The percentage of men and women who have the full-blown disorder called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is actually quite small (less than 5 percent of the adult population), but a much higher percentage of men and women have some of the features. These individuals tend to obsess on a regular basis, and they also feel compelled to do something (the compulsive behaviors) to relieve the anxiety caused by their obsessions. In relationships, people who get obsessive have a much harder time. In a moment, you’ll understand why.
Why does an obsessive thinking style make relationships harder?
Take a guess what the hardest thing is for obsessive people to handle. The answer: uncertainty. The problem for men and women who tend to be obsessive is that relationships are filled with uncertainty, especially in the beginning. Does he like me? What did that mean when she hesitated after I asked her out again? Is it possible he still has feelings for his ex? What if she’s not attracted to me? These types of issues are often the things obsessive men and women worry about in relationships. The common denominator is that it’s easy to obsess about all of these things because they’re so subjective. In other words, you can’t quite prove or disprove them, so an obsessive person can endlessly feast on any one of those issues. This is in strict opposition to something you can’t obsess about — say, the sum of two plus two. No obsessive person would ever obsess about something like that; they only obsess about things that can’t be proven or disproven.
How it feels to be in a new relationship when you’re obsessive.
Though relationships are supposed to be sources of pleasure and comfort, they are often very stressful for obsessive men and women. In fact, I know some men and women with full-blown OCD who don’t even try to have romantic relationships anymore because of the anxiety involved. People with the true disorder have symptoms that are so bad that they cause problems at work or in their ability to function on a daily basis, but that severity simply doesn’t apply to most of you. For most obsessive men and women, they have relationships and they want relationships, but they feel a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in them. They have a hard time trusting that their boyfriend is truly interested in them; that their girlfriend will want to stay with them in the future; that their boyfriend is staying faithful; and so forth.
Techniques to control your obsessive thinking so you can enjoy relationships:
Written statements: The first technique involves writing a few statements that you can tell yourself when you start mentally spiraling. Try writing down this statement in your journal, a piece of scratch paper, or in a text to a friend: “I have gotten stuck obsessing about [insert name]. I need to remind myself that I have control over my thoughts. I don’t want to obsess anymore now about [insert name].” Writing your thoughts and feelings down can have a powerful and lasting effect. The more you write these statements, the more you will come to believe what you write.
Permission to obsess about something else: When you get stuck in an obsessive spiral, distract yourself by thinking about something else. If you have to obsess about something, at least obsess about something productive. Think about the next holiday or birthday for which you need to get gifts or make plans, and start making a list of all the things you want to do or items you need to purchase. If you’re going on a trip in the next few months, check out all the attractions and restaurants in that area to distract yourself.
The importance of consistency: Don’t forget that the most difficult thing for an obsessive person is uncertainty or inconsistency. Sometimes you may find yourself obsessing about a boyfriend or girlfriend who is inconsistent or fleeting, and you are obsessing because your instincts are telling you that this person might not be right for you. When you do meet someone who is good for you, that individual is going to have to be dreadfully consistent or your obsessive traits will otherwise take control and make your life a lot more frustrating than it needs to be.
Have you dealt with OCD yourself or in a relationship? What have you learned?
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve