National Eating Disorders Association

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Mitch14
Concerned Husband

This is the first time turning to a message board for help. My wife has been anorexic/bulimic/Ed nos for the entirety of our relationship. We have been together 16 yrs, married for 13. We had a lot of stress and strain early in the relationship regarding her eating disorder. She told me after a few months of dating. I didn't know much about Ed then. I figured it could be something I could help her through. We split about 2 years in to our relationship mainly because she was unwilling to get help. She developed her Ed at age 15 and apparently her mother's only question about it was "did you get your period yet?" In my eyes I became her "savior" and "fixing" her Ed was my mission. I became codependent on her eating disorder, covered for her, became the food police, wouldn't let her go to the bathroom after meals, etc. Our relationship became toxic. She only remembered the "hurtful" things I said. I said them only to try to make her understand that "this is as good as it gets" isn't good enough. Me saying that her face looks too skinny (in my head trying to give her insight into her condition) is the worst thing I can say to her and she perceives this as being mean. The only time that it's ok is when we don't talk about it and I don't ask questions. Have other people experienced a healthy appearing spouse that seems fine on the surface but still restricts and over exercises but claims that he or she is fine? The rigid schedules and distance and lack of being able to express love are there as well. Are those common eating disorder traits or is that her personality. I focus so much on the possible terrible outcomes and may be making things worse by bringing them to the forefront. I want her to be well but it seems like I won't be able to be the one to help her. If we have a fight she will often say "you haven't helped me and you won't be able to experience me when I'm well". That was all over the place. I'm just at a loss right now. Any assistance would be much appreciated.

BobJ48
ED Qualities.

Hey Mitch,

" Are those common eating disorder traits or is that her personality."

As we all know, it's unfair to generalize about people as everyone is different. Having gotten that statement out of the way, I think you are right in assuming that what you are seeing are indeed eating disorder traits. People with EDs are all different, but eating disordered behaviors can be awfully predictable, and much of what you mentioned is right in line with the ways in which people with EDs find themselves thinking and acting.

For example, the rigid routines, and the anxiety and irritability that can show up if the person is prevented from following those routines. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.

" The only time that it's ok is when we don't talk about it and I don't ask questions. "

This can be common too, particularly if things have been at an impasse for a long time, as seems to be the situation with you two.

" In my eyes I became her "savior" and "fixing" her Ed was my mission. "

Well exactly. We care about them, and as guys, we have an urge to "take action" whenever we are faced with problems. Plus the "rescuing" part too. These are all understandable urges, and yet I guess you've seen how effectve those sorts of efforts have turned out to be. Not very, usually. And after a while, our initial thoughts become replaced by our frustrations. These sorts of feelings of frustration and helplessness not good feelings at all, particularly when we love and care about the person.

" I want her to be well but it seems like I won't be able to be the one to help her. "

It can feel that way for sure, particularly when things have gone on in the same old way for so many years.

The thing is….I do think we can be of support to the person, but only if they provide us with something healthy to support. If they are not giving us a healthy area in which we can support them, then we really can feel stuck. When it comes to being helped, they pretty much have to be the ones who allow that to happen. So again, big parts of this can indeed be beyond our control.

Still, I'm sure that she understands that there are certain parts of having an ED that count as negatives. The way in which it effects her relationships with you, for one. I'm sure she's not happy about that, no matter how defensive or blaming she gets at times. Plus, over time, people with EDs usually find themselves becoming tired of being so constrained and restricted by the sorts of mental and practical inflexibilities that usually come with EDs. Despite how she may act, I suspect there's a lot of this that she doesn't enjoy either.

Also, as much as she might want it to be the case, she probably understands that she can't reasonably expect you not to be concerned. No matter how the two of you may argue at times.

So yeah, things can get stalled and bogged down, and relationships can end up in places that are not happy for any of the participants. This state of things is also something you can't reasonably be expected to ignore.

I guess the question is how does she expect things to proceed ? People with EDs are often convinced that nothing can change, and that it might be better for the two people to break up. But is it really true that they never can change ? Would she tell you that she honestly does not want to change, or is it more a situation where she believes that she can't change ?

That's probably a question that she should be asking herself. Without you having to ask it, you know ?

