• Morgan Boerup

Relationships and mental illness {rocd}

Guess which topic has been flooding my inbox?

One of the most difficult things about mental illness is developing lasting and meaningful relationships. Maybe that's why this is by far the most requested topic flooding my personal inbox and messages. People want to know how to handle ROCD and other mental illnesses that cause excess strain and difficulties in our personal lives.

While I'm no expert, I can share my opinions and experiences as someone who has struggled with relationship OCD, anxiety, and depression. My husband and I have navigated a lot of these issues and are still working on figuring some out.

I posted a question on my Instagram story asking people to write in their concerns and the problems they have run into. I got an overwhelming amount of responses from people who are trying to figure out this basic human need, while maintaining their personal health.

I am so honored and touched that people trust me enough to be so open, and I have personally thought through every single response. These questions will also remain anonymous to protect their confidence.

1. How do I stop analyzing everything I feel towards my partner and identifying my distorted feelings?

An analytical mind is typical for people who are diagnosed with OCD. It makes us great detectives, housekeepers, surgeons, math geniuses, communicators, and yes in some cases artists! However, having such an analytical mind can make our relationships a little trickier.

Something that I have had to adopt into my personal life with Lance is to recognize when I am being too critical and analyzing too much of our relationship. I always find that if I ask myself, "Would I be concerned about this if I did not have OCD?" I am able to let those things go quicker. It doesn't always take away the problem, but it has helped me to recognize when I am being silly about something that really, doesn't mean much.

The second part is identifying feelings. This is VITAL to moving on with OCD. Simply recognizing that you are feeling anxiety can help you identify that you are having an episode of ROCD and need to take every thought with a grain of salt. Identifying positive feelings is also important. Far too often our memories are skewed to remember the worst feelings and experiences we have had with our partners. Our minds are constantly looking for the next worry, so we can fall into our normal cycle of worrying yet again, but that is self sabotage. It gets us no where.

Next time you are having a sweet or enjoyable moment with your loved one, take a minute and be mindful of what is going on. If they are giving you a hug after a difficult day, take a moment and actually feel the hug. Feel the warmth, hear their heart beat, and breathe in their scent. Use your sense to be present, and next time you start obsessing about the bad, you can recall the good.

2. Is it normally to feel guilty when I want to hang out with my friends instead of my partner? Shouldn't I only want to hang out with my partner 24/7?

While it is normal to have a "honeymoon" stage in every relationship (the stage where you literally are glued to one another's side and spend every second of the day together) that stage ends for everyone.

But guess what, that is okay! In fact, it's healthy. I personally think that that growth leads to an even more satisfying and enjoyable relationship where trust, communication, comfort, and growth occurs. So, if you are just starting a new relationship, it is probably less likely that you will hang out with friends over your partner; that will change. And it's okay.

Something else to consider is that the honeymoon stage is different for everyone. Seem people go a few years into their relationship in this phase, while others only last a couple months.

Lance and I had a shorter honeymoon phase. We were probably in it until a few weeks after we got back from our actual honeymoon. We have had friends who stayed in that phase for months longer. Does that mean that mine and Lance's relationship is any less meaningful or real than our friends? Absolutely not! Our relationships were just growing at different paces. (Now, Lance and I are content with doing a few activities in the evening together after school, and then I go read and he plays video games for a bit until bed!)

I would recommend that you DO take some time for yourself so you avoid the risk of being defined by your relationship. My husband and I are 100% invested in our marriage, but we have identities other than "Lance's wife" or "Morgan's husband". He's an engineer and automotive junkie. I'm a photographer and creative. We are both committed but unique and that is what makes relationships so beautif

3. How do I differentiate and know what I'm feeling is my real feeling or my OCD?

This is the trickiest question for me to answer because I still feel like I am trying to figure it out. It's also difficult to answer because everyone has different feelings, thoughts, and reactions, so what works for me may not be as effective for you and vice versa.

