On today’s episode, I am joined by Samara Lane, a relationship and ROCD coach.
Samara shares her healing journey through relationship OCD. We also talk about how to overcome anxiety and OCD in relationships.
How does OCD manifest in relationships?
How to distinguish OCD from real feelings?
What can cause OCD to develop in relationships?
Some helpful ways to help you cope with anxiety and OCD in your relationship.
More Episodes on OCD:
26. A Personal OCD Story of Experiencing God’s Presence and Grace with Peyton Garland
13. Panic Attacks, OCD, and God: A Personal Story with Mitzi VanCleve
8. One Therapist’s Story of Discovering Her Scrupulosity OCD with Rachel Hammons
Carrie: Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD episode 88. I didn’t plan it this way, but it just so happens that this episode is coming out around Valentine’s Day and it’s on anxiety and relationship OCD, so that seemed to just gel together well. I have on the show with me today, Samara Lane, who is a relationship anxiety and ROCD coach.
Been wanting to, for a little while have this episode about relationship OCD because it’s a very hot topic. First of all, a lot of people don’t even know that it exists. Am I correct?
Samara: That is very correct. Including the people that start experiencing all the symptoms and wondering what’s wrong with them.
Carrie: Right. There’s this very stereotypical view of OCD that it’s somebody like Monk that you see on TV concerned about germs and concerned with order and cleanliness of things, but that’s really only one subtype of OCD. There are several different subtypes, so it’s often that people will believe like, “Hey, I have anxiety,” and certainly anxiety in OCD are very related.
But often I have people come to me and say, “Hey, I have this anxiety.” They start telling their story and then I realize, do you know that you’re actually having obsessions? These types of thoughts and, do you know that what you’re doing, intense Googling on the internet that’s actually a compulsion or seeking reassurance from your partner all the time is a compulsion and they don’t realize that until somebody kind of puts a name and a label to things and it helps so much being able to know kind of how to move forward with that.
Samara’s Personal Relationship Story
You have your own personal relationship story about what led you to become an anxiety and relationship OCD coach. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Samara: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it was my own journey through Helen back really, because I’ve never experienced suffering as much as I have with really intense spikes of OCD.
I’m sure all of your listeners can relate to that. For me, it comes on differently for everyone. It came on the worst, the biggest initial spike that made me realize, oh, there’s something going on here, was actually right before and during my partner’s proposal. I could tell, I just knew that he was about to propose and I had this wave of anxiety.
We were at this beautiful, lovely dinner he’d planned for us. Many years ago, and I remember being flooded with thoughts like, oh no, I have to decide the rest of my life right now, and what if this is the wrong choice? Or what if I’m settling? There are some things that aren’t perfect in the relationship. So much pressure.
I felt I was hyperventilating, gonna have a panic attack while he pulled out the ring and pops the question, and I said yes in the moment. And I think also because the anxiety was so intense now in hindsight, the OCD thoughts were so intense, I felt really guilty and like I was faking it when I said yes, because there were so many doubts coming up.
So I felt like I was lying and just saying what he wanted to hear, but I was like, yes, and then I was like, I need to go home, I need to sit down. It really our engagement, our proposal ended with both of us sitting on the kitchen floor, and I was crying and doing all the compulsions without realizing it, seeking reassurance, confessing everything, telling him all of my nitpicking, intrusive thoughts, all of my doubt.
That, of course, didn’t feel good to him. I don’t recommend doing that. And it wasn’t really the romantic engagement experience that either of us had planned on, and up until this point we’d been together for over two years and we lived together. And the relationship was great, right? We wanted to be together, but it felt such, it just whew flooded me most people do.
Yes, it was an unconscious compulsion. I just started Googling. I was like, what the heck is wrong with. And fortunately, at least the one good thing that can come from our initial Googling is finding help and finding education, realizing that we’re not crazy, we’re not alone, this is a thing. Relationship anxiety and relationship OCD are a thing.
I’m so grateful that relationship OCD is now even a term and is even recognized by so many more people as a subtype, because for me, this was 12 or more years ago, I don’t even remember, 13 years ago, maybe now, I didn’t see anything on relationship OCD back then. It was one person was talking about relationship anxiety and had a blog and that was it.
