to yourself at 3 AM: Is my relationship going to work out? I can’t tell if they’re the one. I’m not sure if I’m as attracted to them as I should be. Are they good enough for me? Am I too much for them? What if they cheat on me? What if they leave me? What if I’m settling? What if there’s someone better for me? Maybe it’s just not meant to be… 

Do you have experiences of rumination like the one above? Perhaps you don’t have those exact thoughts, but you can relate to the idea of overthinking your romantic relationship.

What is Relationship Anxiety?

Feelings of doubt are normal in any relationship. However, when endless internal questions start to spiral into obsessive thoughts, this can be described as Relationship Anxiety or, in more severe cases, relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder or ROCD.

ROCD is not an official mental disorder, although symptoms of OCD can certainly manifest within relationships. Those with either Relationship Anxiety or ROCD may be hyper-focused on their partner’s flaws, constantly compare their relationship to other relationships, and experience discomfort around steps of commitment (e.g., moving in together, engagement, etc.). With ROCD, you’ll likely see more urgent, compulsive behavior (such as constant reassurance-seeking, controlling your partner’s actions, infidelity, etc.) Someone with Relationship Anxiety will likely have more tolerance of their thoughts of uncertainty but will still feel consistently distressed.

If you’d like more information to compare these experiences, check out this video by OCD and anxiety specialist Nathan Peterson.  

How to address Relationship Anxiety and ROCD

This solution applies to both experiences of Relationship Anxiety and ROCD: 

  1. Stop seeking certainty- it doesn’t exist!  
    • There are no guarantees in relationships. The perfect match doesn’t exist because we’re imperfect beings to begin with. Each partner carries their own insecurities, trauma, and unique struggles. Naturally, there will be conflict, incompatibilities, and even toxic traits! Your partner will never think or behave 100% the way you want, and you will never provide that for them. 
    • When we feel indecisive about a relationship and leave one foot in and one foot out, we often suffer as a result. By trying to avoid our fear (in other words, fear of getting hurt, making the wrong choice, etc.), we often sabotage our relationships, causing ourselves pain by trying to avoid pain.
    • No matter how hard we try, we can never be 100% certain that a relationship will be happy ever after. It’s often more helpful to focus on what’s in our control: our choice to commit to a decision.  
  2. Is your partner worth the risk of your commitment?
    • Is your partner someone who’s willing to grow with you as you navigate life together? Perhaps working through your relationship doubts can provide an opportunity to connect with your partner and create a more mutually- fulfilling relationship with them.  
  3. What if this is a gut feeling?
    • Although only you can answer this question for yourself, here are a few key differences between intuitive thoughts and anxious thoughts: 
      • Intuition is generally focused on the present; anxiety is generally focused on future concerns. 
      • Intuition is more subtle and calm; anxiety is a bit more ~dramatic~, often accompanied by physical sensations like a racing heart rate or a stomachache.  
      • Intuition tends to feel less urgent than anxiety.  

How to handle intrusive Relationship Anxiety thoughts when they come up

Phew! Now that we can feel less intimidated by our scary relationship thoughts, let’s discuss a few ways to handle these intrusive thoughts when they come up.

  • Recognize the thoughts
    • Aim to recognize intrusive thoughts without engaging with them. “I see you, anxious thought, but I’ve chosen to commit to this relationship.” Check out this blog for more strategies to handle intrusive thoughts.  
  • Beware of unrealistic relationship expectations.
    • Holistic Psychologist Nicole LePera put together a video describing common unrealistic expectations. Simply having awareness of these can be helpful. Here’s a list of them:  
      • Others should meet all my needs.  
      • Others should know what I need. 
      • Others should “complete” me. 
      • Conflict means the relationship isn’t working or should be avoided at all costs.  
      • Attraction or connection to others means the relationship isn’t working or should be avoided. 
      • Feeling bored or lacking the extreme highs/lows that many of us call “passion” means the relationship isn’t working or should be avoided. 

If you’d like professional guidance with navigating your relationship anxiety or improving your relationship, click here to get started with a therapist today. You can also call us to get matched with a therapist today at 888-830-0347.  

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