A therapist suggested I might have “Relationship OCD,” which is OCD with the obsessions and compulsions focusing on romantic relationships. While I haven’t been formally diagnosed, it rings true to me. As soon as I get close to someone, I experience so much anxiety. If I kissed a partner and they kissed me in a way I didn’t like, I would think, “Why didn’t you like that? Maybe you don’t really love them. Maybe you don’t even like people of this gender. Maybe you’re lying to yourself.” And before I know it, I’m spinning out of control and panicking. When I’m single, I never have thoughts like this.
I was in a four-year relationship that just ended. While I’m sad it ended, I understand why it needed to and I’m trying to move forward. However, I’m stuck on the impact my obsessions had on our sex life. In the first two-to-three years I...
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... move forward. However, I’m stuck on the impact my obsessions had on our sex life. In the first two-to-three years I didn’t have these obsessions, but during the last one I started to experience such bad anxiety that I couldn’t enjoy sex. It was devastating. Perhaps foolishly, I viewed this person as the exception to my obsessive thinking, but it seems like as the stakes in the relationship heightened, so did my obsessive thoughts.
I’m single again now, and I learned a valuable lesson from this relationship: no matter what relationship I’m in or how much I love my partner, I will have these obsessive thoughts. I’m in therapy, and I would like to have a long-term relationship with someone that includes living together, traveling together, and maybe even having kids together. But I find it hard to work on my issue when I’m NOT in a relationship. Is there anything I can do right now, while I’m single, that will help me in my next relationship?
Sad That Relationship Elevates Stress Symptoms
I shared your question with Sheva Rajaee, a licensed marriage and family therapist, author, and public speaker. The founder and director of the Center for Anxiety and OCD, Rajaee wrote the book — the literal book — on relationship OCD: Relationship OCD: A CBT-Based Guide to Move Beyond Obsessive Doubt, Anxiety & Fear of Commitment in Romantic Relationships.
“Part of what makes relationship OCD (ROCD) so painful and damaging is that these incessant doubts seep into every corner of our relationships,” said Rajaee. “And cruelly, they are loudest in our most viable relationships. ROCD doesn’t care about your summer fling with an expiration date, it’s coming for the relationship with actual legs.”
Basically, STRESS, your ROCD is going to lay more or less dormant when you’re seeing someone you can’t see yourself with long-term. That summer fling is gonna end with the summer, and the potential downside of picking the wrong person for that summer fling are minimal. But the moment you realize you’re seeing someone you might actually fall in love with — the moment you start picturing a future that includes marriage and kids — the stakes shoot through the roof.
“The higher the risk of love, the greater the chance the psychological defenses of someone suffering from ROCD will try to keep them safe by pointing out perceived flaws and incompatibilities,” said Rajaee. “ROCD is a misguided attempt to keep you safe by keeping you separate and what STRESS describes — what she just went through — is a textbook example of relationship OCD. It’s the spiraling nature of worries that take small imperfections or incompatibilities (‘I don’t love the way they kiss’) and blows them up to worst-case outcomes (‘I’m lying to myself and to them’).”
So, can a person work on their ROCD when they’re not in a relationship and/or they’re enjoying the kind of casual connection — summer flings, vacation fucks, sex friends — that don’t trigger their ROCD?
“Yes and no,” said Rajaee. “STRESS can work on anxiety in general, practicing riding waves of discomfort and even panic without getting caught up in the scare stories. She can examine her expectations of love and relationships and practice exposure therapy, so that when these thoughts surface in her next good relationship — as they likely will — she’ll have a solid strategy to address them.”
But the most important work — the work that will help you contain and control your ROCD — can only be done during one those high-stakes relationships.
“In STRESS’s case, this means opening herself to sex, love, and connection and then working through near-crippling anxiety while trying to maintain a healthy relationship,” said Rajaee, “and that’s guaranteed to introduce some conflict into her next partnership. But I want her to know that it’s possible to do this and that I see it done — and done successfully — all the time. In fact, for many of my clients, doing this work brings them closer together.”
The Center for Anxiety and OCD’s website is www.caocd.com. The Center is on Instagram and Threads @theshrinkwrap.
I have a partner of sorts and it’s complicated. He’s married. From the sound of things, they tried marriage counseling, it didn’t work, and it sounds like they’re just companionate. So, no sex for him at home anymore. Lots of other issues. It sounds like they’re waiting for kids to grow up before they divorce. We have an anniversary of sorts coming up, and I’d like him to celebrate it with me in some way. But it’s tricky because it falls on Valentine’s Day. Even if he and his wife are not close anymore, I’m sure she’s going to expect him to spend that day with her. I don’t expect him to spend that time with me, but what can we do to celebrate without making it awkward? And how should I view it if he doesn’t remember/doesn’t acknowledge the anniversary? I mean, do anniversaries even matter?
