I found the perfect partner
There are two “lies” that the rOCD brain tells when it comes to evaluating if we are in a relationship with the “perfect” partner:
No.1 If your partner was really meant for you, you would not be feeling any anxiety/having doubts, etc.
No.2 If only my partner had/did not have x, then he/she would be the perfect partner.
Before we go into more detail, we need to first think about what a perfect partner is. If our background is Western culture, then most often than not this notion would be based around the Hollywood myth that you just need to meet the “right” person and everyone will be happy ever after. Other things like education, social status might also be important. If we come from an Eastern or African culture, maybe we will be more concerned about acceptance within our own family and our partner’s family. The point is that there is no universal definition of perfect partner. And there will never be. Why? Because different peoples and cultures will value different things.
OK, now point no.1 – No.1 If your partner was really meant for you, you would not be feeling any anxiety/having doubts, etc. This type of thinking is quite common in rOCD sufferers. In this case, we think that the cause of the problem is basically external and not internal. And the risk here is that we will go from relationship to relationship, trying to find this perfect partner as we believe that the perfect partner would not “give” us anxiety. And to make matters worse, even those that are close to us reinforce this myth. “If x was really meant for you, you would not be feeling or doubting this way”. Having doubts is healthy. Having doubts all the time is unhealthy. At a certain point in the relationship, you will have to take a leap of faith. It happens in all relationships – even those people that do not suffer from rOCD! So, if you find yourself questioning or stuck in an unhealthy way (I call this “spinning the wheels” and not getting to any conclusions), take this as further evidence of OCD at work.
And No.2, If only my partner had/did not have x, then he/she would be the perfect partner. Getting fixated on certain physical, emotional or intellectual attributes to the point of creating even more anxiety, can also be quite common. The number one priority for the anxious OCD brain is to find faults in our partners as these are perceived as danger sources. The brain in its best attempt to protect us, ends up hurting us. So, if you find yourself obsessing about a certain lack of something in your partner for a long period of time, take it as further evidence of OCD. I am not saying that you should ignore values that you consider important in a relationship. I am saying that we need to better distinguish between essentials and non-essentials. What qualities are also important in 20, 30 and 40 years from now?
The bottom line is that no one is the “ready-made” stuff when it comes to relationships. Success in a long-term relationship depends very much wanting to become the perfect partner rather than finding the perfect partner.
In love or not in love? Is it really relationship OCD?
Probably the most common question for an rOCD sufferer is: “is this really rOCD or I have fallen out of love?” I will try to answer this question the best I can below…
- I would start by saying that this is a decision that you make. It might seem counterintuitive but in the end after weighing all of the “evidence” and advice from others, it is your personal decision.
- The question “is this really rOCD?” is a misleading question. What you should be asking is ” is this really OCD?” This is one of the biggest mistakes that people make – not asking the right question. If you understand the difference between these two questions and how it will impact your recovery, you are onto a good start.
- The question “is this OCD?” is a question that should be answered with the help of a professional. I understand that for some of you, it might be difficult or scary to find this help. I would suggest to further educate yourself about OCD, especially the obsessive part of it. With better knowledge will come better understanding.
- The question “have I fallen out of love?” is a difficult and simple question to answer at the same time. This is the paradox of love. This is where most of the rOCD sufferers spend their thinking time. We are multi-dimensional beings and for different people this means different things. There is not one right answer! Some people will put more emphasis on one dimension than the other. Here are some examples of this multidimensionality:
If you are suffering from anxiety, depression and OCD maybe it is unrealistic to expect that you will fully connect with other people on these 4 dimensions. If you are trying to find answers or clues in any of these dimensions, when your “answering device” is not working properly, then most likely you are getting lost in your thoughts even presenting evidence and counter-evidence to yourself! The best solution would be to focus on the first part of the question – the OCD bit not the “r” bit.
Falling out of love
From time to time, I receive an email from someone that is suffering from rOCD asking me if they fallen out of love because they can’t feel anything anymore. I will split this question into two parts: love and lost feelings (or not feeling).
1) Love – one of the biggest mistakes in any relationship is assuming that love is a static entity. What do I mean by this? I mean that we assume that if we find the “right” partner love will develop and flourish by itself and the flames will burn for eternity. This could not be farther away from the truth. Love is not a static entity. Love is a moveable or flexible entity. LOVE IS HARD WORK. If we want to feel more love for someone else, then we need to give more than we normally give. Why do we hear about falling out of love? Because in most cases (excluding abuse and things alike), people at a certain time stopped giving and doing the things that NURTURE the relationship. Routines settled in, bills to pay, other interests, etc. The bottom line is that if you want to have a solid and long-lasting relationship you have to put effort in every day. What starts as seed can only grow stronger if you water and feed it every day. The problem is that we confuse the seed with the fruit.
