“I’m a 30-year-old girl who has been engaged for two. My boyfriend is cute, smart; he has a good job and together we are fine. Or rather, we were fine until five months ago when he asked me to marry him. From that moment my ordeal began: I’m no longer sure I love him! Or rather, I feel I love him, but I can’t stop thinking if he’s really the right man for me. I question my feelings: “Do I love him enough?” “Does it really represent the love of my life?” I can’t give myself a convincing answer.
The anguish of making the biggest mistake of my life grows. I need to heal that state of uncertainty by arriving at that one absolute and incontrovertible answer: yes I love it. No, I don’t love him. I can not make it. I start looking for evidence to help me resolve this doubt. I check my thoughts throughout the day, hoping that those related to him are constantly present. I pay attention to my internal states when I am in his company.
Unfortunately, these tests do not help: whenever I realize that I am not thinking about him or I feel irritation or annoyance in his company, I begin to seriously doubt if he really represents the right man for me and if this relationship of mine is really good. After all, if I have these doubts maybe it’s because I’m not happy with him! These thoughts make it difficult to stay focused at work.
I’m starting to think maybe it’s not interesting enough for me. Rationally, I know it’s not like that: he’s a bright, intelligent guy. However, I can’t help but think about having a better partner. I happen to look around and see other guys. What if you were happier with them? How can I be sure that maybe with them I would not feel in love anymore? I ask friends what they think, but no one seems to help me.
If I’m not sure if he’s the one for me, then I better end this relationship. Yeah, but what if I don’t find another one? And what if I realize that it was the right one? How do I get back to that point? I would risk regretting it all my life. But how can I be with him if I feel haunted by doubts that he’s not the right one for me? The fear of making the wrong decision paralyzes me, oscillating between the fear of losing him and feeling trapped in a wrong relationship. “
What is relationship DOC?
Everyone can think about whether our partner is the right one. Even the closest couples can experience moments of uncertainty about how they feel about each other. It is a common experience to have doubts about compatibility with your partner or about how adequate our romantic relationship is.
In some cases, such as the example described above, these doubts and concerns occupy the person’s mental space so much that they limit their social and working functioning. In these cases we speak of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) from relationship . An obsessive-compulsive symptomatology that has its focus on intimate relationships and that has only recently begun to receive attention both from a clinical and research point of view (Doron, Derby, Szepsenwol, 2014).
Onset of relationship DOC
‘Relationship’ obsessions may involve various types of relationships, such as that of a mother with her child or even the relationship with God, although much of the research has been based on the relationship with one’s partner .
In some cases the symptomatological onset follows from important decisions from a relational point of view, such as a marriage proposal or having children. In other situations, obsessive-compulsive symptoms occur after the end of a romantic relationship. The person obsessively worries about how much the previous partner was the right person, fearing he will regret his choice forever. And so he feels the need to reassure himself, for example by remembering the reasons why the relationship was closed, or by recalling the conflicts he experienced, as if to find a justification for that choice.
From the research it emerges that both the duration of the sentimental relationship and the gender are not variables connected to this type of OCD.
Types of relationship DOC
There are two common manifestations of this symptomatology: relationship – centered obsessive-compulsive symptoms and partner-focused symptoms .
Centered on the relationship
In the first case, people feel haunted by doubts and worries about how they feel about their partners, about the feelings the partners have towards them, and about how ‘right’ the relationship is. They may repeatedly have thoughts like, “Is this the right relationship for me?” or “What I feel is not true love!”, or “Am I okay with him / her?”, “Does my partner really love me?”.
In the case of a symptomatology focused on the partner, however, the core of the obsessions is represented by physical characteristics of the partner (such as a part of the body), by social qualities (for example, not possessing the requirements to be successful in life) or even from aspects such as morality, intelligence, or emotional stability (“He’s not smart enough for me”, “He’s not a stable enough person with whom I can carry on a family project”).
The relationship between the two types of symptoms
The two symptomatic manifestations are not mutually exclusive in the same person. Clinical experience and scientific research have shown that relationship – centered and partner-focused obsessive-compulsive symptoms often occur together.