However, I have been able to find ways to ease some of the anxiety of "me or OCD". It's taken years and years of therapy, meditation, discussion, and soul searching. It is still a work in progress. But I'll be happy to share what I have found:

- From my religious beliefs, I have come to the conclusion that peace, long suffering, goodness, meekness, love, and gentleness are the indications that something is good or true (Galatians 5). I use this as a corner stone in identifying what I believe to be true and what my mind is trying to tell me is true. I don't believe anxiety is something that a loving God would make me feel to give me answers or directions.

-OCD attacks what we hold dear and what we value most. If I am panicked over something, and it goes against what I believe to be true, it is almost 99% of the time my OCD and my fear of going against those inherent beliefs.

4. How do I not let other's opinion of my partner feed my obsessions?

I had people say the rudest things about my husband to me when we were engaged. They took it upon themselves to be critics of him, our relationship, our ages, and everything else. Someone once even criticized the length of our relationship to me. These all came at the most difficult point of my ROCD. These comments, as rude and unnecessary as they were, still fed into my issues.

I had to take a step back and look at what was going on. Other people's negativity and rudeness was negatively affecting me. These people were not close friends and quite frankly were toxic to my relationship with Lance. At this point I had to make a decision, listen to the negative and toxic people and let it ruin my relationship, or ignore them and focus on the reasons I love Lance.

At this point I started a list I kept on my phone. This list was full of reasons that I love Lance and why I was grateful to have him in my life. Writing down my thoughts and actually vocalizing my gratitude to him or about him, made me realize how much I loved him. I was able to realize that other people's opinions of him didn't matter at all, and that the only thing that mattered was my opinion of him.

It's sad that people think it's okay to vocalize their opinions and try to hurt you, but it is part of life and something we all have had run ins with. But that doesn't make it okay. Remember how this made you feel and refrain from doing the same to someone else. Those things do nothing but damage relationships with others.

5. How do I know if my interactions with members of the opposite sex are inappropriate?

This question referred to a fear of cheating on their partner. There's a definite difference between thinking you did something inappropriate with the opposite sex, and actually doing something inappropriate.

Talking to members of the opposite sex is normal and part of life. I have friends who are males and enjoy their company. However, to avoid any awkward situations, I only hang out with these males with my husband. I would never want to put myself or my husband in a situation where my loyalties would be questioned.

There are circumstances that can't be helped. Maybe it's at work or for a project and you are paired with a member of the opposite sex. Sometimes it can't be helped. But there are things that you can do to keep your interactions appropriate (keeping the door open, staying in open rooms, not flirting/giving the wrong impression, etc).

If you are refraining from become physically or emotionally involved with someone other than your partner, than you should not question your every move. Physical involvement is always easy to spot and avoid, but emotional involvement may be a little more difficult. My opinion of emotional involvement is getting very attached and dependent on someone other than your partner. It's not talking, laughing, joking, communicating, or enjoying your time with your friends. It is much more intense and real.

Talking with others besides your partner is healthy and okay. Overthinking and analyzing everything you say and do is NOT.

I believe that most of us know deep down that we are fine, but are just looking for a reason to stress, even if we don't realize it. It is my belief that you will know if you cheated or did something inappropriate. I don't think that it would be a ruminating and freaking out feeling. I think it will be a feeling of knowing what you did was wrong and a genuine sorrow for your actions. It would eat away at you for weeks on end, not just disappear after the anxiety leaves.

6. Is obsessing about my partner's past and needing to know every detail apart of ROCD?

I have come to learn that there are so many different definitions of what ROCD is. ROCD can be about your relationship, your attraction to your partner, and how healthy your relationship is. But, ROCD can also be about your partner's past, your partner's personality, your past and personality, their family, strange thoughts about your partner or their family, issues with approval from others about your relationship, validation, religious fears, and so many other things.

My rule of thumb about OCD is this; "If it is affecting my thoughts about a particular subject (such as my marriage) and I am having strange thoughts and obsessions, it is my OCD."