Keep writing ?

Bob J.

Rodgers12
been there

At the beginning we all make a lot of mistakes, there are many misconceptions about EDs, and common sense and natural caring kindness are not enough to "get it right", we get frustrated because how can I, caring so much, and loving her so much, come across as a threat to her? And then our own feelings make us be less accurate at expressing our concern or support. We end up doing harm, not because we are wrong, and not because we don't to more good things that bad ones. But they need 100 validating comments to erase one that they interpreted as triggering.

That's another thing to have in mind, "perception is reallity": what they understood is what hurt their feelings, and realizing it wasn't the real case, might not erase the feeling that is already there. This illness interferes with perception, is not only body image, it's reality in general.

It is frustrating, it's not your fault. But it's not her fault either. You have to understand that to your core, and let her know you finally get it. Only then comunication starts.

She is the one that has to save herself. Therapy/treatment is the thing that can help. You are his companion. Your job is to make her feel safe. Not to make her healthy. One thing helps the other. You have to have realistic expectations about your role, about helping her just a little tiny bit, and see results in subtle ways. Plant seeds that might or might not grow in months.

You can help her achieve a state of mind where anxiety doesn't interfere with her thoughts. When she can think, she already knows what is good and what is bad. When she feels she needs to defend herself, thinking goes out of the window.

You'll learn to test the moment, if you feel you are not able to help, you just give her some space and tell her you'll be there for her if she asks. Try to take care of yourself while she has that space.

Saying bad things about her low weight, is a common thing, and we are never ready about how bad they take it. She's hearing "you are making yourself ugly on purpose!" And reacting to that. She can't help it, she has a pain that she would do whatever it takes to make it go away. Again, when she understand that you gets this, then she will talk to you about it, when she feels she's not going to be judged by you. Then, the more you know about her, the easier will be to talk.

We partners need to take some unfair treatment, some unbalance, as in we are going to carry some of her problems, but we can't make them carry ours for a while, and never the "problem" of dealing with her. The guilt that they are hurting us, adds a lot of anxiety to her pain, and makes everything worse. In a way we have to fake not being hurt. Fake it until you make it. The more you learn, you'll know it's not about you, and it will give you some peace.

Her behavior, if you read some posts, is not at all uncommon. You are not alone in these frustrations.

smitty911
Perception of reality

Your comment regarding the perception of reality is so right on. I am new to all of this as the spouse of a wife with an ED, but I felt as though you were writing down comments about my particular situation. There is no ill-will or malice in my comments to my wife, but her interpretation of what I say is so off. When she tells me what I just said was a trigger I immediately become defensive then crumble into tears because of how she took it. She will yell at me and say that "You just don't get it. Don't you understand that you trigger me?". The irrational behavior makes all of this very unpredictable and I find that is one of the most challenging parts to go through. I want to remain genuine and be myself, but at the same time I never want to say anything that would be interpreted as hurtful. At this point, she is questioning our marriage. She makes comments that a therapist would tell her to leave me cause I do nothing but trigger her. I have lost weight since we have been together, but in my mind it is because I have changed my diet tremendously and to be honest, I just can't eat with all the turmoil. However, this has caused her to tell me that I too have an ED and am now her competition. How do I fix this??

BobJ48
Smitty - Tribal Wisdom

Smitty,

So I work on some big forums with the women, and have done that for over a decade. Here's what "the tribe" of people who have EDs themselves would likely tell her:

And that's that she needs to get her sh*t together and look into getting treatment. The fact that she's thinking of leaving your marriage because of issues with her ED ; they would frown on that too. They might indeed commiserate with her some, because they might understand those kinds of urges, but from the tribal standpoint not too many of them would be in agreement with this sort of step, and see it as yet another sign that she needs to get treatment. Because basically you can't allow your ED to screw things up to this extent.

As far as your own weight loss being a trigger, it probably is to some degree. But it's kind of the same thing : There are always going to be triggers in the world, and if otherwise innocent stuff is messing you up, then you need to be responsible and think about therapy.

" How do I fix this?? "

The thing is, we can't really fix it ; they have to want to fix it themselves. Which as I'm sure you are finding, doesn't do much for our own fixing urges.

