If you find yourself consistently scared to be happy in a relationship, it may be a sign that you have relationship-themed OCD, or ROCD.
Here’s what that means: relationship OCD is characterized by unwanted, intrusive, persistent, and distressing thoughts, doubts, images, or urges involving uncertainty about a relationship(s)—these are known as obsessions, and they cause anxiety or distress, which leads people with OCD to engage in compulsions, which are physical behaviors or mental acts done in an effort to reduce this anxiety or prevent a feared outcome.
OCD is also known as the “doubting disorder” and it has a tendency to go after aspects in our life that we really care about. That’s why OCD can create so much doubt about relationships—they can be deeply important parts of our lives. One may be especially invested in starting a relationship, being in a relationship, maintaining a relationship, being a good partner, or being with the right partner, so the slightest doubts can feel impossible to accept.
Most people without OCD will also experience doubts or fears about their relationships that are uncomfortable, but people without OCD are more likely to be able to shrug these off, or resolve their concerns and move on. When someone with ROCD has these experiences, on the other hand, they have an extremely difficult time moving on from them, feeling a need for absolute certainty or security.
People with ROCD often find themselves questioning everything about their relationship, feeling that they need to be perfectly certain and secure. A need to resolve this uncertainty and reduce the distress results in compulsive behavior. Checking one’s feelings is an example of a compulsion: for example, someone may check if they feel butterflies when out on a date with their partner to gain reassurance that they still love their partner. Other common compulsions in ROCD include asking one’s partner for reassurance, tracking a partner’s location, researching signs of good and bad relationships, rereading messages from one’s partner, and confessing repeatedly about one’s behavior and thoughts. In addition to relieving distress, someone with ROCD may believe that engaging in compulsions will help them prevent something they don’t want to happen, such as heartbreak or cheating, or will help them be prepared if something they fear does occur. Instead, compulsions only reinforce the belief that one cannot tolerate uncertainty and doubt, making their fears and anxiety worse over time.
In this frame, we can return to your question: “Why am I scared to be happy in my relationship?” ROCD makes us doubt ourselves: “Maybe I’m happy, but it’s just an illusion. And if I allow myself to feel this illusion of happiness, I’ll only be more disappointed and hurt.” OCD can come up with all sorts of justifications for this, all rooted in doubt and fear: “What if I’m unlovable? What if I sabotage the relationship?” ROCD introduces doubts that we’re afraid will be confirmed as true, and positive feelings about a relationship can feel risky because OCD makes our fears feel so real.
What can you do if you’re scared to be happy in a relationship?
The truth is that nothing in life is certain, and relationships are no different. To free yourself from being ruled by uncertainty and discomfort, you have to learn to accept them, just as you do in other areas of your life, even if you don’t realize it.
Doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) with a therapist with specialized OCD experience and training can help you learn to tolerate doubt and uncertainty in relationships without engaging in compulsions. This can help you enjoy your relationships and live in line with your values, rather than being ruled by fear. Your fears may be true, but also may not. If we can accept this uncertainty, then we can free our mind and allow ourselves to be more present in the moment and within a relationship.
If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.
We look forward to working with you.