Experts are still figuring out all the obsessions and compulsions that come with OCD. It is still a very new field that is being discovered.

7. I had doubts in my relationship which makes me doubt whether or not my intentions were good or bad.

Let me let you in on a little secret. I had doubts going into my marriage. I had doubts even dating my husband. Life is full of doubt. Relationships are full of doubts. Nothing is certain and we don't have a perfect knowledge of how our relationships will work out.

Honestly, if you were with anyone else, you would still have doubts. You would still have obsessions. It's not the person that is causing these obsessions and doubts, it's a chemical imbalance with your brain. Even if you were with the perfect person, you would still doubt.

But guess what? You can move past it.

I reached a certain point in my engagement with my husband that I had to realize that I needed to live with the uncertainty. I need to live with the anxiety and not label it as bad. I had to trust my relationship with Lance and who he is and who I am. I had to let all the other stuff go.

Having doubts does NOT make you unworthy of your partner. It does not make your intentions bad. It does not make you a liar or a bad person. It makes you human.

8. What are good affirmations for ROCD?

I have always been told that good affirmations attack your doubts. Look in the mirror and tell yourself the opposite of what you fear and feel the anxiety slowly start to recede.

Here are some ideas of good affirmations:

1. I love my partner.

2. I trust my partner.

3. I know that I can rely on my relationship with my partner.

4. I know my partner is not perfect, but that is okay. I am not perfect either.

5. I know my partner and I have a reliable relationship that brings me joy.

And any other fears that you may have! Look yourself in the eyes and say what is true.

9. Did you ever have a hard time with your engagement and getting married because of ROCD?

Yes. Absolutely. I had a lot of conversations with my husband (and the poor guy stuck around!) and had to figure out what the heck was going on.

My religious beliefs lead me to believe that marriage is forever and not something to be entered into lightly. Unless there are specific circumstances, marriage is not something that should end in divorce. Marriage is something that should be fought for and enjoyed.

I was 18 when I got engaged. I was still learning about the depths of OCD and wasn't sure what was going on. All I knew was that I was doubting. I was stressing. I was about ready to back out a few times, and at other times I just wanted to elope and get the whole thing over with!

I started having doubts until my mom sat me down and told me that I needed to make a decision and stick to it. My stresses were not fair to my fiance or myself. I needed to pray about it, do some soul searching, figure out what I want, and make the decision and let the rest go.

I took that to heart and followed her advice. I meditated and prayed about my concerns and found peace. I felt the goodness and love from Lance and felt everything mentioned in Galatians 5.

But I also felt good in my heart. I felt comfortable around Lance. I had a deep friendship with him. I had a feeling of love around him. I felt safe, understood, and total relaxed with Lance. Lance met all my needs- loyalty, trust, honesty, compassion, respect, and love. Those are the things that matter most to me, and as soon as I realized this, I realized that I already knew my answer deep down.

10. How do you know if it is ROCD and not just the end of love? Can I fall back in love with my partner? Is the anxiety not just a signal that we need to end the relationship (I hope not!!!)

With this question, I like to point out that the hope that the relationship is not over, tells me a lot. Hoping that the relationship isn't over, fear of loosing the person, and a desire to remain/get back together are all good indicators that the doubts are coming from your anxiety and OCD, and not stemming from your actual relationship.

ROCD is the constant nagging fear and obsessions. ROCD never lets your mind rest. The end of love is apathy, discontent, or maybe even disgust. The end of your love for a person will not rattle around your head. The break up might, but your actual recognition of your lost feelings will not cause you anxiety. You will just simply realize that things have changed.

11. Did you ever worry that it was God telling you not to be with your partner? Or feel anxious that when you prayed it would be God telling you to break up?

Yes. I have worried about this. If you are religious and have OCD, it may be difficult not too. But I have some beliefs that help me rationally think through everything.

I believe God to be my literal Heavenly Father. I believe He has the attributes of a perfect father. He is perfectly patient, loving, understanding, and compassionate to each of us and our circumstances. Going off of that thinking, if I am happy and following God's commandments, why would I have worries as an answer to break up with my partner?

