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 Marriage.com 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.