How to Encourage a Spouse / Partner Who Struggles with Poor Body Image

Couple supporting each other through poor body image

Many people struggle with body image in one way or another. For someone in recovery from an eating disorder, these struggles can be even more pervasive and burdensome.

Poor body image can put a strain on your relationship and lead to conflict.

Addressing the issue together, showing sensitivity, and supporting your loved one can minimize the shadow that body image issues can cast.

Impact on Your Relationship

Body image is an extremely sensitive subject that can be triggering for many individuals in eating disorder recovery. Even many people who have never struggled with an eating disorder feel unhappy with their weight or body shape.

This can be especially challenging if both partners have poor body image. Both parties can feed off each other’s negative energy surrounding their bodies, and the resulting negative self-talk.

Alternatively, if you do not have any body image concerns, it might be hard to understand why your partner struggles with their self-image. To you, they are beautiful. Why do they not see themselves the same way?

Poor body image can lead to decreased physical and emotional intimacy. This inevitably takes its toll on a marriage or relationship, which is why transparency and open communication are important. If you are struggling with your body image, be honest with your partner and let them be a support for you.

Ways to Support Your Partner

If you want your partner to come to you when they are struggling, it is important to be supportive in the way they need you to be. Ask what they need in the moment, and then follow through to the best of your ability.

A long-term goal in eating disorder recovery is for positive self-image and body image to come from within, so that individuals do not need to rely on external validation. That being said, providing this validation can be extremely helpful for someone struggling with body image issues, particularly if your partner is fresh into recovery.

Some people who struggle with body image ask relatively loaded questions, such as the stereotypical, “Do these jeans make me look fat?” or, “Does it look like I’ve gained weight?”

Answering these questions in the way you think your partner wants can enable their disordered thinking and lead to an increased need for external validation.

Couple after their weddingInstead, come up with a “safe word” for when either of you is engaging in negative self-talk or comments triggered by negative body image. It might sound silly, but hearing “iguana” or something similarly random when you are spinning can get you out of your head and give you time to reset.

Giving your partner compliments that are completely unrelated to their body or physical attributes can also be beneficial.

As mentioned before, those in recovery are working toward internal validation, but everyone wants to feel attractive to their partner, both physically and emotionally. Steer away from generic compliments and instead come up with personal, unique things you love about them.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Navigating a relationship in which poor body image plays a role might feel like walking on eggshells. By getting things out in the open, if your partner is ready to do so, you can encourage open communication and healing.

It is inevitable to make some mistakes when dealing with something as sensitive as body image. Be patient with yourself and your partner. If you accidentally trigger your partner, keep in mind that any negative reaction they might have is likely the result of their own poor body image, not their true feelings toward you.

Making casual comments about what someone is eating, the way their clothes fit, or their body shape is almost never helpful. However, these comments often flow off the tongues of many people without an understanding of the repercussions for the other person. If you make this mistake, learn from it and continue to educate yourself on how to best support your partner.

Couple in boat by the lakeSince each person has different triggers, openly ask your partner what their triggers might be. If your partner is in therapy and you have the option of attending their next session, you might want to consider taking advantage of this opportunity to learn more about how to uniquely support their recovery.

You are not responsible for changing your partner’s body image, but there are certainly things you can do to support them in their journey toward self-love and self-acceptance.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How has your partner supported you through body image struggles?

Courtney Howard Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Courtney Howard is the Director of Operations & Business Development at Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. from San Diego State University, holds a paralegal certificate in Family Law, and is a Certified Domestic Violence Advocate. After obtaining her certification as a life coach, Courtney launched Lionheart Eating Disorder Recovery Coaching in 2015 and continues to be a passionate advocate for awareness and recovery.

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 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.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 12, 2016
Published on