National Eating Disorders Association

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Boyfriend doesnt talk about his bulimia

I really dont know where to start so I'll just be brief, I dont know what else to do. I am not too familiar with bulimia but am really trying to educate myself since starting my relationship with my boyfriend of currently 3 months. He told me from the beginning he suffered from bulimia 2 years ago and went to treatment. Recently his mother called me to tell me his grandmother heard him purging in the bathroom and left the bathroom very messy, so we all believe he has relapsed. Thing is, he never talks about it, and if I even try to ask him how he is feeling he completely shuts off and pushes me away. Even breaking up with me once and then hours later wishing he never did that, stating he panicked to avoid talking about his feelings, so I forgave him and forgot that day ever happened. He says the reason why he suffers from this is because his biological father physically and mentally abused him when he as younger.

It's just difficult because I always want to know how hes feeling but if I ask he will just push me away and I dont want that. I love him and he loves me, at least he says so, I am always paranoid he will break my heart again if I ask him how hes feeling. I even get paranoid about when he kisses me, because we dont really make out anymore, theyre just pecks and I wonder if its because of him feeling self conscious or he has purged or he just doesnt want to kiss me like that anymore even though I highly doubt it.

Really I am just seeking advice, support, relatable stories? Anything, because I just dont know what else to do. I really love him and care about him very much.


Hey Rckkng,

Yep, it sounds like he's having a relapse alright, so you are correct in worrying I think.

And that really is one of the things about eating disorders : People can recover for a while, but at times of stress, their ED can come back.

One thing about bulimia : People often feel shame about doing it, and those feelings themselves can then feed their ED. It gets to be like a vicious cycle, you know ? And the person who's going through it can begin to feel helpless to change things. Those sorts of feelings of powerlessness, combined with the "big secret" aspect, can really do a number on intimacy too, so that may be a lot of what's behind the drop in things in that area.

So yeah, it would be good if he was able to talk with you about this. But because of the abuse issues he had with his father, taking about anything difficult may just feel too frightening to him. That sort of thing likely spelled trouble all through his childhood, so it's probably no surprise that "it doesn't feel right" to talk about things now either. You saw how he almost broke up with you, in order to avoid having to discuss any of this, so those sorts of old fears can run deep.

But yes, what to do ? When it's so hard to talk to him about this.

And what a lot of people do is write the person a letter. Where you express your concerns, and where hopefully you can express some understanding of what he might find himself up against too. The good thing about letters is that the person has private time to read and give thought to what you've said, and gives them time to think about what they would like to say too. This approach often avoids the sort of impulsive and panicky defensive response that people often find themselves resorting to when confrontations are face to face.

So that might be something worth trying, I think. Because getting this out in the open, where the thing is named, and you can actually support him, is pretty important I think.

Thank you so much for

Thank you so much for responding! I really needed anything to keep me from just letting go even though that's the last thing I want to do. He usually always seems to be the most distant on Wednesdays, I don'y know if thats just a coincidence or not. Instead of just asking him how he is feeling I am just telling him that I am always here for him instead. I just dont know how I could "make" him talk to me about anything, his ED or his childhood trauma. I feel like things like that he should feel comfortable to bring up, which he has a couple of times but very vaguely. I remember when we first started dating we had like a special ceremony almost where we burned all of his ex girlfriends notes and letters to him, maybe she wrote letters to him to cause that was the only way to get through? I would really like to try the letter writing to him.


I really do hope that you'll try the letter thing. I know that you guys burned his old GF's letters, but who really knows what was in them. So I hope you won't let that part scare you away from writing to him yourself.

Interesting about Wednesdays. There may be something that happens then that he finds himself avoiding ? I would not quiz him to hard on that though. If might rob him of the opportunity to tell you himself.

Trauma and abuse can be excruciating for people to talk about. On the one hand they may want to talk about it, but sometimes they find it literally impossible to open their mouths and get the words to come out. Writing can be easier though, so there's another reason to give that a try.

Remember the "shame" theme too. You'll want to let him know that you understand what a powerful thing shame can be, when it comes to talking about things.

Also, its' clear that you are a caring partner, or you would never have taken the step to write here, so have faith in your own self about that part. It may be uncomfortable for the two of you to confront this, but you wouldn't be trying to do it if you didn't care.

And I believe that he will understand this, even if it's still difficult for him to respond.

I really hope so, I am just

I really hope so, I am just scared it will back fire on me and he will just push me away. Sometimes he will mention little things here and there about his bio dad and his childhood and I wonder if that is him wanting or trying to open up.I did read one of the notes of his ex, it was short really, just saying that she hopes he has a great day and that she loved him. I dont want to seem like im copying her though since I know she used to do that.

Me and his mom have gotten close since the day she called me telling me he possibly relapsed. We update each other on if he is having an off day or if we notice anything off to let each other know an that is nice to have. She also told me to not take it personally if he comes across like he is trying to push me away because that is what he does when he is confronted, so that made me feel better.

It;s just really difficult on my part because when he does have those days where I feel like I dont matter, I feel like he is going to break up with me (again) for caring. He always says he loves me and he iniciates to make future plans so that is reassuring, but one little misstep I can do by either asking him how he is feeling or maybe being unaware of his triggers makes me worried all the time and feel like I need to not completely love him to self myself from the heartbreak.

