I wasn’t diagnosed with OCD until I was in my late teens. A part of me had always been able to recognise my abnormal patterns of thinking, but it wasn’t until I embarked on my first serious relationship that the symptoms became too obvious to ignore. Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or ROCD isn’t as well recognised as the more classic incarnations of the disorder. It doesn’t involve obsessive cleaning or compulsive habits. In fact, it’s so difficult to identify that it’s more often mistaken for run of the mill commitment issues, or as part of the trials and tribulations that every relationship goes through. Only, the problems aren’t ones that will go away after a make up session, and meeting the right person won’t change the reality of dating with OCD.
In most relationships (not including asexual or aromantic), there are two elements: the emotional, and the physical. Both can be complicated for people suffering from ROCD, for distinct reasons. Romantically, complications can be triggered by any number of things. They can happen at any time, three months, or three years, or three decades down the line. Loud and invasive thought patterns known as ‘intrusive thoughts,’ which are very common among OCD sufferers, start to focus on the behavior of the partner. The sufferer begins to overthink the actions of the partner. They become obsessed with what the other person does, where they go and whom they talk to. Unbidden, faith can start to slip away. That in combination with another common symptom of ROCD: intense self-analysis, can have devastating impacts on relationships. Not only does the sufferer think about every action of their partner, they also begin focusing on every thought and passing feeling they have. Every emotion is questioned; every fleeting crush is escalated to the level of complete (imagined) infidelity. Additionally, people with ROCD will often obsessively examine the appearance of their partners, and hyper focus on flaws.
It’s a mountain of problems, and it can seem insurmountable. But it is not impossible to have a happy romantic relationship and cope successfully with OCD. My advice? Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. If your partner doesn’t know you have OCD, they will assume your behaviour is irrational. In my experience, most people are willing to learn and to try and understand, even if they can’t always fix the problem. Obviously there are some things that are better left unsaid – don’t tell your partner that you can’t stop thinking about how her lips are slightly off centre or how his forehead creases oddly. But DO let them know that those are the kind of things you sometimes struggle with. Communicate before the intrusive thoughts arrive, so that when they do, your partner has some idea of what is going on. Try to be proactive. Let your partner know you might need some space sometimes, and that they shouldn’t worry. And most importantly, take care of yourself first. Don’t act a certain way if it isn’t how you are feeling, just because you feel you should. Be honest with yourself and your partner, so that you can both work through difficult patches.
Romance isn’t the only thing effected by ROCD—sex can also be quite challenging. Luckily, the fixes are a lot more straightforward for sexual compulsions than they are for emotional. The most common obsessive thoughts reported by people with ROCD include the following: pregnancy fear, STI fear, and disgust with sexual fluids.
I deal with all of these personally, and they have not once gotten in the way of great sex before. Again, communication with your partner is essential. If they want to have sex with you, they should be prepared to use the kind of protection you need so that it can be a fulfilling and fun experience for both of you. As far as pregnancy fears, talk to your doctor. If you can be on birth control, then give it a go. There are countless options, from pills to implants, and they all have efficacy rates of over 90%. When used in combination with another type of contraceptive method, such as condoms or withdrawal, the likelihood of pregnancy is impossibly low. As far as STI scares, talk to your partner about your fears, and make sure you trust them completely before engaging in any kind of sexual activity. Make sure you have both been tested. And even if you are both STI free, use a condom/dental dam if it makes you more comfortable. Use of condoms and dental dams also aids in making the third element of sex with ROCD less obstructive. It’s hard to deny that sex is generally very wet. The repulsion with sexual fluid can make the whole experience unpleasant for anyone suffering from OCD, and can often lead to obsessive post sex rituals. Again, communication with your partner is crucial to make it pleasurable for everyone. Use condoms, dental dams, latex gloves, anything you need to be comfortable. And if something makes you uncomfortable, DO NOT do it. Don’t feel guilty because your partner did something for you that you can’t do in return. Remember that what everyone does is their own choice, and it is okay if you aren’t comfortable with the same things they are. If they expect that, then they are not the right sexual partner.
Relationships aren’t easy, even if neither party suffers from mental illness. And any kind of illness presents its own unique challenges. But with communication, it IS possible to have a happy and healthy relationship with your partner who has ROCD. Be open about it. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, the right person will recognise that, and admire you more for being honest.