But yeah, that really started my journey and I cut a long story short, I felt like I tried everything under the sun to feel better. I read books, I saw therapy and counseling. I took courses, and really was through trial and error because I didn’t have a set system that was proven that I knew would work. And frankly, I didn’t know if what resources were available to me, even if there were any back then.
So just doing my best, I pieced together a system that really freed me. It takes time, of course it takes a lot of practice cause we’ve been doing these OCD tendencies for so long. But that’s the practice I now teach my clients. I certainly wish that I had known then what I know now, right? I would’ve saved me years of suffering because it was years, it was many years that I suffered without really knowing how to handle it.
And now it’s night and day different of course, but it was really hard.
How Does OCD Show up in Relationships?
Carrie: I’m curious, before this manifested in terms of your relationship with your fiance, did you have other concerns about other relationships? Like close friends, teachers, family members?
Samara: Yeah, like anxiety with other types of relationships?
Great question, and one that I’ve done a lot of reflection on, and in hindsight, absolutely. I never thought of it this way because I think it stayed mild or moderate enough that I just kind of coped and worked, tried to cope, if that makes sense. But yeah, I look back and I see now there have always been tendencies to like, oh, my best friend gets me really angry.
Well, maybe I just don’t wanna be her friend anymore. Running away and avoiding the things that are triggering or upsetting or make me feel bad. And I did this in lots of romantic relationships with past partners as well.
Carrie: Avoidance is definitely a big piece of anxiety and OCD that people have to work through. And it’s hard because the natural tendency when we feel discomfort is to say, “Hey, let me pull away from that.” But it only feeds and heightens anxiety and OCD more to avoid things. I call it the avoidance cycle. It’s like the avoidance confirms that you really do have something to be afraid of versus facing that fear and walking into it, even though you feel uncomfortable helps you know, I really can do this.
I can handle this situation that I don’t feel I can handle. I’m curious as far as when you’re talking with somebody, because it’s normal. Everyone who’s been in a romantic relationship knows that maybe if you’re looking at getting married, it’s normal to have what people cold feet before the wedding, have some trepidation.
It is a big commitment and we should take that seriously. Now, how does somebody know? Is it at a level of where it’s a problematic versus this is just kind of normal relationship concerns that everybody goes through?
Samara: Such a good question and one that we really struggle with when we’re trying to discern what’s the anxiety and what are legitimate issues or challenges that we’re having.
I think you’re absolutely correct when making a big life choice, especially for those of us that are prone to OCD tendencies or anxiety, of course we tend to overthink, but even anyone without OCD or anxiety is going to possibly, potentially have cold feet, like you said there. And all relationships have challenges.
Me and my partner have had to work a lot on communication, work a lot on how do we navigate a relationship and a partnership? How do we navigate conflict? So those are really common challenges that aren’t red flags. They’re just part of being in a relationship, and tends to happen when there’s anxiety is it triggers us.
It spikes something within us. It could be thoughts without sensations. It could be sensations without thoughts. It could be both together. Sensations, meaning facing heart, panic, fear, things like that. And our body it’s different in the sense that, how we are responding to it. It’s not just like, oh yeah, we had an argument earlier.
I think we’ll revisit that soon and maybe we continue talking about that and working through it together. The average non OCD mind might think, for us, it’s more common if we’re in the ROCD to go immediately into, oh, it’s a bad sign. Maybe I don’t love them anymore. Or maybe we’ll never make it work.
Maybe I’ve made a terrible mistake. Maybe I’ve already wasted the best years of my life trying to be with the wrong person. Maybe we need to break up, even though I don’t want to, there’s a part of me that really doesn’t want to, even though there’s also a part of me that feels that’s the only answer is to break up.
And so it’s this back and forth, this inner war within ourselves. I hate to use the word red flag because I think that alone can be so overused and misconstrued and highly triggering. The things we would wanna take really seriously are things untreated addiction, or any kind of true abuse or ongoing repeated dishonesty or cheating or something like that, of course, and anyone would wanna take those seriously. But those aren’t the things that relationship anxiety gloms onto.
