I have thoughts that make me think I’m attracted to other people or that my partner will leave me for someone else. Now I’m obsessing whether I still love my partner or if they love me. Why is this happening?

Anyone can get doubts about whether the partner they are with is right for them. These are justifiable doubts. Rational thought and concrete decisions to resolve these are helpful. However, when obsessions are involved the doubts are unwarranted. Thus a resolve is harder to define because the outcome points towards contradictory conclusions.

How can I tell the difference?

It’s basically a repeat of the above. For example, the doubts associated with OCD tend to be where a person ruminates on “what-ifs?”, hence contradictory conclusions feeding doubt.  This kind of solution is based on emotional reasoning. As a result you can see why this does not reach to any reasonable or definite conclusion. Real doubts on the other hand are when a person rationally deals with the factual issues in their relationship.

 I obsess on “what-ifs?” Why do people with ROCD do this?

People who have ROCD or any OCD theme generally have difficulty coping with ambiguous situations. Even in non-OCD situations they have a tendency to doubt their competence in decision-making. Being sure about something means they go through the “what-ifs” to prove or disprove whether there is anything legitimate to worry about, and still be doubtful. Living with uncertainty is a way out of living with never-ending doubts and “what-ifs.”

How can I learn to live with uncertainty?

When high anxiety levels and compensatory rituals such as checking, reassurance and mental reviewing creep in it’s crucial that you delay and resist giving into these rituals. This way you learn to tolerate the feeling of uncertainty whist bearing with the anxiety until it reduces naturally, which is usually within the hour.

But is there a chance that my thoughts could be true, they seem so real?

Well this comes back to having doubts. When you think about being attracted to other people and you resort to thinking errors such as “I think I’m attracted to that person, I guess I’m just hopeless at relationships” you are feeding those doubts and strengthening the obsession. It is the strength of the obsession that makes your thoughts feel real. The same can be applied when you get thoughts about your partner leaving you for someone else.

Yes, that’s how it is. I obsess all day too about whether I’m good enough for my partner and often seek reassurance or compare myself with others.

No matter how much you obsess about whether you are good enough, or compare your qualities with others, you will never be satisfied with the outcome. Also, no matter how much you seek reassurance or check for proof, the comfort or relief you gain from this will forever be short-lived. This is because compulsions that correspond with your obsession serve only to keep the problem going in a circle.

I’m starting to understand a bit better, but why do I obsess about my partner leaving me for someone else too?

This is because OCD continues to sneak in with whatever matters most to you and compounds the already distressing symptoms you are experiencing. From this perspective it’s not unusual to find yourself questioning your partner’s fidelity or commitment to the relationship too. As you’ve seen the fears associated with obsessions and compulsions unfortunately put that extra strain on the relationship. It’s very easy when thinking and reasoning emotionally how you might mistakenly “see proof” that your partner wants to end the relationship or is seeing someone else. Realistically, insecurities about relationships can be addressed through counselling, if this is the case; while OCD fears are addressed with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and exposure response prevention (ERP).

How does each work and will I need both?

It might be worth considering counselling because a counsellor actively listens and guides a person towards workable solutions; they then begin to feel more emotionally stable in their relationships. So basically CBT/ERP targets irrational doubts and encourages you to resist compulsions to starve the obsession; and counselling works on the basis that you talk about worrying aspects, perhaps memories in your past, or maybe a recent upsetting time in your life that may have triggered the obsessions. Anything that is discussed can help reveal why you may have deeper level relationship insecurities.

Yes, I’ve lost a partner before which hurt bad. I’m becoming very guilty about putting a strain on my present relationship out of fear I guess. Mostly I demand that everything in our relationship should be disclosed or it’s a sham, but I don’t want to be like this, I want to believe everything is fine. 

People who are fearful of loss or being hurt again generally go through imperatives which involve negative “shoulds” and “musts” to express how they feel, such as, ” I should know everything or our relationship is a sham” or “I should not think such thoughts“ or “I must guard against questioning my partner’s fidelity or s/he will get fed up and leave me, but I need to know”. Cognitive therapy can help to alter these thinking errors for better outcomes and exposure response prevention (ERP) helps you to face your fears.

What do I say to a therapist when looking for treatment?

If you feel that your symptoms have gotten to the stage where you need to consult with a cognitive behavioural therapist  (in-person or online) do make sure they are familiar with OCD and how to apply CBT for this disorder. Invite your partner to be involved if possible as this will help both of you to follow through with strategies that your therapist sets out for you at home. Most therapists are trained in core counselling skills too, and will include this into your treatment plan. Or you can see a counsellor separately for the issues described above. You may also need medication to passively reduce the symptoms of OCD so a visit to your doctor is generally advised.

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