It’s difficult to watch a person you love deny themselves food and cause damage to their body and overall health. A partner of someone with an eating disorder will have an especially hard time understanding the nature of the disorder and accepting that their loved one does indeed have it. Oftentimes, a partner will try to help by encouraging their loved one to eat, monitoring their meals, or otherwise trying to take control of the disorder.
Although these actions are honest attempts at caring and helping a loved one, a person with an eating disorder will see them as controlling and overbearing behaviors. This will often cause damage to the relationship and only worsen the eating disorder as the partner will go to further lengths to hide their behavior.
It’s important for a partner to try and understand the nature of the disorder instead of trying to force their own remedies. There a few things to keep in mind if you have a spouse or partner suffering from anorexia or bulimia.
Understanding how your partner feels.
Someone suffering from an eating disorder deals with feelings of guilt, shame, and fear of rejection. They often are using their eating disorder as a defense against these feelings. This is why your partner will likely not directly ask for help, or they may seem like they want to get help one moment and then get defensive and shut you out the next.
Try not to take this behavior personally and lash out at them. Be compassionate and remember that your partner is going through a lot of emotional turmoil. Often, their feelings and needs are communicated through actions rather than words.
Avoid controlling behavior.
Spouses or partners will often go to great lengths to try and monitor their loved one’s eating disorder symptoms themselves. Monitoring meals, hiding exercise equipment and scales, and even preventing a partner from being alone are just some of the things that will only worsen the situation. You’ll only end up causing more hurt and resentment to build in the relationship.
Know that recovery will take time.
The process for recovering from an eating disorder can involve many things, including managing the symptoms, long term psychotherapy, nutritional plans, and even medication. Once your partner gets their symptoms under control, they still have a long process ahead of them. Studies show that a commitment to therapy and nutrition is the most effective treatment for an eating disorder.
Remember that you can’t fix your partner.
As previously mentioned, controlling behavior will only worsen the situation and can cause permanent damage to the relationship or marriage. Instead, try to create a safe environment where your loved one feels supported and comfortable enough to make mistakes and begin the healing process.
Recovery can be a long, bumpy road.
Even if a partner makes a lot of progress at first, it doesn’t mean that their recovery will be easy, and it shouldn’t be either. There are guaranteed to be setbacks along the way, and that’s ok because these bumps provide important lessons. Remember to stay strong, compassionate, and supportive throughout the process, and seek help from a therapist yourself if you feel things have become too overwhelming.
Oftentimes partners or spouses of a person with an eating disorder feel anxious, depressed, and even rejected as the disorder begins to overshadow the relationship. Exploring those feelings in therapy will help you get through the process by handling it in a more healthy way.