OCD is a debilitating disorder with a wide variety of obsessional themes. While some OCD themes have been the subject of intense investigations leading to significant theoretical and clinical advancements, research on relationship-related obsessive-compulsive phenomena has only recently begun. In this paper, we presented relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder (ROCD), defined its main features, and described its phenomenology. Measures of ROCD symptom severity were presented and their associations with other OCD themes discussed.
Drawing on recent cognitive-behavioral models of OCD, social psychology and attachment research, we discussed the role of OCD-related beliefs, processes related to dysfunctional monitoring of internal states, and perceptions of relational commitment in the development and maintenance of ROCD. We then implicated pre-existing self-vulnerabilities and attachment insecurities in the exacerbation of common relationship worries into obsessions and evaluated the potential role of personality factors, societal influences, parenting, and family environments in the etiology and preservation of ROCD symptoms. The relational and personal impact of ROCD symptoms and the reciprocal associations between relationship-centered and partner-focused OC symptoms were also discussed. Finally, we reviewed the conceptual and empirical links between ROCD symptoms and related constructs and suggested theoretically driven assessment and interventions procedures.
Although consistent with our theoretical model, this new body of research has several limitations. Many of the proposed factors hypothesized to be involved in ROCD are yet to be empirically evaluated. Furthermore, many studies have been conducted with non-clinical samples. Although non-clinical individuals experience OCD-related beliefs and symptoms, they may differ from clinical patients in the type and severity of symptoms and the resulting degree of impairment. Future ROCD research should include clinical samples. Examining different clinical groups would facilitate the identification of both general and specific factors associated with ROCD symptoms. Laboratory and longitudinal studies should further examine the hypothesized causal and correlational relationships proposed in this paper.
This conceptual framework has focused on a relatively new area of OCD related research. Our aim is to enhance our understanding of OCD phenomena by drawing attention to what we believe is an important OCD theme – relationships. We also identified possible factors that may lead to the development of ROCD. This, we hope, will enable a better understanding of the etiology of ROCD, its development, treatment, and even prevention.
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