National Eating Disorders Association

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Keep communicating with wife's family?

My wife has engaged in ED-related behaviors on and off for the six years I've known her. I've learned since meeting her that these behaviors began as many as 10 years before we met.

For the sake of context, our marriage is a shambles at this point. My wife agrees to be accountable for nothing, including the possibility that the ED may impact the marriage / cause stress whatsoever.

Her family has been in denial historically. And her mother particularly has been passively and actively resistant to acknowledging the severity of the problem. As a result, my wife can still go to her mother to
1) complain about me and
2) slip back into the lie that nothing is Really Wrong; she is just stressed lately about X (whatever x is in a given week).

The signs now are out-of-control bad. Her physical appearance literally frightens everyone who sees her - except her sibling. Her sibling is so saddened by her appearance that she cries.

My wife's mental condition is also deteriorating. The anxiety, confusion about basic facts and short-term-memory forgetfulness are worrisome. Also, before I knew the term "distorted thinking" or "cognitive distortion," I complained at different times that she seems to overlook good point x at times, for example. She also inhabits extreme positions in discussions...which always escalate to arguments. Basically she embodies all the most commonly discussed distortions.

My wife long ago acknowledged the problem and artfully found ways to do nothing as little about it as possible. So every 10 or 15 months my wife and a select few of her family ask her, "So...what's happening?"

These civilized and isolated conversations, while intense, have only slowed the train. I think she suspends the behavior for a few more days a week than usual and then calls herself better. I think she may Actually Believe She is Better, too. (She isn't.)

So this time around, I have aggressively tried to engage her family. I brought them with me to a counselor I see regularly who specializes in ED. They are waking up to the severity of it, I think. (The several mentions of organ failure and death got their attention.)

Not coincidentally my wife is being more open about it now - with everyone. But to me, she's still starting, deliberately or not, on a path NOT toward recovery. She still offers just peeks at the issues. She still rejects any of the constellation of cognitive and emotional positions that are associated with the disease and clearly observable (to many) in her behavior. She wakes in the middle of the most nights to use the bathroom for reasons that are clearly audible / discernible. The other day, she minimized her condition by saying that she has [weak] moments.' (I had to call BS on that. I said, 'When you say it like that, it makes all the other good stuff you're saying ring hollow.)

My wife now hates me basically. She is furious that, despite her new honesty, I talked to her family behind her back. That refers especially to my communicating to them about the most recent bottle of laxative pills that were rattling around in the car. I get that she's pissed. From her perspective, she has started to open up and I've gone behind her back.

I don't say this, but I have no reason to trust anything she says. I feel like she's either being deceitful or that she is unaware.

Yesterday she said she wants to get divorced. I said, "Of course you do. I try to hold you accountable for this more than anyone else." That was genuine. But I worry it was jerky or wrong to say. She has agreed to go to therapy twice a month. Candidly, I am hoping for vindication there. I am hoping the therapist will say that my reactions and actions are valid -- even though I have screwed up at times. By the way, I screw up more lately bc I am admittedly losing my composure about this. I can't pretend anymore that things are OK.

If I continue to stay in touch with her family, my wife will probably initiate divorce. She may anyway. And my mother in-law, the Great Enabler, will _always_ report to her daughter if I've communicated to them. She doesn't want to receive the info I share, and she doesn't want anyone else in the family to have it either.

But if I don't continue to communicate with them, it becomes worlds easier for my wife to continue living the lie. And I worry she doesn't have a lot of time left to do that.

Not sure what to do.

so sorry to hear your story

Hi QuantumCat11. I am so sorry for what you're going through. Your story sounds very, very painful. It's bad enough to watch a loved one deteriorate physically and emotionally with and ED, but to find yourself the greatest target for all of your wife's anger must be awful. It sounds like you understand, though, that all of this anger, resentment and deceitfulness likely flows directly from the ED. I loudly applaud how you've struggled through this for so long. And am wondering, have you considered seeking therapy yourself? Many partners find this helpful in weathering the storm. You're feelings about your wife's lack of transparency and anger as well as your frustration with the enabling family members are indeed valid, and talking about them with a neutral third party -- especially one experienced with eating disorders -- could be really helpful to you and provide you with some coping tools.I would also like to encourage you to check out the Parent Toolkit on this website. It can be very helpful to all family members, not just parents.

It does sound like your wife is in pretty bad shape at this time -- your perceptions of the signs is well-founded. I am wondering if seeing a therapist just twice a month will be enough to make a difference, and encourage you to consider pushing for more. And also that you ensure that the therapist is sufficiently experienced with eating disorders.

Lastly, from what you've said it sounds like the mother-in-law is just not going to be helpful at this time, for whatever reason (and there can be a lot of reasons -- denial, guilt, etc.). However, you did mention a sibling who is deeply concerned. I actually wouldn't be fearful of your wife learning that you're communicating with her about her ED. It's the truth and only shows how serious the situation you're seeing is. Your wife likely needs someone she feels accountable to in this whole struggle, and maybe her sister can serve that purpose until (hopefully) she begins to open up to you. I would also share the Parent Toolkit with your wife's sister.

In any case, please know that this painful episode can be turned around. And please keep posting.

Responsibility .

Dear Q,

I join 321 in saying how sorry I am that you all find yourself in this situation ! People with EDs can really find themselves feeling baked into a corner when their ED is being confronted, and often find themselves responding with the sorts of anger and blame other sorts of accusations and negative emotions you mention. Should you keep talking with her family, should you leave it to them to decide how they feel about it ? Like 123 said, it does kind of sound like you won't be joining forces with them any time soon. But they have heard what you've had to say I think, so maybe it's OK to let them craft their own responses when it comes to all this.

I suspect you'll have to see how things go with the therapy. People with EDs can be good at pulling the wool over the eyes of therapists who don't have training in EDs though : They can choose to talk about all sorts of other things than their ED in an attempt to steer things away from the fact that sooner of later they *are* going to have to confront the core of the matter, and begin taking responsibility for their behaviors.

Rather than allowing her to see divorce as the big solution to all this.

Because really : You're somehow not supposed to be upset or concerned about all of this ? You're not supposed to be worried about how it's been effecting your marriage ?

Hopefully this therapist will see through her attempts to throw up a smokescreen and paint you as the bad guy in all this, but you never know. And if the therapist does try and hold her feet to the fire, if she'll be willing to continue seeing them.

A person can feel helpless in all this, thats' for sure, and as 123 mentioned *many* guys get therapy of their own during times like this, so that really is something to reasonably think about.

In any case, keep writing, OK ?