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Relationship OCD (rOCD) – Unwanted Impulses & Images

rOCD (Relationship OCD)

Just like other types of OCD, rOCD can involve unwanted, intrusive impulses and images.


This multi-part series of posts will focus primarily on rOCD, also known as “relationship OCD.” Part 1 focused on obsessive thoughts that are common in rOCD.

This part discusses other relationship OCD obsessions, including intrusive impulses and images.

Part 3 will review common compulsions and avoidance behaviors that are typical in rOCD (relationship OCD).

Part 4 will discuss “Relationship-Focused OCD” more broadly in the context of other types of relationships, including friendships, parent-child relationships, and professional relationships.

As I mentioned in my previous post on rOCD, many people with “relationship OCD” experience recurrent doubts about whether or not they are with the “right” person. Many also infer that if they have doubts about their current relationship, they might secretly want to cheat (or will cheat). They may fear that they will be unfaithful, even if they’re committed to their partner and have no specific desire to cheat. They may believe that unless they can feel 100% certain that they’d never cheat on their partner, they are in the “wrong” relationship.

What Intrusive Impulses/Images Occur in Relationship OCD (ROCD)?

In my previous post, I discussed rOCD obsessions characterized by unwanted thoughts. However, some particularly confusing rOCD obsessions include intrusive impulses or images. These obsessions overlap extensively with the obsessions experienced by those with hOCD (which is more accurately described as “sexual orientation OCD“), pOCD, and other sexually-themed OCD.

Examples of ROCD Unwanted Impulses

ROCD impulses are experienced as distressing and unwanted, although sometimes the individual cannot discern if the impulse is something they actually want to engage in or not. Common OCD impulses in ROCD include:

  • Impulses or urges to kiss someone other than your partner.
  • Urges or impulses to sexually touch someone (other than your partner).
  • Impulses to break up with your partner.
  • Urges to scream or yell at your partner.
  • Unwanted, inappropriate impulses to grab someone’s breasts, buttocks, or genitals.
  • Impulses to cheat on your partner or have sexual contact with someone other than your partner.
  • Impulses to blurt out, “I love you,” to someone other than your partner.
  • Impulses/urges to ask another person out on a date.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Whenever I’m around an attractive man, I feel this overpowering urge to kiss him. These urges have gotten so strong that I’ve started avoiding being one-on-one with my male colleagues. I’m in an amazing relationship and I think I’m in love with my boyfriend, so I can’t understand why this is happening to me. Does this mean that I’m secretly unhappy or want to cheat on him?
          -Maria

These impulses occur in the absence of “true” attraction or a “true” desire to cheat. This is similar to how someone with Pure-O OCD or harm OCD might experience unwanted urges to harm a family member. Likewise, someone with sexual obsessions might experience unwanted urges to do something sexually inappropriate to a child.

Some individuals with relationship OCD also experience their obsessions in the form of intrusive images, which are often sexual or romantic in nature.

Relationship OCD: Unwanted Sexual Images
  • Sexual or romantic imagery associated with an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.
  • Sexual or romantic imagery associated with friends or co-workers.
  • Sexual or romantic imagery associated with strangers.
  • Images of undressing in front of someone other than your partner.
  • Images of performing sexual acts with someone else you find attractive.
  • Intrusive sexual images of other individuals (e.g., seeing yourself having sex with someone else) while being intimate with your partner.
  • Intrusive sexual images of other people having sex with your partner (e.g., previous boyfriends / girlfriends, strangers, etc.).

My wife is the most amazing woman in the world, but I’m plagued by these crazy thoughts about my ex. I can’t stop thinking about having sex with her, and I keep comparing sex with my wife vs. sexual experiences I’ve had with my ex. Does this mean that I’m not over my ex-girlfriend?
          -Kevin

Some images focus specifically on your partner’s sexual history.