In any case, this isn't much of an answer I know, but just to say that if it seems like she's not handling things well, there would be other people who might tell her the same thing.

And just to say, are there some times when she says that she knows that some of this is crazy ?

Most people with EDs understand that it is.

BobJ48

Mitch14
Bob and Rogers,

Bob and Rogers,
I really appreciate the input. I'm blown away at your insight. I was actually getting emotional reading your responses, so thank you.

My wife does not appear to be underweight overall, and I often tell her how beautiful that she is. It seemed that all of the praise and positive affirmations never had any effect on her mental state. It's frustrating because I am the only person in her life who has ever addressed this with her. I'm sure it is common to be met with anger and denial when this is initially addressed. I feel like it is a viscous cycle of ignoring when she seems like she's fine and then discussions escalating into arguments about it. I try to support and not engage but her perception is that I'm controlling and manipulating if I suggest she change her diet or activity. I became her unwanted psychotherapist. Unfortunately, when she gets upset she turns to her coping mechanism.

She has opened up to me. Most likely when I'm not interrogating her about her behaviors. She has seen a therapist and has been in a partial hospitalization program twice. I feel like she is not honest with them. She is incredibly smart and she may be able to tell her therapist just what she needs to hear. Being normal weight helps as well.

The secretive nature of this disease is concerning as well. I can't help but feel like her deceit with her history of purging could spill over into other parts of her life. I know that she is ashamed about that behavior and that's why she wouldn't want to share that with me, but I worry that she would be able to lie about other things with relative ease.

I always like looked at her purging as the litmus test of how bad she was. It was the only behavior that I could "observe" and when she would say that she wasn't doing it I felt like things were better. I had years that I thought she was better...like completely fine. She essentially called me an idiot for thinking that.

I feel like there is no road map for helping someone with this condition because of the secret nature of the disease and the fact that it doesn't manifest itself the same way in any two people and that is scary. Again, I really appreciate the input from you two and will try daily to put your advice into practice.

BobJ48
Navigation.

Mitch,

It's a little late to say this, but I wanted to say welcome to the forum. As I suspect you are finding, lots of things surrounding EDs can seem counterintuitive.

"..I often tell her how beautiful that she is. It seemed that all of the praise and positive affirmations never had any effect on her mental state…."

No kidding, positive comments about the person's appearance usually do nothing at all to help matters. All it shows (as far as they are concerned) is that you don't really get it about how they tend to look at things. Plus, from their standpoint, if you say something positive about their appearance, you're obviously "just saying that" to try try and make them feel better, when what you really mean is that they are fat. If you don't say anything about their appearance, then that's because you think they are fat too. In fact, anything you say about her appearance is likely to be taken the wrong way, and twisted by ED into something negative.

"I'm always glad to see you" is probably the better approach, when it comes to expressing our personal acceptance of her.

"..She has opened up to me. Most likely when I'm not interrogating her about her behaviors…"

It's a positive sign that she has been able to do this with you at times ! The thing to watch out for are our own urges to make suggestions to help them feel better. Instead it's better if we attempt to help them feel heard and understood…if you follow what I mean ? For example, one might say : "It's difficult when we find ourself so unsatisfied with ourselves." Because 1) she likely does feel unsatisfied, and 2) this is a feeling that all people can relate to to some degree. Even ourselves, you know ? The more you can help her feel understood, the better things will go.

"...She has seen a therapist and has been in a partial hospitalization program twice. I feel like she is not honest with them. She is incredibly smart and she may be able to tell her therapist just what she needs to hear…"

One thing I can tell you is that often it seems like being intelligent serves as some kind of risk factor for getting an ED. I'm not sure why that is : Perhaps they hold themselves to higher and more severe standards ; a quality which society values, but which can serve to draw them into trouble as well. Being a nice person seems to act as a risk factor too. Some of the greatest people you'd hope to meet end up struggling with EDs.

"...I always like looked at her purging as the litmus test of how bad she was…"

I think this is a fair assessment of things. I work on boards with the girls, and the first thing they will ask each other, when someone posts that their ED is getting worse, is what's going on in your life right now that has served to set things off like this.

