Monday, December 4

The Impact of OCD on Relationships

Different letters on the sheets.

The World Health Organization classifies OCD as one of the top ten most debilitating mental health disorders. Indeed, OCD has far-reaching effects on all aspects of a person’s life.

But the terror of OCD isn’t limited to just the sufferer. Instead, the sufferers’ relationships—romantic or otherwise — also become casualties. In other words, OCD significantly impacts the people in and around the sufferer’s life.

To understand what these far-reaching impacts are, you must first understand what OCD is and how it manifests.

What is OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an extremely debilitating chronic mental and behavioral disorder. Although there are countless specific symptoms, OCD is generally characterized by two overarching symptoms — obsessions and compulsions:

  1. Obsessions are constant intrusive thoughts, mental images, ideas, and urges that engender a lot of anxiety, fear, or even guilt.
  2. Compulsions are repetitive behavioral and mental rituals that temporarily soothe the intrusive thoughts and images. The sufferer can experience a lot of anxiety, distress, fear, and discomfort if they do not perform these compulsions.

OCD is like a cruel, nagging, and manipulative voice in your head that makes you endlessly question your thoughts, memories, intentions, and even self-identity. As you can imagine, OCD can completely take over all aspects of a person’s life, including their relationships.

In fact, some OCD subtypes are specific to a person’s relationships, such as relationship OCD and retroactive jealousy OCD.

Some OCD subtypes aren’t explicitly centered around relationships but are projected onto the sufferer’s relationships. For example, harm OCD convinces a person that they are a danger to the people in their lives. Likewise, washing and organization OCD may force the sufferer’s family to align their lifestyles with the sufferer’s.

Suffice it to say that all forms of OCD, from diagnosis to treatment, have far-reaching effects on the sufferer’s friends, families, and romantic partners.

How OCD Affects Romantic Relationships

Certain intrusive thoughts, obsessions, and compulsions are centered around a person’s romantic relationships, giving rise to two relationship-centered OCD subtypes: relationship OCD and retroactive jealousy OCD.

Relationship OCD

Relationship OCD (ROCD) is an OCD subtype wherein the sufferer’s intrusive thoughts revolve around their romantic relationships. There are three further sub-categories of relationship OCD, namely person-centered ROCD, relationship-centered ROCD, and combination ROCD. At the crux of it all, though, ROCD compels a person to doubt and question everything about their relationship, even if there is nothing seemingly wrong. 

As you can imagine, this OCD subtype can wreak havoc on your relationship, bringing pain and suffering to you and your partner. The following ROCD symptoms will shed more light on the catastrophic effects of OCD on your romantic relationships:

  • Constantly questioning whether your partner is your “true love” or whether you two are compatible.
  • Being overly critical of your partner’s physical attributes, intelligence, quirks, morals, loyalty, and intentions.
  • Fixating on your partner’s flaws
  • Actively looking for red flags in your partner.
  • Misinterpreting and scrutinizing everything your partner does, misconstruing everything as a sign that something is wrong.
  • Not believing that you’re enough for your partner.
  • Doubting your own intentions
  • Seeking constant reassurance from your partner, friends, and family.

Retroactive Jealousy OCD

Another OCD subtype that revolves around relationships is retroactive jealousy OCD. This OCD subtype involves obsessions and compulsions revolving around a partner’s past actions, especially romantic and sexual history.

Jealousy is a normal, albeit undesirable, part of any relationship, even the really good ones. But while normal jealousy entails a short visit from the green-eyed monster, retroactive jealousy OCD entails more of a live-in arrangement. What follows is utter havoc, with mistrust, apprehensions, and uncertainty shrouding the relationship.

From the sufferer’s perspective, feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and uncertainty can be extremely daunting. Other symptoms include:

  • Judging a partner for their past actions.
  • Assuming that a partner will repeat their past patterns
  • Getting mad, upset, or hurt over past actions or feelings
  • Comparing their romantic and sexual past with their partner’s
  • Overwhelming anxiety, fear, and distress.

From the partner’s perspective, it’s completely unfair to have to stand trial for their romantic and sexual past. Nor should they constantly have to convince you their past relationships don’t have any influence on their current one.

How OCD Affects Your Family

Romantic relationships aren’t the only casualties of OCD. Often, friends and family get caught in the crossfires of a person’s obsessions and compulsions, regardless of what they are.

For example, take someone with contamination and washing OCD. This OCD subtype makes a person hyper-aware of all the germs, pathogens, and all possible contaminants on their body or in their surroundings. Consequently, they do everything in their power to keep themselves and their surroundings clean.

Sometimes, the sufferer may even ask their family and friends to participate in this behavior. Believing that this will bring the sufferer peace, their loved ones often fall into the dangerous trap of family accommodation behaviors. They may end up turning their entire lives upside down by:

  • Participating in OCD behavior, such as excessive hand-washing or other rituals.
  • Enabling rituals and compulsions, such as buying excessive amounts of cleaning products so the sufferer can carry out their cleaning compulsions
  • Constantly providing reassurance to the sufferer who seeks this reassurance as part of their compulsions
  • Modifying their plans and routines and moving their to-do list around to accommodate their loved one with OCD.

How OCD Affects Your Work Relationships

In addition to romantic, platonic, and family relationships, OCD has undesirable effects on professional work relationships as well.

Succumbing to their OCD, the sufferer may cross professional work boundaries, if not sever them altogether. For example, they might seek reassurance about their relationship by probing into their colleagues’ romantic life.

Moreover, the sufferer may avoid work events and general socialization with their colleagues. Hence, they’ll isolate themselves at work, which will ultimately hurt their prospects of moving up the ladder.


OCD is one of the most debilitating mental health disorders. The reason why it’s so crippling is that it impacts all aspects of a person’s life, including their relationships.

From the performance of rituals to diagnosis and treatment, the sufferer’s loved ones are subjected to a lot of pain, fear, and distress. However, family and relationship therapy incorporated with ERP therapy can help you and your loved ones navigate your OCD together.

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