How Repetitive Compulsion Can Affect Your Relationship

Updated March 22, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

Repetitive compulsion is a psychological compulsion to repeat something over and over again, like putting yourself in the same situation often even if 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, for example. This behavior can be seen in those with post-traumatic stress disorder but are more likely to sign repetitive-compulsive behavior.

Is your relationship affected by repetitive compulsion?

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 is an act of a repressed past, in which the person repeats 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 with this type of repetition compulsion might constantly doubt their relationship and maybe even believe that their relationship is doomed. The individual with this condition may have other related illnesses such as an attachment disorder, anxiety disorder, or depression. However, these symptoms are usually a side effect of obsessive-compulsive disorder and can be treated. In fact, there are licensed therapists and counselors at Regain who can help you online without an appointment.

How repetition compulsion affects your relationships

Those who have repetitive compulsion in relationships might 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 might not even realize that you are harming yourself in relationships with the same problems. The cycle can continue because that might be what you are used to, and you may unconsciously believe that it is normal. This may be due to an incident that happened when you were young.

Reliving what we already know


Repetitive compulsion is a neurotic disorder that can be treated, but first, it should be recognized. When it comes to obsessive-compulsive disorder, the underlying disorder or illness should be addressed first. 

For example, if you have an attachment disorder, you may need to address that before dealing with your repetitive compulsion. However, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a complicated disorder that typically needs therapy to be kept under control. It may not be completely cured in most cases, but it can be controlled with cognitive behavioral therapy or another type of psychotherapy. 

Signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder 

Over 264 million people in the world have an anxiety disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). In fact, obsessive-compulsive disorder is 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 may include:

  • Obsessive fear of something specific like germs or contamination
  • An inability to control bad thoughts
  • 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

How obsessive-compulsive disorder can affect your relationship

Having obsessive-compulsive disorder can affect every aspect of your life, but many people might not get treatment until it becomes a problem. This can happen when you get into a serious relationship. When someone is around you all the time, they might start to notice your obsessive behaviors. 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 likely understand. But you might then realize that it is time to get some treatment for your repetitive compulsion and obsessive-compulsive disorder.


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. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy

This form of behavioral therapy can help you determine what triggers your obsessive-compulsive disorder or repetitive compulsion. The therapist can teach you how these triggers are might cause your negative repetitive behaviors and help you find more positive repetitive behaviors. It can work using 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 might be compelled to wash them.


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

Psychodynamic therapy

With psychodynamic therapy, you can learn how to focus on your unconscious processes as they affect your present behavior. It is all about self-awareness and how the past can influence the present. The therapist may 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, can teach you to live in the moment. You may learn how to forget the past and manage 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.

Keep working on your relationship

Is your relationship affected by repetitive compulsion?

Regardless of what type of therapy you and your therapist agree to try, it can be important to continue to see your regular therapist for couples 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. Regain has a number of excellent therapists and counselors who can help you with this.

Online therapy can offer support

If you still have reservations about online therapy, you may be comforted to know that studies show that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy, and sometimes even more effective. Online therapy is also more affordable than in-person therapy.

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