Many people describe being first concerned about a perceived flaw in their partner (for example, related to physical appearance) and then being tormented by thoughts about how ‘right’ the relationship might be, given that physical limitation.
The vice versa can also occur: you begin to have doubts about the relationship and only later do you become worried about some defect in your partner. In this case, the intrusive thought regarding the partner’s defect could be considered precisely the sign of something wrong with the couple relationship.
Relationship DOC: behavioral strategies
As the prerogative of any form of obsessive-compulsive disorder , doubts and worries are associated with a variety of compulsions whose purpose is to attempt to suppress / reduce the frequency of these thoughts, as well as reduce uncertainty about the content.
The most common compulsions that people with relationship OCD tend to have are the following:
- pay attention and control their feelings (“Do I have love for my partner?”) and their behavior (“Am I looking at other women / men?”);
- compare one’s relationship with that of other people, such as friends, colleagues or even the romantic relationships of TV characters (“Am I happy like them?”);
- reassure themselves by recalling experiences with the current partner in which they felt certain of what they were feeling.
People with relationship OCD often try to avoid situations that can trigger their unwanted thoughts and doubts about the relationship.
For example, they may avoid social occasions with friends who are recognized as ‘the perfect match’. If those circumstances were not avoided, they would take all the time to compare their behavior with that of their friends, noting those differences which would then be read to confirm the unfairness of their relationship.
Likewise, pleasure activities can be avoided, such as seeing a romantic film, for fear of detecting a discrepancy between what they feel towards their partner and the passionate and overwhelming love that perhaps distinguishes the protagonists of the film. .
Relationship DOC: the cognitive elements
It is widely recognized in obsessive-compulsive disorder that different reactions to one’s internal events play a role in the development of the disorder.
In the specific case of relationship OCD , for example, individuals can attach great importance to the couple relationship, as a fundamental part of their being, of what they are.
Therefore, if self-esteem and personal worth is strictly connected to the relational domain, one is inevitably hypervigilant in everything concerning the relationship, to the point that a normal feeling of boredom within the relationship with the partner can have significantly negative implications. on the idea I have of myself.
Similarly, these people will be more sensitive to thoughts about their partner’s qualities if some defect in the partner is perceived as a reflection of their own personal worth.
Here is that the way in which the partner compares himself with others and how he is considered by the rest of the world can reverberate on the person, affecting the self-image, with consequent negative emotions (for example, shame, guilt).
Furthermore, specific beliefs about relationships can be particularly relevant for maintaining and developing relationship DOC . For example, catastrophic thoughts about the harm of being in a relationship where you have doubts or about the negative consequences for the other of breaking up an existing relationship (for example, “Terminating a relationship with a partner is one of the worst things that can happen in a person’s life “) and for himself (” The thought of living my life without him / her terrifies me “).
These people usually have rigid beliefs about what they should feel in a ‘right’ relationship, such as “If you don’t think about your partner at all times of the day, it means they’re not the right one” or “If you’re not always happy when you are with him, it is not true love ”.
Finally, perfectionism , intolerance of uncertainty, the importance of thoughts and their control, as well as hypertrophic responsibility, which represent some of the typical beliefs in obsessive symptomatology, are also present in relationship OCD .
Relationship DOC care
As with other forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, cognitive-behavioral treatment is also effective in relationship OCD .
Cognitive-behavioral therapy allows the learning of functional strategies for the management and reduction of obsessions and compulsions.
In particular, the techniques used are exposure with response prevention (exposure to feared situations without being able to resort to compulsions to manage doubts and negative emotions) and the cognitive restructuring of dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs.
In some cases the partner can also be involved in order to evaluate any reinforcements provided by the latter to the patient’s symptoms and interrupt dysfunctional interpersonal cycles.
A significant reduction in symptoms would allow for a greater awareness of what happens within the relationship allowing the person to make a decision (to leave or not the partner) based on the real relationship experience rather than on fears and concerns related to the relationship. disorder.