"... I had years that I thought she was better...like completely fine. She essentially called me an idiot for thinking that…"

Try not to beat up on yourself if it seems like you've not been as perceptive as you might have been. People with EDs work hard at keeping their self-doubts and dissatisfactions at bay. They know that these feelings are toxic, and sometimes they do better or worse at keeping these feelings brushed under the rug. The fact that you may not have been aware that she was struggling at certain times certainly does not make you an idiot; she's done a good job of hiding these feelings, as much for herself and the good of your relationship as anything else.

What she's also saying, in a round-about way, is just how difficult it is for people with EDs to be rid these sorts of urges and feelings once they establish themselves in a person's mind. An intelligent person can intellectually have the whole thing figured out for themselves, but still be prey to those old associations. This can be very frustrating to the person, as you might imagine.

One thing though : I'm sure she's not happy about where she finds herself. Very few people who've had an ED for any amount of time ever are, which may lead to some of the irritation you see from her.

In any case, these matters truly are complex and pernicious, but on the other hand we can't afford to give up hope.

Not us, nor our loved ones either.

smitty911
Response to Mitch

It is very difficult not to get emotional with this topic, especially when you love the person so much as you and I both do. You said: "I feel like it is a viscous cycle of ignoring when she seems like she's fine and then discussions escalating into arguments about it. I try to support and not engage but her perception is that I'm controlling and manipulating if I suggest she change her diet or activity. I became her unwanted psychotherapist. Unfortunately, when she gets upset she turns to her coping mechanism." - This is the battle that we go through. If I don't acknowledge it then I am just in denial or not understanding, but when I talk about it I am hit with the fact that I am triggering her off to do more harm. She is a runner which is doing more harm than good. How do you be supportive of an activity that is harmful, but at the same time does provide some mental clarity and stress relief? I absolutely hate all of this. If I tell her she doesnt need to run then I am being manipulative, if I say go run then I am calling her fat. Please help!! I am losing my wife and best friend.

Mitch14
Smitty (autocorrects to

Smitty (autocorrects to smutty so be careful if ever referring to yourself in the third person!)...the charges of control and manipulation are frequent. It's hard because even words of encouragement can be perceived as controlling and manipulation. My wife runs regularly and for the longest time I felt like it was positive, achieving her goal of maintenance of the disease and making it ok to eat. I later realized that this was disordered behavior as well. I think what bothers us is the thoughts and feelings behind the actions. We want them to get better to be free of the obtrusive thoughts. I had recently realized that I have become codependent on her disorder. I felt like she needed me because she needed my help. I showed her I loved her by addressing her issues when no one ever had. All this did was make her hide from me, and that increased my efforts to help. It has been getting a little better, especially with some of the advice from this forum. I became enmeshed with the person and the condition. She felt like she had no identity with me other than the ED. I tried to step back...bite my tongue any time I felt like I should make a comment, and tried to not worry about things I could not control. I do not think my wife is in imminent danger but I do believe her quality of life and the quality of our marriage is hurt because of it.

BobJ48
Response to Smitty : Running.

Smitty,

" She is a runner which is doing more harm than good. How do you be supportive of an activity that is harmful, but at the same time does provide some mental clarity and stress relief? "

Running is kind of like the eating thing : Everyone in society applauds people who are able to loose weight. And really, there are plenty of people for whom losing weight is a healthy and positive thing. And then there are people with EDs. They lose weight too, but it's not a heathy thing for them.

I had a GF who was an obsessive runner and bicyclist. I did not know this about her when we got together, but when she showed me the big trophy that said she'd been the top female bike rider in our state the previous year (at age 50 ! ) inside my head I said "Uh oh...". Because I knew her well enough by then to have an idea that for her, this probably wasn't something that was healthy at all.

So that's another one of the paradoxes in all this. Things that can be heathy for some people, can serve dysfunctional purposes for others.

About the "mental clarity and stress relief" part, I suppose it can provide stress relief. I only talked about this once with my friend, and she said to me that when she was training on the bike "It was like I didn't have to think about anything"…a statement which was followed by her breaking down and crying. So pretty clearly she was using exercise not to get heathy, but rather as a means to not think about things. Things that she knew actually did need thinking about.

