How Repetitive Compulsion Can Affect Your Relationship

Updated September 24, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Robin Brock

Repetitive compulsion is a psychological compulsion to repeat something over and over again. For example, putting yourself in the same situation often when you know it is not a healthy decision. In the case of relationships, you may be drawn to individuals who are not good for you, such as abusive or controlling partners. This can be seen in those with post-traumatic stress disorder but are more likely to sign repetitive-compulsive behavior.

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Sigmund Freud’s Theory Of Repetition Compulsion

In his paper ‘Remembering, Repeating and Working,’ Sigmund Freud termed the phrase repetition compulsion and claimed different types of this compulsion. In the first case, the individual with the repetitive compulsions does not know they are repeating them. Freud believed this was an unconscious repetitive pattern done without thought. However, he thought there was another form of repetition compulsion that is more thoughtful. For example, when a baby throws its toy out of the crib and cries for it. When the baby notices that their parent or someone else will pick up the toy and give it back, they repeat the behavior as entertainment. Another form of repetition compulsion was an act of a repressed past, in which the person repeated repressed experiences from the past instead of just remembering them. Finally, Freud’s last theory was neurosis. Similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder, Freud believed this character trait was part of an individual’s personality.

Relationship Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

When it comes to relationships, there is a special type of obsessive-compulsive disorder called relationship obsessive-compulsive disorder or ROCD. Those suffering from this type of repetition compulsion will constantly doubt their relationship and believe that their relationship is doomed. The individual with this condition will most often have other related illnesses such as an attachment disorder, anxiety disorders, or depression. However, these symptoms are usually a side effect of obsessive-compulsive disorder and can be treated with therapy and/or medication. In fact, there are licensed therapists and counselors at who can help you online without an appointment.

How Repetition Compulsion Affects Your Relationships

Those who suffer from repetitive compulsion in relationships will either return to the same bad relationship repeatedly or gravitate toward those partners with the same or similar issues. Because our unconscious sees trauma as normal, you will not even realize that you are dooming yourself to failed relationships over and over again. The cycle continues because that is what you are used to, and you unconsciously believe that it is normal. This may be due to an incident that happened when you were young.

Reliving What We Already Know


For example, if you were abused as a child or lived in an abusive household, you are more likely to be in an abusive relationship in the future. Our minds like to stick to what they know, so even if your relationship history is unhealthy, your mind does not realize that and sticks to what it knows. It may have been a single traumatic event you had as a child or a lifetime of abusive relationships that cause the repetition of trauma. Repetition compulsion is just that, a compulsion. We are not doing it on purpose. It is a learned response to what we already know.

Treating The Problem

Repetitive compulsion is a neurotic disorder that can be treated, but first, it has to be recognized. When it comes to obsessive-compulsive disorder, the underlying disorder or illness has to be addressed first. For example, if you have an attachment disorder, you will need to address that before dealing with your repetitive compulsion. However, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a complicated disorder that needs therapy to be controlled. It will not be completely cured in most cases, but it can be controlled with cognitive behavioral therapy or another type of psychotherapy. In more intensive cases, medication or other therapy may also be used.

Signs Of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Over 264 million people in the world suffer from an anxiety disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). In fact, obsessive-compulsive disorder was diagnosed in one out of every 40 American adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMC). Besides repeating relationship patterns, some of the other signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder include:

  • Obsessive fear of something specific like germs or contamination
  • Unable to control bad thoughts such as sex or self-harm
  • Needing to put things in order either alphabetically or by size
  • The need to have things symmetrical
  • Constant cleaning and washing of hands
  • Checking the doors and windows constantly to see if they are locked
  • Compulsively checking the oven or stove
  • Counting things compulsively
  • Spending at least one hour a day stressing over one of these obsessions
  • Actions or thoughts interfere with daily activities and relationships
  • Repeating words over and over
  • Tapping on something or another repetitive motion

If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms, it is best to talk to a therapist or counselor right away. In most cases, you can talk to someone online by text, chat, or videoconference. You do not need an appointment and can talk to them anytime you need to, 24/7/365. has over a thousand licensed professional mental health experts who can help you right now.

How Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Affects Your Relationship

Having obsessive-compulsive disorder affects every aspect of your life, but many people do not even bother to get treatment until it becomes a problem. This usually happens when you get into a serious relationship. When someone is around you all the time, they start to notice your obsessive hand washing or cleaning, lining up shoes, and alphabetizing the canned goods, for example. You may have been able to hide it before, but once that person lives with you, they will start to see your obsessions and compulsions. Of course, it is not your fault, and your new love interest will probably understand. But you will realize that it is time to get some treatment for your repetitive compulsion and obsessive-compulsive disorder.


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Different types of psychotherapy can treat an obsessive-compulsive disorder, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness, psychodynamic therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy. The type of therapy you choose should be a joint decision between you and your therapist or counselor. Often, you may think you know what is best for you, but you are not an expert. It is best to leave that decision to the professional to help you decide.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This form of behavioral therapy helps you determine what triggers your obsessive-compulsive disorder or repetitive compulsion. The therapist can teach you how these triggers are causing your negative repetitive behaviors and help you find more positive repetitive behaviors. It works by the idea that we behave either positively or negatively, depending on our environment’s perception. In other words, if we constantly believe our hands are dirty, we will be compelled to wash them.


Mindfulness therapy encourages you to consider both your mental and physical health together. The therapist will teach you different exercises and positions, such as breathing exercises or yoga positions. You will be encouraged to focus on your physical sensations while learning to relax your body and mind. You will be able to grasp better what is going on around you and focus on the moment without any distractions.

Psychodynamic Therapy

With psychodynamic therapy, you will learn how to focus on your unconscious processes as they affect your present behavior. It is all about self-awareness and how the past influences the present. The therapist will teach you to look at unresolved conflicts and past relationships that may be causing your obsessive-compulsive disorder or repetitive compulsion. This is one of the oldest and most widely used therapies, brought forth by Sigmund Freud in 1896.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Another form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, this type of therapy, teaches you to live in the moment. You will learn how to forget the past and cope with everyday stressors more positively. As the name states, dialectical behavior therapy is focused on dialectics, which make three assumptions. These assumptions include that opposites can be integrated to form a better view of the truth, change is inevitable and constant, and that all things are connected.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is typically only used if no other therapy type is successful for your obsessive-compulsive disorder. This has to be done by a licensed neurologist in conjunction with your therapist. The neurologist will use a strong magnet to send magnetic pulses to the brain. Specific areas of the brain are responsible for certain functions, so this has to be done by a physician who specializes in neurology. After a physical examination is done, the doctor will use a magnetic coil to send pulses or frequencies to the brain areas that they feel are responsible for your obsessive-compulsive disorder or repetitive compulsions. There are some minor side effects like headaches, discomfort in magnetic stimulation, tingling, and lightheadedness.

Keep Working On Your Relationship


Regardless of what type of therapy you and your therapist agree to try, it is important to continue to see your regular therapist for couple therapy. No matter how significant your obsessive-compulsive disorder or repetitive compulsions, it will likely affect your relationship, so continue to work on that while you treat your obsessive-compulsive disorder. has a number of excellent therapists and counselors who can help you with this, and you do not even need an appointment.

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