It gloms onto the minutiae. One more thing I can share about this real quick is there’s two sides to the relationship anxiety to the ROCD coin. One side is the I’m not enough, and that’s how it’s expressed. It’s a little more obvious in a way, easier to tell. This is a “me” thing, this is about my relationship with myself.
For those who have ever experienced, oh, my partner hasn’t texted me back. Do they like me? Do they love me? Something changed. For example, the other side of the relationship, anxiety coin expresses itself as what if my partner’s not enough? Or what if my relationship isn’t enough? What if this life choice isn’t enough?
And at the root of it, it still actually is an US thing, and it’s very clever how the ROCD is expressing itself, but that’s when we have intrusive thoughts like, am I settling? Is there someone I’d be a better match with? Am I really attracted to them? Do I really love them? I don’t feel the way I thought I should feel courageous enough to keep going within and practicing our mindfulness and our awareness, we’ll see Aha.
Underneath this as really, again, the same, oftentimes the same core issue. Am I enough? Is my choice enough? Am I safe? Is there danger? I must protect myself.
How People with OCD View Conflict in Relationships
Carrie: The need for safety, getting down to the root of the issue and feeling, unsafe. Not necessarily because your relationship is unsafe, like you talked about. We’re not talking about relationships that are abusive and clearly unsafe. We’re talking about safe relationships, but our perception due to intrusive thoughts can really get that shaken up and make it feel unsafe when actually it’s okay. For example, conflict, all relationships have conflict, but if you have this high level of anxiety, Intrusive thoughts, conflict can feel 10 times more threatening than it does to the average person. So you have to kinda learn how to deal with those things and how to navigate that.
How long have you been together with your husband now?
Samara: It’s starting to be easy to lose count. We became a couple 13 years ago, almost 12 and a half years ago. We’ve been married for over eight of those years now.
Carrie: Was it a big learning curve for him to learn kind of how to navigate some of these issues?
Samara: Oh yes, absolutely. And bless him. Not everyone has his experience, but he was so confident in us and remained so confident and committed to us that even if I was in the early days of it, seeking reassurance or confessing doubts, he’d be I think it was more so confusing doubts.
I don’t know about this. Are you sure he’d. Oh, I’m positive. We’re great. We’re gonna do wonderful. And of course then my OCD just instead of feeling grateful, it was just, well, he’s too confident. I don’t really trust his judgment. Yes. But he has been such a rock, really forgiving.
There have been times when what I expressed was really hurtful and really hurt him deeply and emotionally, and he has just stayed committed. I’ve done a beautiful job of just trying not to take it personally, acknowledging this is a thing and being honest with me about his feelings and how it affects him, right?
I definitely learned early on not to divulge all the things anymore.
Carrie: I’m curious your process on, and I have some thoughts about this as well. How do you feel this develops, or where do you feel comes from the bent towards relationship OCD specifically and anxiety?
Samara: Totally. Yes. I would say attend a predisposition to OCD.
Not all of my clients, but I know for me, as an example, when I was little, in hindsight I didn’t know what was going on, but I had pure o and I was, ruminating and very really worried about moral scrupulosity if I’m saying that term correctly, something wrong, oh, I have to confess to my mom right away, and then I’d get immediate relief from it.
So I see those tendencies in me from a young age. So just in general, it can be a predisposition to OCD. In general, oftentimes people have had other OCD themes and then it switches to ROCD or vice versa, or maybe they just always had social anxiety, and now suddenly it’s expressing as a more severe form of OCD or more noticeable form, other things that it can come from.
So again, just like biology, how are wired, right? Do we have anxiety in our history? Do we have any predisposition to this. I also often see that there is some wounding, some emotional wounding that could be trauma, big or small, even things that we don’t necessarily think of as trauma. Sometimes they’re very clear cut and dry, but it could be when you got teased on the school bus, and that is still this unhealed part of our shadow self, right?
Our inner child that’s really needing that love and compassion and healing. It can also be even wounds in our adulthood. If our last relationship or one of our prior relationships ended badly or painfully. That can certainly affect things, attachment styles, anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, disorganized, any kind of insecure attachment.
