I hear it often: “If I could just find someone to love, someone to love me back, I’d feel better. I’d be happy. Life would be great.”
But what if being in an amazing relationship, loving someone who shares those same feelings for you, only causes you pain?
This is life with Relationship-OCD (ROCD), a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder that attacks relationships (typically romantic, but not always). People with this disorder often doubt their love for their partner, and/or their partner’s love for them. This can take form in various ways, from worrying your partner is not “the one” to feeling like you’re cheating simply by finding another person attractive. Many question their sexuality, their loyalty, their values, their feelings, and even their character on a loop until they’re depressed or numb, unable to enjoy their relationship.
ROCD is becoming more well-known, thanks to the OCD community opening up on social platforms and in the media; however, it’s still widely misunderstood by many, which can be detrimental to sufferers who don’t know what they’re experiencing or why they’re experiencing it.
On my column, “My OCD and Me,” I plan on sharing my full ROCD story (which I will link once it’s written/live), as my struggles date back to my first ever relationship (and even before that). But first, I wanted to collab with Kiyomi LaFleur, founder and creator of Awaken into Love, an online community for people who experience ROCD, and share some stories to break the stigma of the disorder. Kiyomi helped spread the message to her followers, encouraging them to speak up and cultivate awareness around this complex illness.
Below are submissions I received from individuals experiencing ROCD first-hand. I hope their stories shed some light, offer some comfort, and spark some hope to those in need. ♥
Hell when I thought I was in paradise. That’s how it felt when my ROCD started … From “What if I don’t love him?” my thoughts changed to “What if I’m with him only because I can’t stay alone?” and “What if I’m lying to myself?” After that, they developed into any thought that could give me the proof I was in the wrong relationship. Even, “What if I’ll wake up in 20 years and realize I’m lesbian?” which caused me to doubt my sexual orientation. I was afraid I would like another guy in my class. I was afraid to leave my hometown for just three days because what would happen if I wasn’t in the same town as my boyfriend? Would I really understand that I’m not in love anymore? … I cried every day, I didn’t eat, I lost weight, I was depressed, I couldn’t do the easiest tasks like taking a shower or watching a film … ROCD is the most painful experience I’ve ever had. But you know what? The greatest things in life aren’t easy, and I’ll forever fight for my relationship. I’ll always love him. — Chiara
My boyfriend is the sweetest guy and jumped right in from the beginning, which was foreign to me. I soon began to obsess if I really loved him, if I liked him at all. It was crippling. I kept Googling and trying to seek reassurance. Now, however, one-and-a-half years into the relationship, we live together and ROCD is much more subtle, which tells you this is a lifelong battle you need to fight. I still get triggered if I have an argument with my boyfriend, or if I see happy couple pictures of my ex-boyfriends. The anxiety won’t be crippling, but just enough to distract me from work, give me headaches, cause me to sleep poorly … However, it’s not just downsides, I’d say. I really dove into learning about how to be a better partner and how love works and what it actually is. Sure, I miss the lovey-dovey feeling and sometimes feel like I’m lying to myself, but then again, I know this relationship is the best and the most committed and loving I’ve ever had. At my worst, I was trying and doing my best. — Anonymous
To be honest, it’s still very hard for me to believe I even have this. It did not really show up in my life until I met my now ex-husband. When we first met, I noticed my body and mind going through things that reminded me of having a panic attack, and it really felt like I was having a heart attack at times … I noticed I was feeling this way every single time a man showed romantic interest in me. Stress down my left arm, heaviness and burning in my chest, my mind going a mile a minute. I found myself just very obsessed with the relationship itself, not so much in a love obsession mode, but more so asking questions of, “Where is this gonna go?” “Do I really love this person?” — Chenoa, 48 (Hear more on her podcast.)
