7 Common Situations That Can Trigger Your Relationship OCD

How to shut down the intrusive thoughts as they pop up.

Knowing what kind of situations can be a relationship OCD trigger for you can help you shut down the...
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No relationship is perfect. But when you have relationship obsessive compulsive disorder, or ROCD, you’re constantly seeing your partner and relationship in a negative light. Naturally, this can harm your relationship in a number of ways. If you harbor a lot of obsessive doubts about your relationship, knowing the common triggers of ROCD may help you deal with your intrusive thoughts in a healthy way.

“All relationships have their ups and downs including moments of doubt, uncertainty, and ambivalence,” psychotherapist Dr. Avigail Lev, tells Bustle. “But with relationship obsessive compulsive disorder, these experiences of obsessive doubts and ambivalence about your relationship are pervasive and drastic.”

ROCD can manifest in many ways. You may spend days worrying about whether you’re with the right person or not due to one tiny incident. You may have doubts over the longevity of your relationship every time your partner irritates you. When you’re out with other couples, you may compare yourself and wonder why you don’t seem as happy as others. Every conflict may feel like it could lead to the end of the relationship, and it’s difficult for you to distinguish between normal relationship conflict versus toxic problems.

“You may also have a core belief, or schema, of perfectionism and unrelenting standards so you set extremely high standards and expectations for yourself and your partner,” Lev says. When you have standards that are very difficult for anyone to live up to, you’re more prone to ROCD.

Knowing what triggers relationship OCD can help you better manage any intrusive thoughts you have. Here are some common triggers to be aware of and how to deal with them, according to experts.

Feeling Attracted To Someone Else

It’s totally normal to be attracted to other people. But when you have ROCD, a casual attraction towards someone can make you question whether your partner is the right person for you. If you find this happening to you, Lev suggests identifying any underlying needs you may have that your partner doesn’t meet. For instance, maybe you’re questioning your choice of partner because they’re not giving you enough physical affection. If that’s actually the case, try asking for more hugs, kisses, or massages. “You also must remember to be very flexible regarding your request and stay rigid with the underlying need,” Lev says. “Meaning, the more flexible you are with your requests the more likely you are to get your underlying needs met.”

Being Without Your Partner In A Social Situation

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If you’re at a party and your partner leaves to go to the bathroom, it may trigger your relationship OCD. According to Dr. Holly Schiff, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, being left alone in a social situation could have you questioning what your partner is doing, who they’re talking to, or how you measure up to the other people around you. These types of thoughts may cause some to “test” their partner’s feelings for them by flirting with other people, or acting out in ways that aren’t healthy for a relationship.

When you’re in a social situation, try your best to remain calm. If you really want to check in on your partner’s whereabouts, Scott-Hudson suggests waiting at least 15 minutes before doing so. In the meantime, you can try jotting down your feelings in a notepad or your phone. That way, it can help you process what you’re experiencing.

Fighting With Your Partner

Constant arguing in a relationship isn’t healthy. However, it’s important to vent your frustrations now and then. According to Lev, people with ROCD may make a huge deal out of normal relationship fights. They may even bottle up their frustrations until all their anger and resentment come pouring out. This can lead to a huge blow up conflict that can make you question your relationship as a whole.

If this happens, Lev suggests finding new strategies to express your emotions in a positive way. “Use nonviolent communication to express your needs and to make specific requests in your relationship. That way, it allows your partner to meet your needs and gives them an opportunity to understand how to do so,” Lev says.

Being Around Other Couples

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When you’re around other “happy couples,” it’s easy to feel like your relationship doesn’t measure up in some way. Maybe you see your friends on social media going on weekend trips, and it makes you question why your partner never suggests doing anything fun or romantic. It’s normal to feel a little doubt and jealousy.

“While most people experience occasional doubt about their relationships, when you experience relationship OCD, anxiety and doubt end up completely hijacking the relationship, and it is continually on your mind,” Schiff says. If you find yourself being triggered by other people’s relationships, have a conversation with your partner about ways to bring more fun and romance into your lives. Nothing will change if you don’t voice your desires.

Being Physically Intimate With Your Partner

Sex can be triggering for some, especially if you don’t finish or if your partner turns you down. According to Schiff, having a low sex drive or not feeling aroused by your partner on occasion can cause you to wonder if you’re attracted to them at all. If this is the case, it’s important to determine if there are any underlying issues. For instance, maybe you’re just overworked or maybe it’s a certain time of the month. If so, try repeating affirmations to yourself that can help you overcome negative thoughts. If you feel like something is missing in your sex life, you could always try talking to your partner about incorporating new things in the bedroom.

In some cases, you may want to consider a professional. “If the relationship anxiety is causing distress in more than one domain of your life, such as at work and at home, seek a qualified, licensed psychotherapist who specializes in both relationships and the individual, such as a licensed marriage and family therapist,” Scott-Hudson says.

Not Liking Your Partner’s Friends Or Family

Your relationship should be between you and your partner, but sometimes friends and family can influence how you see your relationship. If you don’t get along with your partner’s friends or family, it can trigger your ROCD. You may wonder, “How can I have a long-term future with someone when I don’t enjoy being around their loved ones?” If your partner keeps insisting that you should try to make friends with their friends, that may frustrate you and lead to a fight, making the whole mess worse.

When you find this happening, psychotherapist Christine Scott-Hudson, MA MFT ATR, suggests practicing self-regulation skills. For example, you could try going for a walk to clear your head or maybe repeat an affirmation like, “I love my partner. My relationship is with them and not their friends.” Finding ways to cool off when you feel yourself getting angry over something is a good way to keep your relationship OCD in check.

Being Irritated By Your Partner’s Flaws

Nobody is perfect. When you have relationship OCD, it’s hard to remember that. Instead, every little thing that irritates you can seem like such a huge deal. If this is happening to you, Lev suggests reminding yourself about all the things you appreciate about your partner.

“Write down a list of the way that your partner has contributed to your life this week,” she says. “People with relationship OCD tend to have a negative filter and focus more in the negative qualities that they see than the positive ones. Make sure that you make your appreciations specific and that you express them to your partner.”

For folks who have relationship OCD, a variety of different situations can trigger an onslaught of intrusive thoughts. However, with the guidance of a therapist, it’s possible to overcome these nagging doubts through healthy communication practices, the repetition of affirmations, and practicing gratitude for your partner.


Dr. Holly Schiff, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist

Dr. Avigail Lev, psychotherapist

Christine Scott-Hudson, MA MFT ATR, psychotherapist