We sometimes see as a factor. Also, just general life stressors, right? If we have a predisposition to OCD, then if we’re in college and it’s really stressful or we’re moving or switching careers. Life stressors can just bring up this feeling of being unsafe or unsettled or in limbo. And then often it just wants to glom onto something outside of ourselves.
Oh, it’s the relationship. I know it is. It must be the relationship. I’ve had a moment of clarity. So there’s a lot of different things. And then even just when we are struggling with our self-esteem or self-trust or self-worth, I have seen that play a role in it as well. Could be one, it could be a variety of those things.
Carrie: I’m glad that you brought up a few different things there in terms of work with a lot of people that have kind of an OCD and a trauma overlap connection. Yes, there is that propensity towards OCD, but then there’s also these wounding childhood experiences. Sometimes it’s not as dramatic as abuse or sometimes it is.
Sometimes it’s not as big as being physically, or emotionally abused or something like that. Sometimes it’s more what you didn’t get. It’s more the lack of somewhat of an emotional neglect or the lack of engagement by caregivers or others when you needed it the most. And we’re looking at not just what did people receive, but what did they not receive in relationships.
And there can be a fear of vulnerability of getting too close to somebody. And so then if I have to kind of find a way my brain’s trying to protect me and find a way that I won’t get hurt again. So I’ve gotta kind of push back against that and, oh, there must be something wrong or must be something nitpicky about this relationship that needs to be fixed or worked on. It also can be a perfectionistic tendency because we think, oh, well this happened, or they did this small thing to hurt us, and they may hurt us in a really big way. Or maybe it means they’re not gonna be faithful in the future because of this one little thing that they did to hurt my feelings. That type of thing kind of blows up. So I think we have to conceptualize that anxiety in any form is trying to keep us safe from hurt. And that’s especially true in the relationship OCD aspect and past romantic relationships, whether it was a divorce. Whether it was a bad breakup, whether it was a toxic, narcissistic relationship that you got out of. Those are some deep wounds that can last for much longer than we would like them to.
That needs some healing and needs some attention. We can’t just gloss over that and say, well, now I’m with Joe over here and he’s nothing like Bob. He’s not hurting me, or he’s not abusing me. Yes, you can tell your brain that, but your body may still be going haywire. This is unsafe. I know from our conversations before you said, I’m not a Christian, but I have a lot of coaching clients who are Christian.
What have you seen in Christian clients specifically that are struggling with this relationship? Anxiety, OCD?
Samara: It can feel, the number one that comes to mind is this fear and this feeling or belief that this is God saying that they’re not the right person. And how do you know? Sometimes there can also be a lot of guilt.
I seem to have lots of clients that find me, not all, but some of them may be exploring. They’re doing their religion, they’re practicing their faith maybe a little differently than how they were raised. They can also just feel this guilt and shame and is this relationship bad? Or if they have premarital sex.
Then they can really feel a lot of guilt and shame around that. It can really fuel a lot of the OCD if that’s not something that they believe is right. But the number one that I see is, how do I discern between, is this God telling me this isn’t my person, versus this is just anxiety.
Carrie: That’s a really huge one that I run into and hear a lot is people say, is this God or is this OCD or is it the devil?
What is this that’s going on in my mind? How do you help people discern some of that?
Samara: I think each of us, it’s really coming to our own discernment and understanding and what resonates with us, what my clients have found most helpful and what I personally believe is God doesn’t communicate through OCD.
Carrie: That’s not God.
Samara: It is different. And the more we learn about OCD mind, as I’m sure so many amazing listeners here, learn from you all the time and how it works and the signs that we’re having, intrusive thoughts, signs that we’re doing compulsions and feeding the cycle, the more easily it’s we’re able to identify this is the pattern, this is the thing, and that’s not God.
I believe that God communicates, God can communicate in a firm way sometimes, but not through riddling us with crippling fear. And I believe that God is a really loving being and force that is there to meet us with compassion as we’re going through these things, not to beat ourselves up. That’s really the mind.
Carrie: Absolutely. I like how you put that. I know you mentioned mindfulness a little bit earlier. Is that something that you practiced as part of your process?
