Relationship-Centered and Partner-Focused OC Symptoms

The Association between Relationship-Centered and Partner-Focused OC Symptoms: 

ROCD can involve relationship-centered and partner-focused symptoms. In the following section, we explore the reciprocal associations between these two presentations of ROCD phenomena. We begin by discussing the within-person interplay between relationship-centered and partner-focused symptoms. We then consider the impact of ROCD symptoms on the relationship partner.

Within-person bidirectional infiltration of ROCD symptoms.

Clinical experience and empirical findings indicate that relationship-centered and partner-focused OC symptoms often co-occur. Indeed, the total scores of the PROCSI and ROCI were found to be strongly correlated (e.g., Doron, Derby et al, 2012a, 2012b). Two recent longitudinal studies suggest that these two presentations of ROCD symptoms may fuel each other over time. In one longitudinal study, partner-focused OC symptoms predicted an increase in relationship-centered OC symptoms two months later and vice versa (Doron, Derby et al., 2012b). More recently, these findings were replicated in a one-year longitudinal study (Szepsenwol, Doron & Shahar, 2013).

Partner-focused OC symptoms may exacerbate relationship-centered OC symptoms by increasing doubts regarding the relationship and the relationship quality. As discussed earlier, relationship satisfaction is hampered by partner-focused OC symptoms (Doron, Derby et al., 2012b). ROCD clients tend to interpret the occurrence of intrusions regarding the partner’s flaws as evidence that something is wrong in this relationship. In this way, preoccupations with the partner’s perceived flaws may increase the likelihood of developing doubts regarding the relationship “rightness” and one’s feelings towards the partner. Clinical experience also shows that ROCD clients with partner-focused symptoms often devote increased attention to romantic alternatives and compulsively compare their current romantic partners to these alternatives.  Increased attention to alternatives, when coupled with low relationship satisfaction, is likely to lower relationship commitment (Rusbult, 1980) and foster relationship doubts.

Relationship-centered OC symptoms may promote partner-focused OC symptoms when identifying partner’s deficiencies is used as a means for assessing the rightness of the relationship or one’s feelings towards the partner. As argued above, relationship-centered OC symptoms increase monitoring of internal states and reliance on external “objective” feedback for evaluating one’s own feelings (Liberman & Dar, 2009). For some clients, identification of deficiencies in a partner is used as a proxy for assessing one’s own feelings towards this partner or the relationship. In this way, clients “justify” their doubts and worries by referring to their partner’s “objective” flaws.

Between-person infiltration of ROCD symptoms.

In addition to being self-enhanced within the same person over time, ROCD symptoms may also spread from one person to the next, especially within romantic relationships. That is, a person’s ROCD symptoms may “infect” over time his or her relationship partner, leading to more ROCD symptoms among this partner. Initial findings from an ongoing longitudinal study of dating partners indicate that within a one-month period, relationship-centered symptoms in one dyad member increase relationship-centered symptoms in the other dyad member. At the same time, partner-focused symptoms in one dyad member increase partner-focused symptoms in the other dyad member.

These dyadic effects may result from several ROCD-related processes. For example, having one partner constantly question the relationship may cause the other partner to do the same (e.g., “If he’s unsure of his love for me, how can I be sure?”). In addition, repeated reassurance seeking and compulsive comparisons may increase partners’ monitoring of their own internal states (e.g., “she keeps comparing me to her former boyfriend, but how does she compare to my former girlfriend?”). More generally, the emotional burden laid by one partner constantly questioning the other partner’s character, appearance, or suitability may lead to increased personal stress and higher threat appraisals in the targeted partner, which, in turn, may lead to more ROCD symptoms in this partner. Finally, one partner’s continuous doubting of the relationship may activate preexisting attachment insecurities in the other partner, thereby contributing to the development of ROCD symptoms in this partner.