National Eating Disorders Association

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Robert H : Girlfriend Withdrawing.

Robert H,

This "withdrawing" thing is super-common, in just the sort of situation you've mentioned. In a moment of intimacy and honesty, they reveal their ED to us. Then, rather than things becoming closer as a result of this sharing, as one might expect, the person starts withdrawing instead. I was on another site like this for partners for about ten years, and if it's any consolation, this was by far the number one most common scenario that fellows would come there to talk about. The sharing, and then the withdrawal.

I suppose there are a number of reasons for this. several which you have mentioned. They hate the idea of being a burden, for one. Also it's like they understand that now that their secret has been revealed, any authentically caring partner is going to hope they take steps to get better. Which…often they honestly don't feel ready to do. So there's their dilemma : If it doesn't feel to them that there's much they can do to get better, how can they be anything but a disappointment to those who care about them? On top of all that, they often feel like a disappointment to themselves as well. So they often find themselves withdrawing and distancing themselves from those who care about them the most.

This leaves us in bad situation as well. We do care, but if we try and keep in touch in the face of their withdrawal, are we just acting like intrusive stalkers or is it helping that we continue to show that we care, or... what ? I'm sure I don't have to tell you what this situation feels like. It can be a powerless feeling at best.

Here's a few ideas. Number one : I think they do understand that we care. So that's something I think you can be confident about.

Number two : Later on they will be grateful that we stuck with them, even if it seems like they don't feel that way now.

Number three : How the heck do we strike the right balance between staying in touch and giving them space ? That's always a hard one I think. But remember the #1 thing : I think they already know that we care.

One thing to try and avoid is acting like we're freaking out about the whole thing. Or that we are consumed with anxiety about their situation. Being able to convey the idea that we are calm, and accepting the situation as it is is important I think. The last thing we want is for them to feel responsible for our own distress.

Which, who wouldn't feel distressed, you know ? It's a distressing situation for sure!

Still, I think it's important for us to appear calm and accepting in situations like this. Even if we have to fake it, you know ?

For us, this can often mean getting help of our own, in order to deal with our feelings. Or to keep writing here, you know ? Because we will have feelings and emotions that we need to vent about, but we want to avoid venting those things to our partners, at least at this stage of the game.

In any case, there's lots more to this subject for sure, but hopefully this helped just a bit. And that you'll keep writing if it does seem to help.

Bob J.

Girlfriend withdrawing

Dear Bob J

Thank you for your response. I'm glad to have shared and glad to have such a helpful reply.

It's definitely a hard thing to strike the balance of not being too intrusive and yet maintain a contact to show that we are here. I am learning to be stronger in that sense.
I must admit there are moments i am freaking out and having to tell myself not to increase the stress by being a contributor. Of course, i feel the need to want to talk to her and want a response but again, i tell myself not to do it because i understand it's not going to be constructive . Thank you for advice on that.
I just don't want her to think i'm not there. I have spoken to a very close friend of hers which has been very helpful too. She's known my girlfriend for a long time and it has been a source of strength for me. Only thing with that is i feel guilty for talking to someone else behind my girlfriends back. However, i'm glad to say she's been able to give advice based on past experiences before we were together.




It's true, how can we expect to be calm in situations like this ? But as you said, letting them see how upset we are is definitely not going to add anything. Some years ago I was on a board with some parents ( I'm not a parent) and their saying was that the most beneficial way to present themselves was to "Be like a Redwood". Strong and confident and unbending in the face of the rain and the storm.

Even when when we don't feel that way at all !!

As I'm sure you are finding, it can be difficult to figure out what sort of help they will allow us to provide. When a person has withdrawn in this manner, we really can't be telling them what we think they should be doing food-wise. And often they will keep their emotional needs hidden as well. "Just being a friend" can seem like not much either, but even so, that may have more power than it seems that it does. Even though you are not getting much feedback from her, your gentle attention may be helping more than it seems at the moment.

I think it's fine that you are talking with her friend, if her friend is OK with that too. While it may seem like you are going behind her back, the real bottom line is that you both care about her. And there's goodness in that part I think.

Bob J.