2) Lost feelings – Can you feel depressed and feel happy at the same time? Can you feel anxiety and love at the same time? With rOCD the centre of our anxiety is our relationship. But the anxiety is not in our partner. The anxiety is inside us. In certain cases, our partners go blissfully unaware of our internal struggles and are very happy in the relationship. The first mistake we make is to try “force” feelings back. We put ourselves into two different situations. For example, we kiss our partner and wait to see how we feel. Or we imagine or see our partner with someone else and see how we react. We do these mental tests that normally do more harm than good because we do not understand a basic principle: We cannot fill a cup that is already full! If we want to regain our ability to feel, first we must get rid of the anxiety that fills our cup.
So, the concept of falling out of love is mostly a Hollywood concept and out of touch with the real world. People do distance themselves through choices they make. If someone works 12 hours a day, hardly sees his wife and spends most of the time interacting with an attractive colleague is it really a mystery finding out why the other person interesting and exciting?
It is even more complicated when we deal with people that suffer from anxiety disorders as another level (or levels) of emotions are layered on top of what we would like or hope to experience.
A while ago, I asked an OCD sufferer to write a list of (misplaced) expectations in regard to her relationship and send it to me. She also kindly agreed to share them on this blog as our discussion might benefit other people. By the way, P did a great job recognising where some of the issues might lie!
I call these the “Hollywood syndrome” – where we set unrealistic expectations based on fairy tale type of relationships only seen in movies. This was one of the things that I had to learn as well!
My replies are in blue (by no means perfect either!).
- I should feel in love with my boyfriend 24/7. Impossible thing – you can’t feel these hormones all the time. Even if you could, you would start getting immune to it. And wanting a higher kick.
- When I have a boyfriend whom I consider to be in love with, hence I should not feel attracted to other guys or find them good looking. Impossible thing no.2. You can’t switch this off. It is like saying “I do not want to feel hunger anymore.”
- If we are having fights over small issues that means we’re not meant to be. A right couple do not fight. Don’t know of any relationship that does not fight from time to time. The issue is how we do it, not that it happens.
- If he is not doing enough things for me, then that means he doesn’t love me as much as I do. I probably should be with someone who does things for me more than I do. This is a communication issue and male/female thing. The important thing is that BOTH are willing to put on the effort to address this.
- I shouldn’t feel bored of him if I love him. If I feel like getting out on my own spending a little time away from him than that must mean I’m bored of him. You don’t stop being an individual when you get into a relationship. You can become more flexible like watching action movies with your boyfriend but you still like your chick flicks…
- I shouldn’t marry him ’cause I already know him so much so after marriage it’ll be all same and boring. (spike given by a friend) – you make the relationship exciting if it needs be. When things tail off – the infatuation feeling – you need to make things kind of happen again. I had a really great time with my wife, playing bowling last week. You have to find the solutions. And you cannot feel excitement all the time, it is not healthy.
- If I move in with him, I’ll get bored cause of living with the same person all the time. Our love might fade away. Yes, or it might grow to a deeper level. It does not grow deeper when people are apart. But it will require work.
- If I find some other guy hot then that must means I’m not in love with my boyfriend 100%. Or it just means that you find the other guy hot.
- If my boyfriend is a bit immature or isn’t up to the level of understanding about life and love and other things then we can’t work out. Every relationship is a compromise. You are not perfect either. But this is the point of love – growing together by means of compromise.
- if I’m looking for signs then that must mean he is not the right one for me. How do I know this is the one for me?Or Is this Mr. Right or Mr. Right-now?!” Maybe I should keep looking for signs. Ultimately, no one knows. No one. Our best bet is to become Mr and Mrs. Right through a lot of work, patience and service. Becoming is reality. Being is fiction.
LOVE IS HARD WORK. By putting two imperfect people together, issues will arise. It is up to us to work out the issues and develop a more fruitful relationship. It will just not happen without any effort.
True Love is a choice
One thing that Hollywood does not teach us is that true love is a choice. Feelings come and go. It is a biological thing. Not a bad thing but we should not expect feelings to be there 24/7. One of my favourite quotes is “Choose your love and love your choice”. Reflect on this statement for a while.
We can’t choose how to feel as this is a biological process. Infatuation and physical attraction are the result of biology. But we can choose when, whom and how to love. This is a choice. It took me a long time to even understand and realise this. We are taught and trained that physical attraction or infatuation = love. This is the result of our society and media.If we think that the “perfect” relationship is feeling good or infatuated about the other person all the time, no relationship is going to be good enough.
CS Lewis wrote many books and one in particular passage in the book Mere Christianity covers the love theme better than anything else I have read. It is particularly relevant to rOCD sufferers; the excerpt reads:
Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also many things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go.
And in fact, whatever people say, the state called “being in love” usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending “They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean “They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably was never was or ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships?
But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself.
They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.
There are at least 4 different themes in each of these 4 different paragraphs (maybe even more!): value-based living, setting realistic expectations, power to make our own choices despite circumstances and keeping our promises and commitments. All these themes are important in any recovery from ROCD.