How to Take Care of Myself in a Relationship with an Eating Disorder Sufferer

Spouse supporting spouse

“You can’t take care of others unless you first take care of yourself.” It’s cliché, but it’s cliché for a reason. You have to take care of yourself in order to care for your relationship in eating disorder recovery.

If we neglect ourselves, even with the best of intentions, our identities, careers, daily life, and relationships will suffer. Not only that, eating disorders can increase marital discontent, intimacy problems, or relationship difficulties [1].

This makes it all-the-more essential to focus on caring for your relationship in eating disorder recovery.

Caring for a Relationship in Eating Disorder Recovery

Have Open Communication

This is a necessary ingredient for all relationships, but, particularly those where the partners are working together for one to recover from an eating disorder.

While you may be the one struggling, it is not a “you” problem. An effective and healthy partnership agrees to support and care for one another through all challenges of life, whether these be life transitions, daily annoyances, or serious mental or physical health conditions.

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As such, you should feel supported by your partner in a way that makes you comfortable communicating your thoughts and feelings through recovery.

Their Feelings are Valid, Too

Just as you deserve to be open with your partner, they deserve the same freedom and comfort.

It can be confusing and overwhelming to be a partner of a loved one struggling with an eating disorder. Allow them the space to communicate their experience and help them process it.

Set Boundaries

You have the right to set boundaries that are necessary for your recovery. This doesn’t mean you get to make rules willy-nilly in the name of recovery.

However, it does mean you are allowed to discuss what is triggering to you and ask that they help you to keep these things out of your life.

For example, not having a scale in the home, not feeling comfortable with “diet talk,” or not remarking on physical appearance.

These are boundaries that can help you to live a life focused on recovery, self-love, identity, and self-worth, and your partner should want to make the adjustments that can help you in this endeavor.

Love Yourself Enough to Let Go

young couple discussing Caring for a Relationship in Eating Disorder RecoveryThis is not a given, as many people can work toward, or maintain, eating disorder recovery while in a relationship.

But, statistics show that interrelationship conflicts are an impactful trigger for disordered eating behaviors [1].

Just as some of your friendships, environment, goals, etc. shift when an eating disorder is no longer your primary focus, so, too, may your relationship.

Having open communication and leading with love will help you as you navigate the transition your relationship is going through.

Even so, there may come a time when you both realize it is simply not working. This could be particularly true if your partner is not willing to openly communicate, help you to get rid of triggers, or refers to your disorder as a “you” problem.

As you recover, you will begin to embrace your unique identity and believe in your self-worth, even if this means believing in it enough to leave the relationship behind.

It does not have to be a negative ending, simply send them love and respect, understanding that you both have different ideas of the relationship you would like to have.

Whether you are with someone, or not, you are never alone in recovery, and you are capable of achieving freedom from anything that holds you back.


[1] Arcelus, J., Yates, A., Whitely, R. (2012). Romantic relationships, clinical and sub-clinical eating disorders: a review of the literature. Sexual & Relationship Therapy, 27:2.

About Our Sponsor

Reasons BannerReasons Eating Disorder Center is an innovative program founded on the belief that healing is a fundamental aspect of eating disorder treatment. We believe that eating disorders are rooted in and driven by anxiety and profound disruptions to the sufferers’ sense of self. We offer our patients hope rooted in the belief that they are capable of living an authentic life of meaning and connectedness. Our goal is to create a culture that nurtures the integration of body and mind through the daily practice and continual reinforcing of the balancing ideas of Doing and Being.

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 September 10, 2019, on
Reviewed & Approved on September 10, 2019, 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.