My strongest thought is compatibility. I constantly check whether or not we are compatible enough. When we encounter differences, and we experience struggle due to it, I immediately think that we are not meant to be. This jumps in to the thought of him not being “the one” … Another thought I get is about being too young to be in a relationship … My brain focuses so much on what people are doing around me, and it makes me want to be doing what they are doing: being single, free, wild, and promiscuous. I get so many thoughts about whether I want to be single and live a crazy life or not. This also causes me to get so many thoughts about my partner “holding me back” and “preventing me from growing” and “not letting me find myself.” My thoughts start off as one and multiply into several other ones that compliment the first thought. And the ROCD does everything to try to make me leave. It nit-picks little things such as my partner’s habits and looks and personality traits. It catastrophizes small things, like my partner being a little late to our date. It makes everything feel like it is break-up-worthy. Except it really urges you to break up to the point where it feels like you will collapse if you don’t. — Sammy Nuñez, 22
Looking back, I can pinpoint the very first time I experienced ROCD thoughts: I was sitting in my office cubicle at my summer job, anticipating my future transfer to another college; and while I was nervous about that, I was more nervous about how my relationship with my boyfriend would work out. We’d met in college the year before, and now I was transferring. I was a terrible girlfriend. I was going to cheat. I didn’t love him. I never did. I should just break up with him. He hates me. All of these thoughts raced through my head … It still tells me that I’m a horrible girlfriend. It still tells me that I’m going to cheat and that this is something that I want. It tells me that I love his best friend. It tells me that I’ve already cheated. It tells me that I need to be single because I want to be with his best friend. It tells me I can’t have any guy friends even though they’re platonic relationships. It tells me that I can’t be vulnerable with anyone, especially guys. It tells me that I love the attention I get from stares at the bar and that I’m a bad girlfriend and need to break up with him. It screams at me that I need to feel guilty for all of these things. It tells me that I can never be happy in my relationship. It tells me that I am not sexually satisfied because I’m not in the mood to be intimate one day. It tells me that I never will be able to have pleasure in this sexual relationship because I am not in the mood once. It screams that I don’t deserve love. It tells me that he will break up with me if I cry in front of him. It tells me that I need to break up with him because I thought that actor was attractive. It tells me that just because I am becoming friendly with another guy, it means I am going to leave my current relationship for a relationship or even a fling with another guy (or even a girl sometimes). It tells me that because me and another guy bond over music and shared past experiences that I love this new guy and want to leave him. These are just the loudest things that it says to me, but rest assured, it can and will find and attach to anything that comes up. — Anonymous
I have battled with ROCD for about a year now. It first happened after our honeymoon phase ended and I was under a lot of stress from uni and other things. I have experienced many ROCD thoughts such as: “Do I love my girlfriend?” “Do I love my girlfriend enough to marry her?” “Do I truly love my girlfriend or just the idea of being with her?” “Are we compatible enough?” “What if I am supposed to be with my ex instead?” “What if I still have feelings for my ex?” I’ve also felt guilty for finding other women attractive and thinking about kissing them; and I’ve experienced Homosexual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (HOCD), where I have obsessions about being gay or bi and how that would ruin the relationship. I believe that if I was actually found out to be bi, I would be lying to myself, my partner, and my family. It impacts my daily life by causing me to spend long periods of time caught up in my own head. It makes it difficult to be present and focus on other things. I wake up with physical symptoms of anxiety. It make me feel anxious when around my partner as I am questioning my feelings for her. I sometimes feel as if I have to act in a certain way to be a “good boyfriend.” I try extra hard to be the perfect boyfriend even if it exhausts me. I get obsessions about sleeping with other women during sex occasionally. It makes being in the relationship difficult as I want to be close with her but struggle as I am anxious and questioning my feelings. — Anonymous
At my worst, I was waking up every day immediately flooded with thoughts and anxiety regarding the questions in my head … Sometimes, I would go to bed and didn’t want to wake up because of its grueling nature. I would sit in class all day on Google and search the same questions over and over again, finding some relief, seeing something else, getting triggered, and immediately falling back into a state of panic and extreme anxiety. I couldn’t focus, I wasn’t eating, I would stay in bed all day … It put a lot of strain on my relationship when my partner would ask me what I was anxious about or what I was reading, but I felt I couldn’t talk about it. “Do I love him? What if I don’t love him? What if I’m too good for him? What if I’m not experiencing OCD? What if I’m lying to myself? If I loved him, I wouldn’t be having these thoughts. I guess I don’t love him. What if I have to leave? I don’t want to leave. What if I have to? Why am I attracted to other people? Does this mean I don’t love my partner? What if I don’t love them? Is this intuition or fear?” — Anonymous
ROCD is hell. Serious hell. It’s the first thought I have in the morning. “Do I love him? Do I want to be with him? I’m not feeling love for him, that must mean I don’t want to be with him.” I know I love my boyfriend. I want to be with him. We are amazing partners, and I’ve never felt at-peace with someone as much as I am with him … I get waves where I feel okay and I feel in-love. And then, like right now, I get relapses. It usually spikes worse after a fight/argument. I’ve had to postpone my graduation because of this … All I want is a stable relationship with him. A happy one. Where we are deeply connected and feel in love. I want that with him because we both deserve it. And I want to work for us and fight for us. — Kelsey, 25
I’d have guilty feelings of sometimes finding other people attractive. I’d feel ashamed and like I was cheating to the point where it would make me sick with worry. I would have panic attacks and cry so much and have to confess to him, which in turn caused more problems because I’d upset him for no apparent reason. I’d ask myself if he is 100-percent “the one,” obsessing over being single, obsessing over being in a monogamous relationship, obsessing over being with someone else. “What if, what if?” Constantly feeling bad or guilty when spotting imperfections. Avoiding intimacy (I avoided it for so long, I was too afraid of not feeling it “enough,” and I usually would cry afterwards because I evaluated it deeply) … I couldn’t work. I had to leave school most days because I would walk around school crying. I was suicidal at one point. I had to be picked up from work because I had to go to the toilet to cry every 10 minutes. It was awful. It makes my relationship harder, creates distance, and affects the quality of time I spend with my partner. — Lily, 19
