What is ‘cheating OCD’? The mental health condition where people believe *they’ve* cheated on their partner

Have the words “Did I cheat?” ever crossed your mind? Perhaps after a blurry night out, or after one too many shared looks between you and your barista… Most of the time, you’ll be able to reassure yourself or talk it through with your partner. But for some people, this thought feels like it circulates through their brain on a loop.

This is generally known as cheating OCD, which is a sub-category of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). According to OCD-UK, OCD affects 1.2% of the population, or approx 750,000 people in the UK. It’s defined as a “serious anxiety-related condition where a person experiences frequent intrusive and unwelcome obsessional thoughts, commonly referred to as obsessions.”

These obsessions lead to the person engaging in repetitive or ritualistic behaviours to “prevent a perceived harm and/or worry.” These behaviours are commonly referred to as compulsions.

There are many sub-categories of OCD, including harm OCD, religion OCD, and homosexuality OCD. As mentioned earlier, cheating OCD is one of these sub-categories and it can manifest in many ways, including paranoia about cheating when drunk, emotional cheating, and false memories.

GLAMOUR chatted to Psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Beverley Blackman to find out everything you need to know about cheating OCD.

What is cheating OCD?

“Cheating OCD is the belief or concern that you may cheat (or have already cheated) on your partner. There are many levels of this and they come about in many ways. People still tend to have the fairytale belief that a relationship should be ‘perfect’ and that the feelings you have in the ‘honeymoon phase’ should persist throughout, but relationships don’t work that way – they evolve and change.

“Bearing this in mind, it’s easy to see how cheating in relationships can be an area of concern for many people: we don’t just meet new people via friends or in the pub any more, and it’s possible this has affected people’s ability to recognise genuine attraction when they feel it.”

What causes cheating OCD?

“The fear of cheating on your partner can often stem from an unconscious desire to sabotage the relationship or bring about a confrontation: it could be that things are not satisfactory between a couple but neither wants to open a conversation about it – for example, the relationship is not going the way you want it to go, but you are uncertain about how to address it, or sometimes, you are not sure what’s wrong, but you know that something isn’t right. So you end up acting out instead to force a confrontation.

“It could also stem from an unconscious belief that you are not good enough for your partner in some way, and by cheating on them (or fearing that you will), there is a sense of a self-fulfilling prophecy. These feelings often come from low self-esteem and a lack of belief that the relationship will work long-term, so – more often unconsciously – these feelings get acted out in the form of cheating, even if a person wants the relationship to work!

“It sounds paradoxical, but your unconscious set of beliefs about yourself are very powerful and compulsive, and you can find yourself acting in ways that you don’t want to if you are unaware of your misgivings about yourself or the relationship.”

How can I manage cheating OCD?

  • Be mindful of yourself and your thoughts and feelings. Try to check in with yourself on a regular basis and if you are feeling uncomfortable, spend some time dedicated to considering what misgivings you have and the feelings that they are arousing: let your thoughts run and see where you go.
  • Don’t be afraid to start a conversation and air any concerns you may have with your partner. Try to keep the conversation on an explorative level, rather than seeking to blame. Remind each other that relationships do evolve and that the ‘honeymoon’ phase isn’t forever. Find out what your partner wants from a relationship; share your wants and needs.
  • Stay mindful and keep talking. If this is not enough, do go and seek help from a therapist as it is worth exploring your feelings in greater depth, understanding where they come from, and understanding ways in which you can avoid sabotaging your relationship.”

For more from Glamour UK’s Lucy Morgan, follow her on Instagram @lucyalexxandra.

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