When Anorexia Shows up in Your Marriage

Married couple discussing when to seek treatment for an eating disorder

Anorexia and marriage do not mix well. As you know, Anorexia Nervosa is a mental health disorder that affects one’s interpersonal abilities in a variety of ways.

The disorder is a maladaptive coping mechanism an individual utilizes to handle/manage unwanted emotions. The individual restricts their food intake as a means of either numbing, controlling, or keeping the world at a distance.

These struggles to relate to others and the world will undoubtedly show up in the person’s relationships even after they are recovered. Let’s talk about how certain areas of your relationship could be affected and ways you can best navigate it with your partner.

Communication, Anorexia and Marriage

Communication is, of course, the key to any relationship. If you are not able to fully and openly communicate with your partner, you will most likely run into a plethora of other issues long-term.

A person who has/had struggled with Anorexia may have issues in the communication arena. For example, they might have a history of lying or dishonesty.

Anorexia is a disease that, unfortunately, can make the individual lie even if that is not in line with their true morals. The eating disorder can cause the person to go to great lengths to hide that they are struggling.

This is to keep the ED alive, and thus, the person might get into the unfortunate habit of being dishonest. To encourage honest and open communication in the relationship, try managing your reactions to the person.

The individual might feel safer and better able to be honest and open if they feel they are in a safe space to do so. In working with anorexia and marriage, you can encourage one another to be open by doing so yourself.

Being fully open and expressive can be a struggle for someone who has a history of living in a very isolating illness that numbs them to all feelings. Gently encourage and support their process of opening up to you by demonstrating how to emote and communicate yourself and giving a lot of positive encouragement.

Trust

Hispanic Couple discussing Sex and Eating Disorders

An individual who has/had Anorexia frequently has difficulty trusting others. They might feel like everyone is against them, or that they cannot trust others because they have historically been let down many times.

In their marriage, they might ask for a lot of reassurance. The continual asking for reassurance may come across as being needy or insecure, and yes, it can stem from both of these things.

The best thing you can do for your partner is to be patient with them and understanding. Over time, their trust and confidence in you and the relationship should build as they see that there is nothing of which for them to be afraid.

If you are the one who is having trouble trusting your partner, ask yourself if what you are fearing is stemming from something in the moment or in your past. Has your partner given you a reason not to trust them?

Or, are you not trusting them because you have been let down so many times by other people in your life? If it’s the latter, try observing what is going on with your partner in the present.

Separate the current situation and facts from those in your previous relationships. Over time, you will, hopefully, be able to see that what is scaring you is separate and apart from your partner.

Competition

Anorexia is a competitive illness. The eating disorder watches like a hawk what others are eating around them and constantly compares itself to others. This competition in anorexia and marriage might also appear in other ways beyond eating.

The individual might be competitive by nature, and the food is/was just a way of acting out these competitive urges. If competition is playing a role in your relationship, ego defenses are likely at play.

As Saul McLeod says, “Defense mechanisms are psychological strategies that are unconsciously used to protect a person from anxiety arising from unacceptable thoughts or feelings.” [1] Someone who is feeling competitive with their partner may experience this emotion as unwanted and one that causes anxiety.

Thus their ego defenses take over. Once your ego takes over, you are waging an internal battle instead of being fully present and vulnerable with your partner. In any relationship, it is so important to leave your ego at the door.

Yet, sometimes, competition and power-plays rear their ugly heads. If this occurs, try and center yourself, and ask yourself what is making you feel insecure or fearful.

Most likely, there is some sort of insecurity or worry that is driving the urge to be competitive. Address this fear head-on by talking it out with your partner or another close friend or family member in whom you can confide.

Needs

Couple in the shadows working on Anorexia and MarriageEveryone has needs. Those with Anorexia, sometimes, are afraid of their needs. They may feel that they do not deserve to have their basic needs met.

Perhaps, this is because they did not have their needs met on a consistent basis. They neglect their needs with food, and they may tune their needs out in other areas of their life as well.

Someone with a history of anorexia may not ask for what they need. This can cause issues in your marriage when needs aren’t met, and fights arise.

It is important for both parties to understand that neither of you are mind readers, and it’s important to address your needs and desires in a direct way.

The first step to having your needs met in a relationship is being able to address them first with yourself. If you’re struggling in this area, work on identifying your needs on a consistent basis, and work to meet them.

Then you can begin addressing your needs with your partner. The more both of you discuss them together, the more a healthy foundation is set for open communication.

Like any other illness or disorder, Anorexia is one that has many different facets and can affect behavior in a variety of ways. This, in turn, can have an effect on your marriage.

If you are married to someone with a history of Anorexia, educate yourself on the disorder so that you can better understand it and your partner. Develop a toolbox of skills you can utilize when anorexia and relationship issues arise.

If you didn’t see an issue you are dealing with on this list, that’s because there are so many different ways the disorder can affect your relationship. But, it’s important to remember that it is all fixable, and as long as both parties work together, you can have a successful happy and healthy relationship.


References:

[1] McLeod, S.A. (2019, April 10). Defense Mechanisms. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.html


About the Author:

Emma Demar ImageEmma Demar, LMSW is a therapist at Intrinpsych Woman on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She holds an LMSW from Fordham University and holds a BA in Creative Writing from Trinity College. Emma recently completed a 2-Year Fellowship at Intrinpsych where she was expertly trained in Eating Disorders and DBT.

She uses a holistic approach in working with her patients, drawing from her background in Psychodynamic, CBT, and DBT, and she likes to begin where the client is and work from a strengths-based perspective. She specializes in Eating Disorders, OCD and related mental health disorders. Emma uses a direct, honest and open approach in working with her patients, who are generally women ages 12 to 32. She freelance writes for various mental health websites, and she blogs on her own website, thattrendytherapist.com.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed & Approved on November 5, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published November 5, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.