Anxiety and worries are not answer to prayers, so that wouldn't make sense. If we are prompted to break up with our partners, it would be through love and compassion- just like a perfect parent would caution us.

12. How do you distinguish between God and your OCD?

I have had the confusion and questioning of what comes from God and what comes from me. For this instance, I refer again to Galatians 5 (can you tell it's one of my favorites?), anxiety is not listed from God. Peace, calm, love, meekness, etc. are what comes from God.

Now, is it possible to feel anxiety at the answer you receive? That, I am not so sure about. I still struggle with identifying that. But I do know that the answer from God will be clear and follow the principles listed in that scripture.

13. Do you ever obsess that God won't approve of your marriage?

No, I personally have not had this worry. I have confidence that my marriage is approved in God's eyes.

I think what this boils down to, is making sure that you are following God's commandments and going about things that would glorify Him.

14. What if God has someone else for me?

This is something that has caused a lot of sleepless nights for many people. There is a saying that applies perfectly here, "The grass is greener where you water it."

I believe if you find someone who matches the qualities that you value most, loves you, is dedicated to you and wants the best for you; you can't go wrong.

Don't make long unattainable lists of "things my partner must have". Lists cause nothing but heartache and sadness. Instead, decide what values matter most to you, and use that as a litmus test.

God will provide people in your lives that can help you. He will provide the right person at the right time. Keep an open heart and be full of faith.

15. At what point do I bring up my anxiety, depression, and PTSD to a guy that I am interested in?

I waited a while to bring up my mental illnesses to Lance. I don't think that this is something that should be brought up within the first few dates unless it is obvious (i.e. counting out loud, repeating words, brushing things off repeatedly, etc.) and even then there is no need to go into depth about it.

I do believe in letting the person into your world bit by bit. There is NO need to bombard them with all of your problems all at once. Letting them in bit by bit can let them take the information and sort through it. They can decide for themselves if this is something that they can be supportive through.

It is so scary to open up about mental illness. But, if you are entering into a serious and committed relationship, it is important to disclose this. You never want to keep this hidden because not only is it dishonest to the other person involved, but you are hiding a big part of your life from them (and you shouldn't EVER have to hide that from the people who love you).

By the time Lance mentioned that he wanted to get married, I decided it was time to open up and let him into my world. Slowly I disclosed more and more information until he had a good picture of what my brain looks like. It was so scary but also relieving to be open and honest. Because of how I approached the subject, Lance was able to sort through all the info and support me through it.

16. How do you work on recovery for ROCD? What does your OCD recovery plan look like?

Recovery for ROCD has been a rocky road for me. While I have not had this as my singular fear for many years now, I have bouts of it to this day. I still have the list I started while I was engaged to Lance, full of reasons why I love him. When I am struggling with ROCD, I read it and find something new to add to the list.

Things have changed for me since I am married. I am someone who believes marriage is for forever. Marriage requires work, but so do relationships. You have to be willing to work hard at your relationship and let go of things that cause you anxiety.

ROCD requires you to look beyond your doubts and into the heart of your partner. It requires affirmations to yourself and your partner. It involves open communication and discussion. It thrives when you doubt and ruminate and hide from your issues. Facing the fear head on is the only way to diminish it.

Facing your fear and communicating when you are struggling does not mean that you need to disclose every thought and doubt to your partner. You don't want to cause your partner to doubt themselves or their faults. Pick and choose what to disclose and at what time. This is key in your obsessions being received for what they are- obsessions.

My OCD recovery plan is simple. Take it day by day. Say affirmations, hold onto your beliefs, remember who YOU are (not who OCD tries to say you are), trust your loved ones, and try to face the monster each and every day.

I hope this helps all of you who struggle with ROCD and navigating relationships with mental illness. I know first hand how painful this can be. It's full of highs and lows but that's okay. That's just recovery.

Choose happiness,


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