Samara: Absolutely. Yes. It’s such a critical part of it. The way that I love to think about it and describe it is when we’re in the active OCD thoughts and panic, it’s we have forgotten that there’s just a story playing in our mind.
It might as well be a movie that we’re watching, but we’ve gotten so sucked in and hooked by it that we feel like we’re a character. We think the movie is real, right? It’s like a bad dream. Like, oh no, all these bad things are true or might be happening or might happen in the future, and we forget that we’ve just fallen into this story that’s totally made up.
It’s just a story and that we have the choice and the ability to step back and really look at the thoughts, watch what the mind is doing, observe the judgments that it’s making, observe the sensations and emotions in our bodies and just let the movie play without hooking into it.
Carrie: Almost like you fall down into this Alice Wonderland world. But everything feels super real when you’re in the midst of the OCD thought storm. That’s definitely relatable, I think to a lot of our listeners who have experienced that. I think this has been very informative for us because a lot of people may be listening to this and realizing I didn’t realize that those were OCD obsessions that I was actually having about my relationship, and now this will be able to help them kind of find a pathway towards healing as I think is really important.
Samara: Absolutely. I mean, I suppose the good news, if there is any, is ROCD is a subtype of OCD, like you said, and so we heal it in a lot of ways, just like we would other types of OCD. It can, I think one of the trickier parts about it is all the societal conditioning that is so perpetuated and prevalent in movies and media and Hollywood and fairytale stories that we grew up with, and social media memes all over the place.
So weeding through the relationship myths and really unlearning and debunking those along with, like you said, any trauma or wounding, whether around relationships or really anything that’s coming up around this. Usually, it is related to other people. In my opinion these are what make ROCD one of the most, if not the most complex OCD subtype to weed through, because we’re also sent all these messages that no, doubt means don’t you really do have to leave. You should leave. I would leave, right?
And that’s a lot to weed through, but it’s a beautiful invitation and doorway to breaking free, recognizing and breaking free from the OCD cycle and practicing deeper and greater levels of self-trust because no one knows what’s best for you, better than you do.
Carrie: At the end of the podcast, I like to ask our guests to share a story of hope, which is a time in which you received hope from God or another person, since we’re called Hope for anxiety in OCD.
Samara: I’d be happy to share. I’m sure there are so many that I could, the one that’s coming to my mind really has to do with my relationship, but not necessarily the ROCD because it happened after I had really come to a level of mastery around the ROCD.
But a while back, my husband, he actually has diagnosed OCD and ADHD. We’re a fun bunch over here sometimes , and he had a really rough mental health year after just a trying time in his life and just his mental health was really struggling. I noticed the toll that it was taking on me and our family, and there was a point at which I just felt some hopelessness as a part of me that knew.
Of course, we’re gonna get through this. Of course, a resilient human, everything will work out and be okay. But it’s almost it was more a surrender. I don’t know how to solve this. I’ve tried everything I can. It’s really many ways out of my control. And I wrote a letter to God and I just journaled and wrote out in present tense words like how I was deciding my life was now, and the ease around it and the joy around it.
And not that it was perfect at all, but there was a lot of connection and it felt really healthy and grounded for me, for him, for a kid for everyone. I believe that this wasn’t a coincidence. Literally two, three weeks later, his prescription that he had changed . This was a prescription that is really common.
It’s always been known about his psychiatrist, already knew about it. And he just got on this prescription that managed it to an extent that it was night and day different. He was then able to, the tools that he uses to manage and regulate himself were finally working. I’m not saying medication is for everyone, but I felt my letter had been received and then just kind of forgot I even wrote the letter.
The energy of practicing that surrender and being it’s, I can’t do this alone. I need help. Our family needs help. My husband is really in pain and struggling and just seeing the difference night and day and seeing him just feeling so much better. It’s been a gift and a blessing.
Carrie: Thank you for sharing that.
Glad that your husband is doing better too. Well, it was great having you on the show today and sharing your wisdom and having a dialogue about this. I think it’s an important conversation. And what better time to put it out than around Valentine’s Day?
Samara: Exactly. A triggering time here for many.