Episode 69 – Relationship OCD (Part 1)

Welcome to this week’s episode of Purely OCD. Today, our hosts, Lauren Rosen, LMFT, and Kelley Franke, LMFT, discuss Relationship OCD.

As the first episode in a three-part conversation, the focus is on obsessions within this particular subtype.

Let’s dive in…

Focusing on Intimate Relationships


Lauren: When we’re talking about relationship OCD, we’re generally talking about it within the context of intimate relationships. But it doesn’t necessarily have to impact a romantic or intimate partnership, it could also impact your relationship with your child or a friend, for example. 

Kelley: We’ll primarily talk about interpersonal or intimate partnerships in this episode.

Relationship OCD and Sexual Orientation OCD


Kelley: Just as a caveat, this subtype of OCD sometimes can hook into sexual orientation OCD.

If you think about the really vanilla basic relationship OCD thought, it might be – what if my partner isn’t the right person for me? And naturally, that could quickly jump into – am I really even attracted to this sexual orientation? Is this individual even of the gender that I purport to be attracted to?

Common What-ifs


Kelley: Why don’t we talk a little bit more about like the typical what-ifs…

Lauren: What if this isn’t the right partner for me, right? What if they don’t really love me? Or what if I don’t really love them?

Kelley: What if they’re cheating?

Type One and Type Two


Lauren: … relationship-focused or partner-focused.

Either way, it’s all the same stuff. 

Kelley: It’s an obsession around this partner in some way, whether it’s the person or the relationship itself. Doesn’t matter, it can go both ways, inside out, back and forth…

Lauren: When we’re in this discussion about relationship-oriented obsessions we have to acknowledge the impact of culture because there is a very strong narrative of what relationships are supposed to look like, and the fairy tales, and all of that. And they’re not what being in a relationship with a human really looks like.

Just like a television show about doctors is probably not very accurate.

Kelley: It’s that piece of expectation.

And whenever we put expectations on anything, it has the potential to go sideways. You could be a first-time parent, for example, and think that you should have an incredibly close bond immediately once your child is born. And some people don’t. Those with OCD struggle with that fear that things aren’t as they should be.

Disney didn’t help us out, guys.

Lauren: Nor have romcoms where everyone lives happily ever after but you never see the fights, the knockdowns, or the challenging stuff.



Kelley: Sometimes when we’re talking about partner-focused, what the obsession really is, is nitpicking the way they look or how they talk or their voice. It’s very much an obsession around the person themselves, and then the relationship OCD is, what if this is the wrong relationship, and what if they’re not making me the best fit for me?

Lauren: Yeah, mostly they’re part and parcel of one another. You could have this amazing person and still have that niggling feeling that all of those niggles and doubts are a sign that they aren’t right for you when it could be OCD talking.

Kelley: And if you are going off this notion that people are supposed to be your best friend, your lover, the parent to your child, or your father to your child, your therapist, etc… that’s a lot of pressure.

We need to diversify our portfolio and increase people in our space. They can’t have all that pressure on them. We have to be okay with the imperfection of any relationship. 

Relationship Expectations


Lauren: It’s interesting, we’ve been indoctrinated with the idea that it’s supposed to be easy.  And that is when a relationship is ‘right’ – when it’s fluid and easy.

I don’t think that’s necessarily true and I think this belief gets a lot of people into trouble. Easy doesn’t mean healthy. It may just be that you’re comfortable or familiar.

Usually, relationships are easiest in the first couple of weeks. But also, it’s in those first few weeks that we feel the most anxious. That’s pretty universal because we don’t know what that person thinks. We experience highs from feeling accepted over and over again. Once that fades away and the person is sticking around – they like you, take care of you, and maybe even love you – the excitement goes away.

And when that excitement disappears, we often take that to mean that our relationship isn’t right even though it’s incredibly natural for this to happen.

Love is a choice


Kelley: Eventually, you make a choice to be in that relationship. You choose to commit. 

Lauren: We talk about love as though it’s one thing, but it’s really many different things. This word encompasses so much. And there’s this idea of falling in love. And then there’s the idea of loving someone, which is, to your point, very active, versus falling in love. 

I don’t know where I read this. I think it’s one of like, a million quotes about relationships. But it’s something to the effect of… falling in love is easy, any idiot can do that.

But I mean, true. Now, can you hold it and keep it going? Yeah. Can you choose to show up? Even when things are hard or uncomfortable? 

Obviously, I think it’s important to recognize that there are things in a relationship that would indicate that it’s probably not a healthy relationship.

 If you’re being spoken down to constantly, or abused physically or emotionally by your partner. Something to consider. People always want to know, what’s the line? And that requires deeper exploration that we couldn’t give in this podcast.

So, I’m not suggesting that every relationship is a healthy relationship. But we’re looking for a good enough partner, not the perfect partner.

Relationship Jealousy


Kelley: What are your thoughts on jealousy in a relationship? If we’re not looking at it in terms of OCD, the reality is that it’s still anxiety based. If someone is constantly worried about their partner cheating even though there is no evidence, it’s still anxiety. Have you treated that?

Lauren: And for sure, yep, I have I have treated it.

Anxiety isn’t only in the realm of OCD or anxiety disorder diagnoses,  it tends to come up in other diagnoses as well. There might be a whole other constellation of symptoms that also need to be addressed.

This is not clear-cut. Of course, anxiety comes up in other disorders. So what we’re talking about in terms of navigating anxiety is helpful regardless of whether or not you’re dealing with an anxiety disorder, per se. 

Some people with those symptoms of constant worry, fixation, and rumination may not fit into a category or they may fit into multiple categories. It’s not so cut and dry.

OCD latches onto things that are inherently messy


Lauren: OCD likes to latch on to things that are inherently messy. And where there is doubt, that just lives in it, right? And there are many doubts and uncertainties within relationships. What if they leave me for someone else? What if they fall in love with another person? Yeah, that could happen. Of course, it could. Wanting to believe it can’t happen and trying to resolve it won’t change the fact that it could happen. There’s no way to know what you’re going to know what might happen, or what you might think or feel in 510 years or minutes, you know?

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