National Eating Disorders Association

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On the cusp of a relapse

Hi all,

My partner felt like she had 'conquered' her ED - she no longer binges and purges, and she's gradually getting back to a weight that she's happy with just from eating normally and things had the appearance of settling down. I'm massively proud of her, although I can only guess at how much of a mountain it is to climb, and she's even talked about getting a tattoo to commemorate being 'free' of it (I did something similar after going through a really dark patch last year).

Recently her mood will change in an instant. Simple things like me talking about a friends gig I went to before we met to someone else, will be met with a comment about how much happier I was with my 'skinnier' ex (her words, not mine) and a subsequent argument as there are no warning signs and the negative comments just hit me out of the blue. Last night something similar happened, we'd had a really nice day just relaxing about, there was a brief wobble when out food shopping but I've learnt to just remove us both from the situation. We'd finished watching a film, and literally within a minute I was being hit with accusations that I only fancied 'skinny' girls - all because an old (female) friend that I used to hang out with liked a picture that my partner put on Facebook of us two.

I know I shouldn't, and she's looking for reassurance, but I'm beginning to just find it exhausting and so frustrating. I tell her every day that she is the most beautiful person I've ever been with, most intelligent, sexiest...the top of all the lists - and I'm not even lying, but it doesn't seem to matter. I try not to, but it does make me angry sometimes because I feel like I'm being attacked for absolutely nothing, and I'm feeling like I'm starting to walk on eggshells. She's unequivocally the love of my life and I would do anything for her. This year I've relocated to a new city away from all my friends, moved house twice, lost my job, started a (stressful) new one, had money problems and tried to support my partner as much as I can - but I get tired, I feel tired and burnt out, so when these arguments pop up I can struggle to approach them with a clear head.

Towards the end of the 'argument' she started to tell me that she's back on a downward spiral with regards to her ED - it's starting to dominate her days again, she's panicking about food and obsessing about size. Obviously I want to help, but sometimes I just don't know what to say. I've tried little things like buying her a book on Mindfulness (clearly not the answer, but just to give her relaxation tips), looked at buddhist meditation - but I know there's things I should do and avoid, I'm just unsure what.

We make a point of not keeping loads of snacks in the house, and cook fresh, healthy dinners every night - but I'm just concerned I'll do something that will upset her and send her in to a relapse. I want to start running again (mainly for health reasons, I don't really care about my body size) but I know if she joins, there is a risk she will take it too far (which she has done).

Any advice over just how to 'conduct' myself would be greatly appreciated. I know I need to take care of myself as a priority, which I'm managing fairly well (I just need the Christmas holidays to sleep!) but any ideas from those in a similar situation would be really helpful. Should I suggest I come to one of her counselling sessions? I wait outside for her when I can get the time off work, as I know she can be upset afterwards. Would that help?

On the cusp of a relapse

Hi, duncsvoice. First, I want to commend you for sticking by your partner through her struggles. Whether or not she comes out and says it, I bet she appreciates your support more than you know! As far as the mood changes and triggers that seem to come out of nowhere - don't take them personally. It sounds like the little "ED voice" in the back of her head is bringing up these thoughts, not anything you said or did. I think that attending a counseling session with her could be very helpful - as long as she is comfortable with it (if not, maybe she can suggest something that would help). I hope that your partner is soon able to declare herself "free" of her ED for good!

RE: on the cusp of a relapse

Hi duncsvoice,
I can tell how much you care about your partner as she works on staying in recovery. It can be very difficult to see someone you love that much suffer through an eating disorder, but your unwavering support is so helpful to the process. Like kate84 mentioned, she may not say it outright, but your encouragement and love can help her stay on the right track. It is not easy, but you are doing an amazing thing but asking for help for yourself as well. It really shows you want to be strong enough to help her through this. That's incredibly courageous and I admire you for that!

I also wanted to let you know that relapse is part of recovery. While it may feel like your partner is going backwards into old habits, it does not mean 100% recovery is not possible!

Here is some information about relapse you may find helpful

In order to take care of yourself, there are many things you could do. Professional help is the best recommended treatment for both those suffering and for loved ones of those suffering. Support groups specifically targeted toward friends and family of those with an eating disorder could be helpful for you. For more information on that (or any questions at all you may have!), feel free to call the NEDA Information and Referral Helpline at (800) 931 2237. The NEDA Helpline is available Monday-Thursday from 9AM to 9PM Eastern Time and Friday 9AM to 5PM to give additional support to our contacts.

Here are also some links you may find useful as you continue being a support system for your partner

We wish you the best of luck in this journey, duncsvoice! Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any more questions or need any additional support! Remember, recovery for your partner IS possible! Stay strong!