Book Review: Relationship OCD

book cover: Relationship OCD by Sheva Rajaee

Relationship OCD by Sheva Rajaee is written from the perspective of a therapist who herself has dealt with relationship OCD (ROCD). What a perfect combination! I love that more and more mental health professionals are willing to talk about their own mental health challenges.

Throughout the book, the author emphasizes the importance of learning to tolerate uncertainty. She writes that addressing ROCD isn’t just about managing anxiety, but also about changing expectations about what love and partnership should involve. She describes the myth of the one (MOTO) that we’ve been exposed to pretty much forever, and how unlike real relationships that myth is.

If you feel concerned that you don’t feel the “butterflies” that you think that you’re supposed to feel, the author points out that the feeling of butterflies is actually an anxiety response driven by the amygdala, and the steadiness of a non-anxiety-provoking person could actually be a good thing.

The book describes two different areas of focus for anxiety in ROCD. One is partner-focused, which involves a preoccupation with the partner’s perceived flaws. The other is relationship-focused, which is a preoccupation with the quality of the relationship. The author explains that for most people, ROCD comes from some combination of nature and nurture, and she ties this in with attachment styles.

There’s an interesting chapter devoted to sex anxiety. It incorporates cultural myths and moralization about how sex should be, ideas about what kind of fantasizing is okay, and the effects of anxiety on desire and arousal. Real-life sex just isn’t the way it is in movies, it’s not always mind-blowing, and you don’t have to be gettin’ it on multiple times a week for your sex life to be considered acceptable.

The middle section of the book covers strategies that can help with managing ROCD, including addressing cognitive distortions, using acceptance and commitment therapy tools, and doing exposure and response prevention. The author explains that these tools won’t get rid of your anxiety, and that’s not the goal, anyway; rather, they’ll help you to tolerate it more effectively.

The chapter on healing shame talks about how we become indoctrinated into “the cult of what’s normal.” We soak up all kinds of messages about how we should look, feel, behave, and live our lives, and this knowledge is stored implicitly, outside of our conscious awareness. The author explains the benefit of self-compassion to address shame around not living up to these expectations about what’s normal.

There’s also a chapter on what healthy relationships look like, and the author cautions that you shouldn’t trust your gut, as emotions on their own will never be able to confirm for you that you’ve met the right person or that you’ll live happily ever after. I liked that she was very realistic about how there’s no way to predict the future of a relationship, and sometimes divorce ends up being the right thing.

The author was also very realistic about ROCD recovery, writing that intrusive thoughts and uncertainty aren’t going to just disappear. She acknowledges that ongoing maintenance work will probably be needed.

I thought this book did a really good job of popping the bubble of the assorted problematic messaging we’re exposed to regarding relationships. The author balances warmth and kindness with telling readers that being uncomfortable and being uncertain is a necessary part of the process. She’s down-to-earth, and I thought she had a very healthy, realistic outlook on relationships. This book was really well done, and I think it will be very helpful to people dealing with relationship anxiety, whether it’s full-fledged OCD or not.

Some general thoughts on relationships

Now, some more general thoughts about expectations about relationship perfection. We’re exposed to all this myth of the one messaging that has very little to do with reality. I wonder if the issue is less that we’re being presented with it and more that it often gets presented as if it’s truth rather than reality.

While there are certainly relationships that involve really deep connections. The whole soulmate nonsense strikes me as total garbage. Yet if you Google “soulmate,” there are all these articles telling you how to tell if you found yours. One of the related searches Google suggests is “signs your soulmate is thinking of you.” Oh just fuck all the way off. The top search result I see is an article on saying that if you’re thinking of them all the time, that’s a sign that they’re thinking about you. Um, no, it doesn’t work that way.

Personally, I see books, tv, and movies that are obviously not real as less problematic than all these sources trying to make it out to be reality. Fantasy is fun to indulge in, especially if you can recognize that there’s a line between it and reality. Pretending that line doesn’t exist is a whole other can of tuna.

Do you have any thoughts on the myth of the one and all that goes along with it?

Relationship OCD is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

I received a reviewer copy from the publisher through Netgalley.

You can find my other reviews on the MH@H book review index or on Goodreads.

37 thoughts on “Book Review: Relationship OCD”

  1. Sounds like a great read! Thanks for your thoughtful review. This is what stood out to me the most: “The author explains the benefit of self-compassion to address shame around not living up to these expectations about what’s normal.” Normal is not a helpful comparison to make but it happens to me in my head all the time. Is it too trite to talk about the “new normal” or the “realistic normal” as something to strive for rather than “normal” which implies “a cure” rather than a self management strategy?

    1. I think there’s a lot of value in revising what a “realistic normal” might look like in the context of conditions that are chronic or are likely to be chronic. This author did a good job of presenting OCD as something requiring ongoing management rather than something that could be cured, and I think that applies to a lot of mental health conditions.

  2. I think there can be “a one” at different times in a person’s life, and maybe some end up feeling that one is the one for all time… but with the rate of divorce (not to mention those who wish they could split but don’t because of kids/finances), it’s doubtful. Maybe the concept of The One worked better when our life expectancy was 35 years or so…

  3. We are reading about the false dichotomies of “partner/friend” and”married/single” in which the partner is privileged and expected to meet all our needs (ie the one). According to the authors of _Life Isnt Binary_, no one person can fulfill all our emotional needs for us and, therefore, we might choose multiple relationships, none of which includes the one. And if you choose partnership, it’s not necessary or healthy to privilege the partner relationship above all others.

