Coming to Terms with Eating Disorder Relapse in your Partner

Married couple discussing when to seek treatment for an eating disorder

When we commit to a relationship, whether vows are made or not, we agree to support our chosen partner in whatever may come their way. Rarely do we realize the gravity of this commitment until we are faced with acting on it. For those with partners in eating disorder treatment, eating disorder relapse may be a challenge you never anticipated. Job loss, illness, death of a loved one – these are all things we anticipate supporting our partner through.

Being there for them as they return to behaviors of a deadly mental illness that seems to have overtaken their entire lives and put them at severe risk might be a shock.

Even so, relapse rates have been found to be between 31 to 50%, with the highest risk occurring two years after discharge and continuing up for two years [1]. It is likely that your partner will experience a relapse.

You do not have to be perfect at supporting them. In fact, you will not be perfect in supporting them. You can do small things to accept moments of relapse and care for your partner as they move forward.

Process Your Own Feelings During Your Partner’s Eating Disorder Relapse

When your loved one relapses into dangerous behaviors, it is natural to have a strong reaction. For those that have never struggled with an eating disorder, behaviors appear to be a choice, and loved ones can become frustrated with their partner for “making that choice.”

Shoving these emotions of frustration, shock, confusion, etc. down will only lead to resentment and bitterness that comes out in the future. Whether in a journal, with a support-person, or in therapy, express everything that comes up for you regarding your loved one’s relapse.

This may help you release any frustration, process your own thoughts and feelings, and come around to the logical reminder that your partner is not choosing this disorder.

Non-Judgment Does Not Mean No Accountability

Couple supporting each other through eating disorder relapse and recoveryIt is important to approach a partner’s eating disorder relapse with non-judgment and an open heart. Prepare yourself to listen to their experience and work to understand.

Judgment in this situation will not only drive a wedge in your team; it is not an effective solution or reaction to the problem at hand, which is getting them back on track to recovery.

This does not mean you cannot communicate difficult thoughts, feelings, and emotions or work to keep your partner accountable for the commitments they have made to you and their recovery.

Remind them that you understand this is hard for them, you are there to support, you see their progress and struggles, and you know they can continue to improve.

Encourage them to engage their treatment team and talk to them about how they feel you can help. Let them know that you hold hope for their future recovery, even if they don’t at that moment. Eating disorder relapse brings about strong emotions, fears, and thoughts from all of those in a struggling individual’s life.

Coping with these through self-care, doing your own emotional work, a team approach, and a focus on no-judgment with accountability can help you effectively support your partner in getting back on the road to eating disorder recovery.


[1] Barands, T. et al. (2018). Relapse in anorexia nervosa: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 31:6.

About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on 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.

Published October 14, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on October 14, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

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.