On this week’s episode of Purely OCD, our hosts, Lauren Rosen, LMFT, and Kelley Franke, LMFT, continue the conversion on Relationship OCD with a focus on compulsions.
We hope you enjoy this episode!
Mental Compulsions in Relationship OCD
Lauren: …this is one of those subtypes where it tends to fall into that pure-o category. For anyone who’s new to pure-o, it means pure obsessional OCD, which is kind of a misnomer because no OCD only really has the obsessional part. There are compulsions, they’re just invisible.
They’re happening in your head, which is tricky. So yeah, in terms of this subtype, this is one of those where we tend to see a lot of mental compulsions.
Kelley: So some initial obsessions that come to mind: Do I really love this partner as much as I love the last person I was with? They might bring up memories or feelings in their mind to try to compare. Does this match? Does this feel the same? It should feel better.
Lauren: This is great because, obviously, our memories are not perfect. And so if we go back in time and try to bring those up, from my vantage point the past gets a rosier hue to it than the present.
Comparison in Relationship OCD
Lauren: …with the comparison piece, specifically with relationship OCD, I tend to see a lot of people idealizing relationships in which there’s unrequited love.
So if you’re in a relationship with somebody who’s emotionally unavailable, for example, there is this tendency to look back and remember it as being so magical and amazing. And I like, my feelings for them never died. Now, if you start to route around in there, chances are that person wasn’t able to meet you where you needed to be. And so there was this constant pining, which kept that emotion of wanting and excitement happening.
…as we find ourselves in a relationship that is mutual and does last, it’s prone to things like boredom, frustration, and annoyance that you’re not ever really getting to experience if you’re constantly just hoping that this person doesn’t drop you.
Kelley: This could also be mentally visualizing yourself with somebody else. Does it feel bad? Because if it feels bad, that’s good. That means I am with the right person, right?
Lauren: …sometimes people have crushes on other people when they’re in relationships with a significant other to whom they’re committed. There is sometimes this fear of, maybe I would be happier with this person.
And so it’s not even just comparing to the past or comparing to somebody in your mind. It could be somebody who’s sitting next to your partner. And going, they just said that. And did I like that better? Or did I like that better? And why am I feeling more attracted to him?
So there can be comparing your direct experience of another person in the present moment. But in terms of moral scrupulosity, I think I hear a lot of well, is it okay that I have thoughts about other people? Is it okay that I find somebody else to be attractive or interesting, or maybe even more interesting than my partner? Is that kind of what you had in mind?
Kelley: This could look like getting a message from this person and then reading it and saying, what do you think? Like trying to see if they are mad at you. Am I cheating on you?
Lauren: …you may not even actually say the words, what do you think about this? You just launch it and let it linger and see what happens.
Is this person ‘right’?
Lauren: … it’s so commonplace in our culture to be in this continual conversation about who is the ‘right’ person, that it’s easier for people to get stuck in the compulsions of asking others for reassurance. And you’re also thinking that other people somehow have information that you don’t, which I always find to be really fascinating.
…but nobody else has the full picture. And so you feel like you can’t trust yourself but then you try to find answers from someone else who can’t know either.
Relationship OCD and sex
Kelley: Sex is very complicated.
There are so many complications that can go awry. Anxiety. Harm. All these things can impact our sexual interactions with our partners. And believe me when I say that this one can really throw everybody for a loop.
Lauren: And questioning while having sex. People ruminate on why they’re not enjoying themselves and what that must mean.
Part of recovery is acceptance of that varied experience. I would really prefer it if it was no anxiety and all pleasure, but that’s not where we’re at. You’re just gonna keep coming back to the present. You know, because otherwise, you never really get to experience the experience. You’re just constantly evaluating it. And that’s going to promote your anxiety.
Kelley: But also, just to go back on this narrative that we have in our culture about what love looks like, and what partnership should be like, sex is not just the emotional piece, but every sexual experience should be like this spiritual awakening, and I got news for everybody… It ain’t gonna be.
Lauren: All relationships are a trade-off. Right? So again, back to this concept of being in this sort of pursuer-pursued relationship, that is generally more sexually enticing. You might look back on a partner where the sex was amazing all the time. And it’s like, yeah, because you were completely insecure and unstable in that relationship.
…not that that’s always the case. But I do think that, again, there’s a trade-off when you choose a long-term commitment to an intimate partnership. It’s normal to not have wild sex for the rest of your lives.
Lauren: …emotionally checking, just checking the degree of excitement or joy, or the experience of connection. Checking how much you feel you like this person. That’s one of my favorites when people are like, I’m not even sure that I like him.
Kelley: …then when we’re getting into life decisions, like getting married, buying a house, having children, there are all these big triggers that can come along with it that can throw people for a loop.
…Yeah, there it is. You can have thoughts like, am I lying to them or I’m bringing in a brand new human to the swirled? Is that the right thing to do? What if I’m, it’s not the right person? What if I ended up wanting to leave them? I should just tell them now, right? And every other degree of that way it can go.
…Which has a lot of guilt and shame with it.
Compulsively breaking up with someone
Lauren: Oooooo, that’s a good one! And I will say, adding to that, never get into a relationship because you’re avoiding being with someone who isn’t a perfect fit.
Kelley: …or asking your partner to change the way they look in some way. Because maybe the obsession is really fixated on the way the person cuts their hair or the way their voice sounds. They might say, like, can you talk like this instead?
Lauren: …or wanting to take a break to work on yourself. I hear that one quite a bit as well. Like, I just need space so that I can work on myself and then I can figure it out. And then we can be back together?
You can’t have 100% certainty about a relationship
Lauren: I’m working on some presentations and such for IOCDF. And I was just talking about the fact that you don’t have any assurances of how a relationship is going to end because you don’t have all the information. You couldn’t possibly know who you’re going to be in five years or 10 years’ time.
The marker, from my vantage point, of a healthy relationship is that you commit to walking through it together. And sometimes it’s not going to be exciting. That’s not to say there are plenty of reasons why people make healthy choices to end relationships. But I think that the mark of a healthy relationship really isn’t down to whether or not things are perfect. It’s whether or not you’re willing to work through the imperfect with this particular human.
25:50 – You can find Kelley at the Center for OCD. She’s the director there. You can find her on Instagram @theocdtherapist or her website centerforocd.com.
26:37 – Lauren is the director at the Center for the Obsessive Mind. You can find her on Instagram @theobsessivemind and her website is theobsessivemind.com