National Eating Disorders Association

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chris78
Wife of Nine Years with ED

Hello all, I've recently been made aware of my wife's eating disorder and after reading some of the posts on here I was not only saddened by the struggles many others have but also encouraged to see all of the helpful comments and feedback. I was hoping someone out there might have something for me and/or I can share some of my experiences with others. So here goes . . .

A brief history - my wife and I have been married for almost nine years. We have two beautiful, healthy daughters that are almost three and half. We bought our first house, sold it and bought another one last year. We certainly had our struggles when the kids were young like any other couple but nothing extraordinary. I have been stable in my career and she started her own business a few years ago that is starting to become stable and is doing well. I thought everything was going very well . . . until she sat me down on January 2nd and told me she has been unhappy these past couple years and doesn't know if she is in love with me anymore. Needless to say this came way out of left field and I was crushed. Looking back there were a few not so obvious signs to me but hindsight is 20/20 right? After a couple weeks of trying to understand what was going on she admitted to me that she has an eating disorder (binging and purging) and has been dealing with this since she was 12 years old. She did mentioned to me while we were dating that she had this problem on and off in her late teens and early 20's but she told me that it wasn't a problem for her anymore. Not knowing too much about this disease I took her at her word and I NEVER saw any signs of it. Up until recently no one in her family or circle of friends knew. We had a brief soft separation for a couple of months to help give her the space she needed to figure us out and her ED. We are now back living in the same house trying to figure this out.

Over the past six weeks she admitted that perhaps our marriage wasn't as rocky as she initially thought and while there are underlying marital problems it's nothing that can't be worked though in therapy or something that might prompt a divorce. She also admitted that through her own therapy she has learned how her ED has affected her personality in terms of a positive self worth and positive self esteem. Knowing this it is still difficult to separate marriage problems from her ED. In ways both are very intertwined. I get defensive when she verbally attacks me but I have to remember that she is not herself, she is almost a different person. I know find myself giving in on most conversations or arguments now to keep the balance which I don't feel is helpful for either of us.

I love my wife so much but I struggle to find the right words to say - it's either too much (trying to fix the problem) or not enough (just actively listening doesn't work either.) I have a hard time understanding what she is going through and she is having a hard time trying to describe it. I feel like she thinks that I am the enemy, doesn't trust me and dumps on me when she can. If the marriage problems weren't there I could be in a different mind set when talking but that's not the case. She has since told her family about her ED, a few select friends and is going to treatment but it's still early. She has told me that she doesn't have the mental capacity to also going through couples therapy at this time and every conversation or argument we have she says " I don't know how we are going to stay together after this." I've been trying to educate myself on this (she recommended a book to me) and started to go to individual therapy myself.

I know she is going through a lot with keeping her business going, raising two small children, dealing with a partner she isn't happy with and her ED. I just don't know what to do or what to say. If anyone else is/has or know someone how is going through this I'd love any input. If not thanks for letting me type this out and reading.

iwanttolive
chris78

Hi and welcome to the forum. I am so sad as I read your post. It must have been some shock when your wife came to you and blindsided you with two things, the marriage and her eating disorder. Wow!! I am so sorry. I am not married so I can not help there, but I have had an eating disorder and am in mostly almost recovery. I don't know how she kept it a secret for so long. Remember that when she lashes out part of her brain isn't nourished so she isn't thinking clearly. Which may be why she said what she did about the marriage and then said maybe not so bad after all. I am glad to hear you are getting help. There has to be a happy medium. To take all her insults and attitude about when things go wrong and to blame you and your taking it because you don't know what to say or don't want to upset her is probably not helping either one of you. Again, I am not married and never been in a relationship but I have sisters and family and friends. I know if I take all their stuff and say nothing I will get angry and resentful. My one sister is ill and very difficult to communicate with and sometimes it seems easier to just let it go and let her have it her way. But resentment sets in. That is my concern for you and your wife. And it can go both ways. She may come to resent you for taking her anger out on you, and you may get tired of getting dumped on all the time. It is good she is getting help for her bulimia. It is a life threatening illness. She does need help. And so do you so I am glad you are getting it. Marriage is difficult and to throw an eating disorder on top of it is really difficult. It seems like you are afraid to zig or zag. Fear of making her worse. Something you need to know is that you are not responsible for her bulimia or her using behaviors. It is her choice, her decision. So don't take on that responsibility. She is ill. She may try to make you feel responsible but you are not. She is responsible to get help, not to blame, and to not have you fearing what you do or say with her. Very difficult situation I can only imagine. I am really sorry that you are going through this but am glad you posted asking for help and support. Keep going to therapy to work things out and get the help you need. That was excellent on your part to do that. I hope you are getting the help you need. NEDA has some great resources so check them out to see what they have to offer. I don't know what else to say except you were hit pretty hard and I hope that things work out with the marriage. I think when she gets help with the eating disorder the marriage issues will be able to be addressed and she will be able to do some marriage counselling. But with the eating disorder being so loud right now I think she is probably right that it isn't the right time. But again, I am not a professional and I've never been married so I may not know what I am talking about. So I will end here. Take care, post again and let us know how things are going and again I am sorry this was just dropped on you out of no where.
iwanttolive