  4. I found that getting engaged at 38, getting married at 39 and giving birth at 40 all allowed me to date the various “loves of my life” where the connection was very very strong but the team work in the relationship was not so much evident. I am an advocate for getting married on the late side if you choose to marry so you can get romantic fantasies out of your head and get ready to work as a team with your partner. Sense of humor I find key as well as an ability to fight well and not return to the same fight over and over again. I also agree that your marriage partner cannot fulfill all your relationship needs. It’s crazy to try. Good books on the subject of romantic love and its pitfalls include He, She, We by Robert A. Johnson. These books really helped me a lot to adjust my expectations.

  5. I like this line you wrote, “tolerate uncertainty.” I’m lousy at it. I suspect that’s part of the reason I do badly in relationships. I’m not a fan of the soul mate idea. What if my one was born on a small island in the South Pacific? Then I’d be screwed.

    1. Or what if your soulmate was hit by a bus? Does that mean that’s it, no soup for you?

      I suspect difficulty tolerating uncertainty is a bad part of people’s wild and wacky reactions to COVID.

      1. Most likely. I like to think I’m a special and unique snowflake, but I suspect you’re right about that connection. It’s be an interesting study.

    2. I think you can have a soul mate of the same or opposite sex. Finding your soul mate however is different than finding your marriage partner in my book. One is based on impossible connections and profound understanding; the other is based on practical solutions and teamwork to combat all of life’s ups and downs.

  6. The idea that out of the whole world there is only one person for you is ridiculous and scary. What if that person is on the other side of the globe, and you never meet them. Uh, no.

    The “butterflies” thing had me worried for a while there. Where were the fireworks? I brought the topic up with my then fiance. His answer to my dilemma? “No. You love me.” Whew! Close call. I almost let what I thought I was supposed to feel negate what I did feel 🙂

    1. His answer was awesome! It’s pretty weird that we’re “supposed to” feel butterflies when feeling really comfortable with someone seems like it would actually bode much better for long-term relationship health.

    1. I was actually surprised reading this book how relevant I found it. OCD isn’t even remotely an issue for me either, but the author worked in quite a bit of stuff that seemed pretty universally relevant.

  7. “Oh just fuck all the way off.” – I think being able to say this to a partner and still have their respect the next day is my next relationship goal. (kidding… sort of…) Excellent review. So on-point about relationship myths. I once said to a partner: “This is not a Harlequin Romance novel! This is real life!” 😆🙃

  8. I think you pointed out some great examples of the mythology of soulmates. It’s not every day you connect well with someone, and if/when that happens, I think it’s up to us to act. Life is difficult, without the soulmate situation (of examples you pointed out), getting in the way of it.

  9. I guess I’m just a hopeless romantic because I do believe in soul mates. Some people have their “one and done” and that’s it. Maybe it’s a gift, or maybe they’re just fortunate.

  10. I think that there is too much fantasy surrounding ‘the one” which fuels the media industry and film/series production. (of course if they didn’t put all the fantasy and romance in there, many wouldn’t wanna watch it).

    The truth is you only see how they find one another and get together and how “oh look we found each other”… you don’t see how they are 10 years down the line with kids, bills and each others in-laws.

    In other words they only show you the “good” sparkly part where it’s all new, fresh and romantic.

    Whatever you do in life, it takes work, and that seems to be what people don’t like.

    We live in a throw away society where if you don’t like something you throw it away and get something new, …. and unfortunately people are treated much in the same way due to the narcissistic fantasies and selfish leanings of the heart…amongst a whole load of other stuff.

    So if you do not like the one you are with, (or maybe you seen something better) you can just go off and start that again with someone else. And you can blame it on being a hopeless romantic and whatever else out there, but the truth is, relationships take work, dedication, persistence just like running a business or anything else, and it’s not all romance and hearts, it’s ups and downs and a lot of the time just plain and boring….but it is all about team work and what you build together, it’s like an investment… and actually sex is just a bonus, its not what again the media and film industry concoct it all up to be, along with our own distorted and narcissistic fantasies.

    People like to stay in their fantasy worlds and I understand this because it’s nicer and more comfortable there, it’s like a drug, and it “feels better” but they have to ask themselves what are they trying to escape from? It is usually reality they are trying to escape from.

    And the reality is both yourself, and whomever you decide to be with in life, it all takes work and that is actually where the real good stuff lies. Because love deepens, matures and changes over time.

    When you get to see the fruits of your work over time, then this is what it’s actually all about.


    1. I agree, it’s the love that deepens from working through things together that’s where the really special stuff is.

      One of the things that the author mentioned in the book was that romantic love stories have been around for ages, but for a long time, they stayed purely in the realm of fantasy because they were so removed from the reality of people’s lives. I’m sure no one in the Middle Ages with a life expectancy of 30-something years thought that the Lancelot and Guinevere or Tristan and Iseult stories were even remotely relevant to their own marriage partnerships.

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