" If I tell her she doesnt need to run then I am being manipulative, if I say go run then I am calling her fat. "

No kidding : It can seem like we just can't win. But remember, it's they who are on edge, and it's their minds that twist things around like this, rather than you being the one who's at fault for the things that you say.

One way to approach your communication with her is to try and put yourself in her shoes. "It must be difficult to feel like something bad will happen, if you think about not going out and running." Because that is how she feels, I bet. That it will somehow be bad if she doesn't go run.

So there's an alternative response you might try. When other situations come up, you might try the same thing when you talk to her. Because a lot of things are a bummer for her I'll bet. And the more that we can seem like we "get it" about that, the better the communication becomes I believe.

Bob J.

Rodgers12
keep it simple

As an exercise, read again your own post. You say in different ways "if I do this, things get worse". So don't do that, take a step back, and do only what works. If one thing hasn't worked 12 times, it's not going to work better the 100th time.

There is no road map about helping her getting rid of this, it might take years. But there are ways to help her relax, or feel less threatened. She wants to be in control, and not feel ashamed. So focus on this, and keep your interaction/comments with her food to the minimum, only what works.

What works it's not much. But stopping what doesn't work, that makes a great improvement. And that takes a lot of self awareness and self assestment. We can only change ourselves.

Keep it up.

Mitch14
Forum,

Forum,
Another reason to reach out, other than to try to be more assistance to my wife, was to see if the ed was affecting her intimate attachment with me. She admitted that at times she doesn't want to be naked in front of me and other times she is comfortable. At times my touch is repulsive and other times welcome. We seem to be in a cycle of intimate attachment alternating with distancing behaviors. It seems the only time she realizes she should reach out to me is when I withdraw. This does get me the attention I desire but then I'm told that I'm childish and controlling. I'm sure my behavior patterns have changed and grown accustomed to interacting with her and her Ed. I've been looking into borderline personality issues as well as an explanation for some of her behaviors. I sometimes feel like I'm trying to get too deep into this. I know that my caregiving has helped foster an unhealthy attachment. I have attempted to uncouple myself from her chronic and compulsive condition. It's hard when she's distant. This may be getting off topic so I apologize. I do believe that the psychological consequences of this disease are very concerning to me and they are extremely hard to bring up without hitting her defenses.

BobJ48
Mitch : Attachment, BPD, etc.

Mitch,

I can tell you for a fact that the women on the forums often mention the same thing. At times they are good with being intimate, and then their are times when their sense of self-worth takes a nose-dive, and then they become disgusted with themselves. This then translates itself into what you are seeing : The "I'm fat" thing takes over again.

When you hear that buzz-phrase "Fat is not a feeling "…..this is kind of what they are referring to. People need to get deeper into their actual feelings and emotions, rather than things staying on the surface, and it being about their appearance instead.

" I'm sure my behavior patterns have changed and grown accustomed to interacting with her and her Ed."

That can happen for sure. This is when we need therapy of our own, I tend to think, if our own patterns don't seem to be helping the relationship.

" I've been looking into borderline personality issues as well as an explanation for some of her behaviors. I sometimes feel like I'm trying to get too deep into this."

BPD can certainly be a thing, so it's probably not wrong to give the idea some consideration. I've worked on some boards for people who have BPD, so I have some pretty good ideas about how it can be for the people who have it. As well as how things can go for their partners. Like you said, a person doesn't want to get too carried away with that particular angle, but even so, the advice that you can find, as far as how partners should respond to BPD can be really useful I think. Even if your partner doesn't have it.

" I know that my caregiving has helped foster an unhealthy attachment. I have attempted to uncouple myself from her chronic and compulsive condition. "

I hope you won't be too hard on yourself if you feel like things may have become too enmeshed. We care about them, so it's no surprise that we should get drawn in. Where the boundaries should be is not often clear. It's just a difficult thing all around.

" I do believe that the psychological consequences of this disease are very concerning to me and they are extremely hard to bring up without hitting her defenses."

It can be hard to know what our role should and should not be. While the psychological end of things is something that begs our attention, we can't really expect to be their partner as well as their psychologist too. Still, it's good to educate ourselves I think, but it may be best to leave some of these areas to the pros, if we have the opportunity to do that.

Bob J.