Wednesday, June 29, 2011

OCD A to Z: R is for Relationship OCD

clear the air detail copy

I'd never seen the acronym ROCD before until I came upon it on a OCD self-help list called Stuck in a Doorway, about 6 or 7 years ago. It stands for Relationship OCD, and another common one was HOCD for Homosexuality OCD. I believe they are both just different ways that OCD latches onto whatever is important to us. I've dealt with both of these themes of OCD, and they were so interconnected that trying to separate them out would've been futile.

OCD wants definitive answers, and when an obsessive thought or question centers around being with the right person(ROCD) or gender(HOCD), my desire was to answer the questions so I could breathe, so I could not be vigilantly checking to make sure I was making the right decision, and not be haunted by it later.

I was shy, and didn't date in highschool. I had a friend who lived in a cooperative community and most of her mother's friends were lesbians. This friend and I loved talking about big questions, the meaning of life, the nature of history. She gave me feminist theorists to read, and I gave her books by Madeleine L'Engle and C.S. Lewis. She didn't believe in God, but I wanted to be a minister, but we still talked for the enjoyment of spirited talking. She didn't date either, and rumors abounded that she was a lesbian. We went to see Entre Nous, a French movie about a woman who leaves her husband for another woman. This haunted me, because my father had left my mother that year, when I was 16 and my sister 13. My friend said that this woman as becoming free , but I kept seeing the shot of the daughter waiting for her mother.

I moved away after I graduated, and she gave me 3 cassette tape of "Womyn's Music" to listen to, Meg Christian, Ferron, Chris Williamson, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and I loved the songs. Reading about women in history was one of the few things that kept my interest in college, and I ended up majoring in feminist theory, but slowly this evolved into a way to try and figure out if it was safe to be with a man. I had fallen in love, with a man, and my OCD was tenaciously throwing out barbed questions about the reliability and safety of men, and that perhaps I was a traitor to my gender to deal with men and their violence. I wondered if the feminist songs I loved meant I was a lesbian, or the many women friends I felt safe with or found attractive meant that as well.

In spite of all this rumination, and reading and analyzing, I agreed to marry the man I was in love with, at age 25. My OCD fears were that marriage was inherently dangerous, and I would be mocked by those who came after me for being part of that institution. It took all I had to carry through when we went to apply for a marriage license, and the form said that $25 of the fee went toward a fund for victims of domestic violence. I didn't know I had OCD, but I knew I was filled with anxiety, and I clung onto the fact that I couldn't imagine being with anyone else, and that I had to ride through the anxiety, and that without getting married, I would have no health insurance after I graduated.

I used to wonder if I was suppressing my "true" self by being with my husband, but the exposure of being married, and enjoying his company until the anxiety subsided helped my obsessing about this to recede to the background as my health anxiety and perfectionism came to the forefront and sucked up much of my energy and life.

After I had my hair cut short, I remember some people calling me a boy, but how I looked didn't determine who I was. My fears didn't determine who I was. The healthy part of me knew I loved the man who became my husband.

If you've read this far, take courage. My story doesn't have a lot of conventionally reassuring aspects. But OCD can be treated with Exposure Therapy. You can learn to listen to the voice within you that knows who you are. You can learn to deal with your evolving self. No one gets a lifetime guarantee that they've chosen the right person or right gender. Just look at the divorce rate. OCD compulsions of analyzing and checking and figuring out will corrode a relationship, causing the very thing we fear, the loss of love, the fear of haunting memories.


  1. What a great post. Thanks for your insight into this form of OCD. I liked your last line, "OCD compulsions of analyzing and checking and figuring out will corrode a relationship, causing the very thing we fear, the loss of love, the fear of haunting memories."--This is so true.

  2. Nicely witten. You've written about a lot of this - mostly as comments on my blog and it has inspired me and helped me to feel so much less alone. I'm so thankful that I "met" you.

  3. P.S. When I first had HOCD, one of my big triggers was Melissa Etheridge. I really liked her music, and then I found out that she is a lesbian. Of course the thoughts started "what if you're identifying with her music becuase you're gay?".

  4. Beautifully written....thank you for sharing your story.

  5. Lolly--I remind myself of this when the OCD seems urgent, that compulsing comes with a high cost.

    Pure O--I am glad to have been a companion in any way as you deal with this type of OCD. There's something very powerful about music, and OCD can latch right onto that.

    ocdtalk--thank you for the kind words.