“How do I know if I’m in the right relationship?” “What if my partner isn’t the right one for me?”
Many people in romantic relationships consider questions like these from time to time. After all, such questions can be helpful to consider, even if anxiety-provoking. Evaluating a relationship can help us to notice how it is or isn’t meeting our expectations or emotional needs. It can also make it easier to tackle relationship obstacles and to identify ways of keeping relationship satisfaction strong.
However, for some people, questions like these are a source of great distress and anxiety. This is the case when these questions become relationship obsessions.
Relationship obsessions are recurrent, intrusive, and distressing thoughts. Relationship obsessions are often hard for the sufferer to stop thinking about. They’re hard to just “let go.” The distress caused by these obsessions pushes people to search for ways to resolve their doubts. This kicks off an unhealthy cycle of striving for certainty, which includes repeated attempts to obtain clear-cut “answers” about a relationship. However, as with many things in life, “what if” questions about relationships cannot always be definitively answered. How can you ever “prove” that you’re really in love, or that a relationship is “right” for you? Searching for answers seems to make sense. However, striving for total certainty about relationship obsessions worsens distress because there are no definitive conclusions.
The good news is that there are effective treatments for people suffering from relationship obsessions. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) helps by teaching individuals how to better tolerate the anxiety they experience when obsessions are present.
For example, with the help of a therapist, someone suffering from relationship obsessions would practice focusing on the fact that perhaps her current relationship is indeed the “right” one, or maybe it isn’t, and that there’s no surefire way she can know. This person would also then try to resist “figuring out” answers to her obsessions. Learning to better tolerate the uncertainty inherent in relationships is an important part of this therapy and can provide relief. While this can be hard to do at first, with repeated practice it can become second nature.
If you feel that “what if” questions about your relationship may be obsessions, or are interfering with your well-being, consider consulting with a CBT professional.