Some of my thoughts are: “Maybe I’m using my husband as a crutch and just don’t want to be alone,” “Maybe I’ll never be happy again,” “What if life is always like this?” “What if I made a mistake being married with all of the doubt?” What helps me is not feeding the thought or giving it validity. I remember love is a choice and not a feeling. I remember anxiety is not a sign from a loving God. I remember that trauma occurs and anyone can have OCD regardless of their trauma. I remember I have this for a reason and can be more than just a victim. It forces me to look inward and not project my lack of feelings or pain onto my husband but to see where I need to heal. Anxiety isn’t meant to be cured; it’ll always be around because a healthy level of it is meant to show us danger, but we can learn to turn down the smoke detector. — Kelsey, 22
It used to impact my everyday life severely. When it first started, I couldn’t get out of bed. I was so depressed, crying all of the time, and just begging for it to stop. It was hands-down the hardest thing I have ever gone through … I always felt like I had to figure out my thoughts because that was going to make it better. That could not be further from the truth … It impacts my relationship because sometimes it’s hard for me to just sit back and enjoy myself when I’m around him. Sometimes the thoughts are loud, sometimes the tightness in my chest is excruciating; but other times, it’s so easy. He is honestly the sweetest man I have ever met, and I was so used to being treated like shit. I think that is why I am experiencing ROCD. Because for the first time in my life, I actually feel loved. — Charlie, 21
ROCD was ruminating whether or not I actually was in love with my boyfriend or if I just fell out of love again, whether he was attractive, whether this was worth all the pain, etc. I would ask my family, friends, and teachers if this was normal or how they felt in their relationship. It just made me feel worse about mine and like something was wrong with me. It got so bad, I would have a breakdown every night, and as soon as I came back from school because I felt like I couldn’t breathe, my thoughts would never leave my head and I could not concentrate on my assignments or work. I would cry and cry because I was so confused, and I felt so guilty not knowing if the thoughts were true or not … Many people would say, “You can control your thoughts, it’s not that hard, just don’t think about it,” but it really isn’t as easy as they say. — Dariana, 18
When I was at my worst, my boyfriend organized a weekend in Capri with all my friends. I was so enthusiastic, also expecting a marriage proposal. I had a nice weekend, but I often felt disconnected, like something was wrong with my partner. I remember we were watching the sunset together with other couples, and I couldn’t stop comparing my relationship with theirs. I started looking at my boyfriend and asking myself if I really loved him. I couldn’t feel anything at that moment due to depression, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought it was our relationship. The next day, I felt so apathetic … Suddenly he said that he wanted to make a speech in front of everybody. Slowly, I understood what was going to happen. My thoughts at that moment were, “Please don’t ask me to marry you, because I don’t know. I might say no, here, in front of everybody; and I don’t want to break your heart.” I said yes anyway, and I felt so anxious, I had to run to the bathroom. I felt like I had to vomit. I felt so guilty, like I was a liar. I felt like I was such a bad person. I thought he deserved better … Sometimes, ROCD came with a sensation of something being “wrong.” At one point, I gave him back the ring, crying for the sense of guilt. Now, I know it was a flight reaction … My partner really helped me. He was so strong. He stayed with me and he bravely believed in our love, even when I didn’t. — Alessandra, 28
At the beginning, I didn’t know what it was. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t anything to do with my boyfriend. But what if it was? What if the reason it wouldn’t go away was because it was my truth? What if I didn’t love him? What if he didn’t make me happy? What if I was a lesbian and lying to myself? What if he was gay and lying to me? What if I accidentally killed him? What if I was with him just because of Z, Y, Z? What if none of this was true? What if I was stuck in limbo forever? Questions like these bombarded me continuously, but none of it made sense. I cried all day, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t get peace. I sought help. It took three therapists to get to someone who introduced me to the idea of acceptance and guided me in letting go of the fight … My journey has been tough, lots of peaks and troughs, and I’m still on my journey to recovery. I’ve learned to be more rational and accepting of my experience. I try to lean into the fear when I can; and when I can’t, I try to be kind to myself and accept that I’m doing the best I can. — Martha, 26 (Follow her art account on Instagram: @marthasmentalsketchbook)
(Submissions edited for brevity and clarity.)
In the interest of time, I didn’t get the chance to share everyone’s full stories; but if I had, you’d notice that their endings, though not quite so fairy-tale-like, share these common themes: love, acceptance, and hope. Love for their partners, acceptance of their situations, and hope for better days — because they will come.
If you relate to any of these experiences, know you’re not the only one. Opening up about your struggles can be intimidating, especially when your thoughts feel irrational and are attacking something/someone you value most. However, understand that you are not the first person to think these thoughts or feel these feelings, and you are not wrong for experiencing them.
For more information on or support/guidance through ROCD, don’t be afraid to connect with the community on social media, schedule an appointment with an OCD specialist near you, or book a support or therapy session through Awaken into Love.
Special thanks to Kiyomi LaFleur, Founder and Creator of Awaken into Love, an online community for people who experience Relationship OCD. With over half a million views on YouTube and over 1,000+ course and community members, she dedicates her life to raising awareness on Relationship OCD, anxiety and relationships. Having experienced debilitating Relationship OCD and having found freedom from it, she dedicates her life to coaching and supporting her course members in the awaken into love ROCD 2.0 Course with her co-worker, Alexis de los santos, the professional ROCD specialist for awaken into love.
Want to help #BreaktheStigma against mental illness? Contact me to share your story!