In Sickness and Health: How Eating Disorders Impact Relationships

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Committing to a relationship means sticking by your partner through the ups and downs of life, including in sickness and health. Relationships can be tested by many different obstacles, including chronic health issues that can be especially challenging for both the individual suffering and her partner.

An eating disorder, which is a complex mental health condition, can be testing for a couple in a committed relationship. Because of the nature of eating disorders, there can be many aspects of these diseases that are misunderstood, creating more friction, tension, and stress between loved ones.

How Eating Disorders Impact Relationships

Eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, involve a multitude of symptoms that can difficult to understand, especially for a loved one in a relationship with an eating disorder sufferer.

By nature, eating disorders are isolating diseases, and therefore, a woman who is struggling might slowly pull away from the people in her life that love her the most, including her spouse or partner. On the surface, it may be hard to distinguish the issue at hand. A woman with an eating disorder may seem overly concerned about her appearance, worried about her weight, or constantly dieting, and initially, it can appear as if nothing out of the ordinary is wrong.

Without treatment or intervention, eating disorder symptoms can worsen and progress rapidly. The more a woman becomes consumed and obsessed with food, her body size, and weight, the less room this will leave for the more important things in her life, like relationships. A spouse or partner of a woman struggling with an eating disorder may notice that their loved one seems less interested in doing things she previously enjoyed, is more depressed and/or anxious, and is having a harder time taking care of herself or doing simple tasks.

Within a relationship, a woman struggling with an eating disorder may become more distant and less able to connect or engage with her spouse/partner on various levels, including emotionally, socially, mentally, and sexually. She might find it difficult to articulate what the root of her feelings are or find herself easily frustrated or even triggered by her spouse or loved one.

Because eating disorders are often misunderstood, a spouse can feel confused and wonder why something as simple as eating has become so complicated. This may push a woman even further away or inadvertently cause her to feel ashamed or guilty for her struggles. The tension created in a relationship by an eating disorder is capable of intensifying as communication becomes clouded and eating disorder behaviors are simultaneously misunderstood and triggered. Eating disorders can become all-consuming to the point that they gradually eat away at a relationship between two loving individuals [1].

Seeking Treatment to Find Healing

couple arguingBeing in a relationship with a partner suffering from an eating disorder can feel confusing, hopeless, and overwhelming. While it may seem like an impossible feat to maintain a relationship impacted by an eating disorder, it is important to know that there is hope for recovery and healing.

In order to begin the process of repairing a relationship damaged by an eating disorder, it is necessary to address the underlying issues, which is the disease itself. Because eating disorders are complex mental health conditions, these are not issues that should be taken lightly. By enlisting the help of trained eating disorder specialists, including therapists, psychiatrists, dietitians, and medical doctors, a woman can have the support needed to find true and lasting recovery from a disease that may have taken away so much for her and her loved ones.

Recovery Can Heal Relationships

Healing a broken relationship begins with recovery. In order to repair a marriage or relationship that has been tried and tested by an eating disorder, it is first important to dedicate the time needed to adequately heal from an eating disorder. This means addressing the physical, mental, and psychological effects that the eating disorder may have created.

A woman cannot thrive in a relationship if she does not take care of herself and address her own unique needs and concerns. Eating disorders are heartbreaking illnesses, in that they rob so much joy from both the sufferer and their loved ones.

If you or your partner has struggled with an eating disorder and a subsequently difficult relationship, know that there is hope for healing. It begins with eating disorder recovery. The caring professionals at The Meadows Ranch realize that eating disorders affect loved ones as well and that their involvement is crucial to the recovery process. The Meadows Ranch offers family therapy presented from a skills-based approach throughout the eating disorder treatment program, including a 5 day/35 hour Family Week. This is a time of learning, growth, change, and forgiveness for everyone, and ensures that the transition back to daily life is successful.

Connect with the resources you need at The Meadows Ranch to begin a new chapter in your life and rebuild relationships with those you love.


[1]: Gottlieb, Carrie. “Eating Disorders And Romantic Relationships.” Psychology Today, February 12, 2016.