Sometimes married clients come in struggling to figure out whether they’re “in love” with their partner or not, even though the partner is nice, stable, and not doing anything wrong? These clients don’t essentially have any complaints about their marriage, but are struggling more with fear about what it means about them and they’re marriage, if they married someone they don’t love, or love someone else more than the person they married.

When I see clients like this, they’re often super anxious, and pretty desperate for me to reassure their questions away; telling them, for example, that it sounds like they “are” in love, or they obviously did pick the right partner, or that they’d have the same questions no matter who they would be with.

In truth, it usually only matters hypothetically if someone is actually “in love” or “picked the right person”, or “loves their partner more than anyone else”, because these clients are almost always totally committed to staying with their partners, and certainly appear to be happy in their marriages and satisfied overall. They are primarily having anxiety about their own doubt and whatever arbitrary scary meaning or interpretation they read into that.

These clients may seem desperate for reassurance to calm their anxiety down, But reassurance isn’t usually the answer when it comes to relationship OCD…it just reinforces the idea that doubt cannot be tolerated, and the overvaluation of the client’s ideas about what their feelings (or lack of feelings) mean.

I usually ask clients whether there’s a practical reason to explore these fears (for example, if they decide they aren’t “in love”, will they want to consider getting divorced, to which the answer is almost always no!) vs. whether thinking about it just leads to unproductive rumination or obsession…because the first step in working through the fear is realizing that the fear is not actually serving them in any concrete way.

The tough part is that our fears can really hijack our minds and it can be so hard to step back and see them for what they are, rather than just reacting to them! Can you relate?