I know that my girlfriend is faithful, but I can’t stop thinking about her previous sexual relationships. Is sex with me as good as sex with her ex-boyfriend? Is she as attracted to me as she was to him? She keeps telling me she loves being with me, but I can’t let go of the feeling that she had better sex with her ex. Even though I don’t want to, I find myself interrogating her about the specifics of her previous sexual relationships. I just can’t get over the fact that she has enjoyed sex with somebody else. What’s wrong with me?
          -Chris

ROCD images are unwanted, spontaneous, intrusive, and distressing, and many individuals with ROCD feel intense guilt, shame, and confusion over not being able to control their thoughts.

Questions?  Comments? Do you have relationship OCD (ROCD) characterized by intrusive impulses or images? Sound off below…




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7 Comments

  1. I feel a lot of people have these thoughts, especially about theirs or their partners ex’s, without being classified as having OCD.

    • True. This is a good example of how the content of OCD thoughts isn’t unique to OCD. “OCD” is worth considering only if the experience is sufficiently intrusive, recurrent, and unwanted, and causes significant distress. Moreover, OCD is also typically accompanied by time-consuming compulsions or unhealthy avoidance, which I’ll talk about in the next installment.

  2. I have rocd and find myself feeling numb questioning if I should stay or leave my fiance and last night I felt like I was choking in my sleep some days I don’t sleep I’m anxious just writing this and I’m confused I want to feel back in love again I cry almost every night I’ve been praying I’m scared these thoughts are true

    • ROCD can be tough, but the overarching goal is to work on getting better at accepting uncertainty. ERP, mindfulness, and medication can all be tools to help ease the process.

  3. I have never been officially diagnosed, yet I’ve had almost every obsession and compulsion listed in all my relationships- so far 2. I’ve even broken up twice with my current partner (and the one before him)due to excessive doubts and that sickening feeling and then gotten back together.
    Today I told my therapist that I read a book on OCD- about how to deal with unwanted thoughts- and she told me “you don’t have OCD, why would you read this book?” This response has made me doubt everything. Have I distorted my experiences so much because I want to give my thoughts and feelings a name?

    • Does this person treat a lot of individuals with OCD? Sadly, most therapists are not specifically trained in diagnosing and treating OCD. They may recognize more common types of OCD (handwashing, checking, etc.), but they may not realize that OCD encompasses many, more varied symptom presentations. It might be helpful to get a second opinion so that you can confirm (or rule out) the diagnosis.

  4. i have been with my partner for more than a year now and due to traumatic experiences in her past, she has a hard time giving me oral sex. however, she did it with a guy she was dating shortly before we met. he sent her an extremely dirty sms asking her, when she would do it again for him. i have to admit that i went through her phone early in our relationship and saw that sms and since then, it has been on my mind. i told her and she keeps telling me that she is more attracted to me than to him and that she didn’t like giving him oral sex. in the beginning, i thought i could handle it since oral sex is not my preferred thing, nonetheless i want it from time to time and not receiving it at all while regularly giving it to her makes our sex life seem flawed or incomplete to me. the more time passed, i started having more and more thoughts about her performing it on the other guy and a few months ago i had a meltdown. i told her that i felt that my sexual needs somehow seemed less important than the ones of the other guy and that i had compulsive thoughts about her pleasing him. she said she understood and she would make an effort to overcome her trauma with the issue. i expected her to follow through but nothing happened – our sex remained as it was. don’t get me wrong: i really love having sex with her. today we met a couples’ therapist and she said she was sure that i had relationship ocd. she said that my legitimate sexual need for oral sex and my obsession about past romantic relationships should be seen separately and that i should change my attitude towards the argument. it’s very hard for me to steer my thoughts in a different direction and not to feel jealous for the pleasure she gave to someone else. but i see that my complaining about it puts her under pressure to perform something on me. i feel very torn because i know that i am prone to having mental issues – i have experienced ocd since my early childhood and i think it’s totally possible that this is just a new obsession my brain has turned to. but at the same time i can’t but to feel a sense of justification for my anger about not doing something for me that she has done to someone else who she had only seen a couple of times. has anyone had a similar issue and what did you do to overcome it?

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