Complicated Partner Of Sorts
It may sound like their marriage is companionate and it may sound like they’re not fucking and it may sound like they’re gonna divorce when their kids are grown because that’s all true. Or those are the sounds your partner of sorts (POS) makes because they’re the sounds you wanna hear.
Look, cheaters aren’t always the most reliable narrators of their own marriages; and while cheaters are often honest with their affair partners — or more honest with their affair partners than they are with their spouses — you can’t verify whether the sounds your POS is making reflect the reality of his marriage without talking to his wife, CPOS, which you can’t do. (Of course, you can talk to his wife; lots of affair partners have talked to the wronged spouse. But that require you to betray your affair partner — ironically enough — and that betrayal is guaranteed to end your relationship but not their marriage. Remember, kids: ending an affair is easier than ending a marriage.)
Anyway, CPOS, you know what you signed up for. Your POS can’t slip out on Valentine’s Day without raising questions he and his wife aren’t ready to confront. Even if they’re not doing anything special, even if they’re not fucking for old time’s sake, even if she drinks her morning coffee out of a “Toly AF” mug (coming soon!), expecting to spend time with your married POS on Valentine’s Day doesn’t fall into the “reasonable expectation” category. So, how about you celebrate your anniversary-of-sorts a week early or celebrate your anniversary-of-sorts a week late or celebrate your half-anniversary-of-sorts on the fourteenth of August. St. Maximilian, whose feast day is August 14, isn’t as sexy as St. Valentine — Maximilian is the patron saint of drug addicts, journalists, and prisoners; Valentine is the patron saint of lovers, epileptics, and beekeepers — but Maximilian can tide you over until Valentine’s is all yours.
Straight guy here. My wife and I have always been on the same page about necessary conversations and we both believe that disclosing information beyond what’s required should be undertaken with care. My wife is fairly guarded about her past, and I respect that. The truth is, I don’t know a whole lot about her sexual history. But you know who does? Her best friend’s asshole boyfriend. I know it’s healthy and normal to disclose intimate details to a close friend — including things you might never say to a partner — but my wife’s best friend shares whatever my wife confides in her with her asshole boyfriend. This man takes delight in revealing personal information about others. Because of this guy, I know things about my wife that she and I agreed weren’t important for me to know: her body count, men she dated I knew nothing about, and some very specific details of her sexual history. At first, I would flinch and bear it but the total weight of everything I now know is hard to bear. It turns out my wife has lived a lot of the fantasies I’ve shared with her with other men, all things she declined to partake in with me. And these things are known to entire our close friend group thanks to her best friend’s asshole boyfriend. Do I ask my wife not to confide in her best friend? That doesn’t sound right. Asking the asshole boyfriend to shut up hasn’t worked because he’s an asshole. Am I supposed to pretend not to know the things I now know?
Normally Open Troubled Dude Enervated And Frustrated
So, your wife knows she can’t confide in her best friend without her best friend repeating everything to her asshole boyfriend. Furthermore, your wife knows this asshole boyfriend delights in repeating whatever he learns about anyone to implicated third parties — like their husbands — and your wife knows her best friend’s asshole boyfriend has gone out of his way to embarrass and humiliate her husband more than once.
The fix here is obvious: your wife either convinces her dumbfuck best friend to stop repeating things to her asshole boyfriend or your wife stops confiding in her dumbfuck best friend. That doesn’t mean your wife can’t confide in anyone — you aren’t trying to isolate her — you’re merely asking her to stop investing her trust in someone who has demonstrated that she can’t be trusted. She can confide in her best friend about Feud, she can confide in best friend about Finn Bennett (swoon), she can confide in her best friend about politics and religion. But it’s obvious your wife can’t confide in her best friend about her sexual history without it getting back to you.
And if your wife refuses to do that — if she refuses to stop confiding in her dumbfuck best friend despite knowing it sets off a chain of events that ends with her dumbfuck best friend’s asshole boyfriend hurting her husband — then your wife is an asshole, too.
P.S. Some people can’t do crazy kinky things with someone they love. For some, feelings of intimacy short circuit kinky wiring. If there are things you wanna experience that your wife can’t do with you (because she cares about you too much) and your wife still wants to experience those things (just not with someone she cares about), well, there’s another obvious fix: you both get to do some crazy kinky sex things with other people. And if that happens — if you wind up getting to live out some of your craziest fantasies as a direct result of what you found out — then you’ll have to send a thank-you card to the asshole boyfriend of your wife’s dumbfuck best friend.
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