Hi RobertH! I'm sorry to hear about the situation with your girlfriend, but it sounds like you're really caring and supportive which is definitely something she needs. Maybe you can try connecting with others in similar situations to help you cope with how you're feeling. The Parent, Family, and Friend Network can help connect you to support and find other resources, and the NEDA Navigators program is also something you might want to check out:

Hope this is helpful and hang in there! :)

Hi Bob J

Hi Bob J
Thank you so much for your feedback. It means the world to me. And it is helping to stabilise my mind.
It's a lovely analogy to be a 'Redwood'. I think i want to think of that every time i feel low. Being overwhelmed and reactive just won't help either of i will continue in this manner.
After some deliberation, I tentatively asked her friend if it was ok i talked to her from time to time and she said it was no problem.....and in fact encouraged it, which was kind. Her friend is one of only a few people she has ever told (as i understand it). Not even her parents know.
I'm not sure if the other message above is a general mail, but i also thank Klanza for the support offered. It's all helping me and i very much appreciate it.

I hope you don't mind if i contact you again.




I do hope you'll keep writing if it seems to help. From what may be a selfish standpoint, we're trying to get this forum rolling, and the more people who participate, the more it helps everyone , and the more it helps this forum establish itself as a resource for others I think.

Besides, people should not be alone with these matters, and situations often develop day by day.

Plus, the more we can help ourselves stay steady and grounded, the more we help our partners as well I believe.

Bob J.

Hi again

Since i last posted, i have had my birthday and seen my girlfriend once.

I received a card and messages from my partner for my birthday and they were nice to get.She seemed to have made quite the effort without being what you might call normal sentiments.
It seemed positive.
She told me she was around to meet me last week and we arranged a date, but she cancelled.We then met up the following day just before she was due to catch a bus home.
I tried to explain that i could cope with her being quiet and away from me, however her low feelings shone through and she just wants to be totally alone indefinitely. She's dealing with all of this completely by herself, no outside help.
We talked but without saying it explicitly, she doesn't want me to have hope or to have hope pinned on her by anyone. I am very sad but have told myself to leave her alone completely now, see how it goes. She also said she's not sure if she will ever be alright again.
I'm so lost right now, but i will do as she has asked, but i am fearing she wants me to totally go away with everyone else she has pushed away.
Any advice right now would be good, no matter what it is.

Robert - Isolation


This all sounds like how it can go with people with EDs sometimes. The date…and then she cancels. Relationships and any sort of really personal interactions with the world can just feel like…too much for them. They have nothing to offer to the world, and etc etc. It's really such a sad thing to see, particularly when we know them to be good-hearted people.

As you might imagine, depression plays a big role in this too. Depression alone can cause people to withdraw and feel drained of energy and emotion. I'm not sure if she has enough insight to know that depression may be playing a big role in how she's feeling, on top of all the various feelings that come with EDs, but hopefully she will be able to pick up on that. Meds are not always a big magic wand when it comes to depression, but if a person is able to locate the particular antidepressant that works for them, that's something that can bring some relief. So that's one area she might want to look into, if she can dredge up the energy to do so.

Still, it was hopeful that she was able to bring herself to meet up with you right before she left. She could have cancelled on that too, but she didn't. Also, it's encouraging that she found herself able to connect with you on your birthday. For most people those would be normal things, so the idea that she could still make those things happen is good I think.

But yeah, when people tell us that they want to be alone indefinitely, how are we supposed to act towards that ? One the one hand, we know that it's kind of overly-dramatic for people to say things like that, and that we've been taught to honor people's stated wishes when it comes to our not being intrusive. But on the other hand we know how unrealistic thoughts like that are. They are just going to be alone for the rest of their lives, and that's their big plan ? That sounds kind of unreasonable too.

But it's true, people with EDs really can wonder if they will ever be alright again. The level to which ED has has taken up residence inside their minds….They are not oblivious to that. And they've seen for themselves how difficult it is to shove all that ED thinking away. Like close to impossible for many people. That part truly can spook them, and cause them to really question themselves and their futures.

She's going to need some help at some point I think, but getting to the point where they are ready to take the steps to reach out for that help can be another big can of emotional worms. They are not really sick enough, they are unworthy of help, they might fail if they should ask for help, as well as financial concerns…it really can be difficult for them to get going with the sort of help which might benefit them.

But, depression can be seen as a different thing. The know that many other people are treated for this, so it's not something that's overly "weird" or that carries a big stigma these days, so hopefully she'd find herself able to pursue that angle ?

In the mean time, I'm sorry that things seem to remain so discouraging, as far as the relationship goes. When a person comes right out and basically tells us that they want to be left alone, it doesn't really leave us much to work with.

Still, sometimes I hear people talk about how much they appreciated that someone stuck with them, when they were at the bottom and pushing everyone away, and not always treating those cared for them the best.

So you'll have to see, I guess. I think it would be fair to send her a card or something, simply saying that it was good to see her.

Just something to keep some contact you know, but without expressing any expectations. Part of the "Redwood" thing, you know ?

Bob J.