When fantasy and reality collide - relationship OCD

Over generations of families, most people have been read, told or watched fairy tales where the ending is, and they all lived happily ever after. Even romantic novels, rom-coms, and song lyrics can have you tugging on your heartstrings and yearning for the same in your adult relationships. Is it realistic to expect a knight in shining armour or a beautiful, wealthy and compliant princess to complete your own love story?


Your once upon a time may undoubtedly feel like the stuff that all those romances appear like in the early “heady” days of falling in love when you are getting to know someone, and it’s all exciting and new. You’re showing your best side and eager to please – keen to text back as soon as possible, see that person as much as you possibly can, and chat together incessantly. This surely is “the one” in your fantasies and dreams. You feel like Prince Charming or Cinderella.

Gradually the relationship levels out a bit – what if that means you aren’t made for each other. Are you confident they are attractive enough or intelligent enough? Suddenly your body is fuelled with anxiety – you can’t see that anything is wrong, but you have this gut feeling that indeed is telling you something from deep within. Sometimes you both have a difference of opinion. Sometimes they want to meet up with their friends or spend time without you on their hobbies and interests.

You begin questioning yourself, checking your feelings, asking for reassurance, being watchful of every move, and alert to every word for a sign that the relationship is not right. The uncertainty rolls around and around in your head, keeping you awake at night, unable to concentrate during the day. All you can do is obsessively think about your relationship – all those what-if questions, maybe’s, might be, and could be’s.

Of course, some relationships are just not meant to be once you get past the discovery stage and find that what you had hoped was your special someone didn’t match up to the values you hold in life and the direction you want to go in.

For some, there seems to be no plausible explanation for all the questioning around what is objectively a good relationship. This could be relationship OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). The emotional distress from your thinking (potentially from the subconscious ideas you have held dear) collides with the actual quality of the relationship. Expectations may be unrealistic.

This could also be relationship OCD (ROCD) if you experience anxiety and obsessive thoughts in other areas of your life, including your relationship. As it appears in OCD, a person who experiences thoughts, images, and compulsive behaviours that cause significant distress and anxiety due to their perceived meaning, places high importance upon them and tries to avoid or suppress them in some way. Rumination is likely.

Relationship OCD compulsions can occur more subtly than the more well-known and visible compulsions like counting, hand-washing or cleaning. ROCD compulsions, similarly to OCD compulsions, are designed to rid yourself of anxiety and find certainty and guarantees.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Poole, Dorset, BH15
Written by Tracy Foster, Dip.Couns, Dip.CBT Registered (MBACP)
Poole, Dorset, BH15

I am a fully qualified Integrative Humanistic Counsellor & Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. I also practice mindfulness, life coaching and relaxation techniques. My specialised area is OCD and Relationship OCD.

I adhere to ethical standards and requirements as a registered member of the BACP (British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy).

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