P.S. There was I time we were driving around and I playfully slapped him in the face (we playfully wrestle all the time) and he was like do that again, harder, I liked it, and I was like what? and then he said hit me like my dad hit meand then he laughed like it was funny. And I was super put off by that I didnt know what to say, I would have asked about that further but his little brother was in the car :/

Pushing away and Risk taking.

Yes, the "pushing away" thing. I worked for years on another site for partners, and it was a really common thing for people to talk about. The way it would usually go was that the person with the ED would share their issue with their partner at an intimate moment, the partner would see that sort of sharing of sensitive matters as something that might increase the intimacy in their relationship, and then they would be surprised and confused when things seemed to go in the opposite direction instead.

Why that is is not always clear. It's sort of like they want to share this important thing with their partner, but once they do, it's almost like they regret it. I think it may have to do with the fact that once the problem is given a name…then the person worries that they will be a disappointment to their partner. In that they might not be able to make the changes that their partner would logically hope them to make. So maybe thats' what can fuel the withdrawal. Not doubts about their partner, but doubts about themselves. So I think his mom is right about not taking whatever withdrawal you may see personally.

The other option is not talking about it at all, but that's no good either, so there will be some risk-taking involved for the both of you, which is also a theme that's important to keep in mind, to and bring up, if the two of you talk.

Well I wrote a letter,

Well I wrote a letter, basically including how I am feeling, how I feel about him and telling him that I know he is going through stuff and that I would be the last person to ever judge him or think any less of him. I also added how I fear it is affecting our relationship and that I fear he doesnt love me and that I never want to ask him how he is feeling from fear he will push me away. Is there anything else I should add to it? I dont want to scare him away or have him take the letter the wrong way, I try to add reassuring things in there but also am being honest on how I feel.

I also dont even know when I should even give it to him :/

What to write about...

Yep, it's difficult to know what to include in a letter like this, so here's a few things to think about, when you go back and proofread the thing.

People with EDs have a deep fear of being a burden on their partners, so you may want to leave out the parts where you talk about how it's effecting you personally. Obviously things like this will effect us, but when it comes to dumping our own feelings, it's best to avoid dumping them on our partners ! Save that for here, or for trusted friends that you know.

It's easy to worry that they no longer love us, but I'd leave those worries out too. That you still love him : That's perfectly fine, and I'd certainly include that part.

You know that its' difficult and risky for people to talk about these things, so I'd make sure to mention that. The more that you can seem like you "get it" you know ? That's the part that will feel reassuring.

So look over your note and see if you can figure out what the overall tone might seem like to him ? Are you worried and freaking out and think that the relationship is at risk ( which he will interpret as being all his fault ) or does your note convey a sense of confidence that the two of you together will be able to work this out ?

Again, any reasonable partner would worry and feel insecure about this, but you'll want to keep that part under wraps if you can. While it's a problem, you are confident that things will be better once the two of you talk about it, and it won't be the end of the world if you do.

Granted, projecting confidence and a sense of level-headedness, when actually we are feeling upset, can involve a level of faking it, its' true. But you never know : You may find yourself actually feeling more confident, once you try this set of feelings on.

My two cents

Hi there,

I subscribe what Bob told you. Think about this as a marathon. You just started with him, but this is his life and he's been suffering because of this all his life, this pain is "his best friend".
He's really scared about disappointing you, and ashamed you wouldn't like him once you know him deeply. I think about this as an injured animal. If you approach them to give them food, or to heal them, they'll probably bite you. Unless you gain their confidence very slowly.

I know when you start a relationship, you feel you are soul mates, and you can talk about everything with him... But serious trauma takes longer, there will be things buried even for him to access. It's hard, but it's gonna take time and you need to be patient.

It is great that you can talk with his mom. That is a great support for you and you both create a support group for him. Treasure that. I would give an eye for my GF to have a family we could trust.

I assure you he is already worried about your relationship, and he knows /fears that you are. That's why we are telling you to not burden him with more worries. I know it feels unfair. But, as you fear, that can backfire. He could feel he must save you the pain of dealing with him, and leave.

Trust is not something they do easily. And they hate to have people being witnesses to their shame. If they keep it a secret they can keep thinking there is nothing wrong with them.

You need to reach a point where he can trust that you know he doesn't choose this. He can't help it. So you are not going to judge him.

Keep learning about bulimia. And keep your eyes open for things that stress him a lot. Try to avoid those things, and he'll feel safer with you. Let him know you are there and on his side, but don't pressure him to open himself to you.
You'll learn how there are times when he'll talk, and there will be times when it is better not to try. If his anxiety is up, he can't access his true feelings or communicate clearly (this happens to all of us). Having an ED, keeping a secret, and being afraid of losing a girlfriend, those are things that keep the anxiety levels up most of the day. So it's been difficult to communicate deep feeling for him, maybe for years.

You might try to do something relaxing together, yoga, meditation, give him a massage...

So, in the letter I would open the door and make him feel welcome, but I wouldn't ask him to talk right away, but just to know that you will be there when he feels he wants to say anything. You want to be his closest friend, and never hurt him. You already know him to be a great person and you already love and respect him. He doesn't have to tell you if he doesn't want, but nothing he tells you is going to change what you know already. Something on that line?
Good luck and keep us posted.