BobJ48
Chris,

Chris,

"...I have a hard time understanding what she is going through and she is having a hard time trying to describe it…"

"...She also admitted that through her own therapy she has learned how her ED has affected her personality in terms of a positive self worth and positive self esteem. …"

One thing to keep in mind with EDs is that inside the person's head, nothing is really ever really good enough. With themselves, I mean. She's never thin enough, she feels shame over her binging and purging, she'll never get down to her goal weight, and….well….after all of these years of trying, she'll never really be as good as she hopes she might be. So do keep in mind the "good enough" thing. It's a feeling that can really gnaw at the person, and keep them frustrated and on edge as well. All these years, and she's still not reached a point where she feels satisfied with herself ? It's an unsettling idea alright.

And *obviously* you are going to have expectations. All this caring stuff of yours - You just want her to get better is all. But you don't really get it about what EDs are like. So life would be a lot easier without you and your expectations to deal with. No matter how much you love her and all that. Your care and "hopes for improvement" almost makes things worse. So maybe it would be simpler if the two of you broke up.

This really can be where their thinking ends up, and from what you've said, you're seeing the results of that. And yes, like you said, what can you really say to make things better ?

If it's any consolation, I worked on another board for the partners of people with EDs for about ten years, and I can assure you that this "pushing away and withdrawing" thing was pretty much the number one issue that guys would show up to talk about. It's just super-common in situations like this. I've also worked on boards for people who have EDs, and they often talk about how b*tchy and irritable and short-tempered their EDs cause them to be. So that's a common part of it too.

What the answer is from your standpoint can difficult to understand, particularly if the "walking on eggshells" thing is what you are going thought now. A fellow can have a hard time knowing what sort of stance to take, it's true.

My general feeling is that you can't allow yourself to be too reactive. It's hard not to respond to her accusations and moods, I know. But in the long run it's better to be calm and a "Steady Eddy" (even if you have to fake it sometimes ! ) rather than allowing yourself get whipsawed around by her changing moods. Do read the book she gave you, and pay close attention to the emotions and feelings that are mentioned. Being able to put yourself in her shoes may not help her in a practical way, but it will help you understand where some of her ways of being are coming from, and the nature of the demons she's fighting.

Keep in touch here too, if it seems to help. What you are going though….I suspect you've seen the other folks here who are dealing with a lot of the same things. While it's unsettling, there are some common patterns to it too. And common ways that she finds herself feeling too.

Bob J.

jskoeni
Hi Chris,

Hi Chris,
First off, I am so sorry that you and your family are going through this situation. EDs are terrible, manipulative, soul crushing nightmares and it always saddens me to see people suffering and their loved ones at a loss on what to do. It's been 17 years since I had my ED and I still vividly remember how I behaved to others, to those I loved the most. I picked fights with friends and my then boyfriend. I thought if I made them hate me enough, they'd leave me alone to my torment. I thought that it was easier to let the ED lash out at them instead of me. I hated myself physically and felt that my physical self was a constant failure and waste of space. I hated myself mentally because I was not as smart as my mom and was academically and socially flawed. I can imagine, on some level, those thoughts are similar to your wife's. I think BobJ48 said it perfectly with trying to be the constant, calm presence in her life. My mom was that way for me and ultimately I decided to do recovery for her. EDs want to separate us from everyone else so that quietly and dangerously it can kill the sufferer without witnesses.

I strongly encourage you to contact NEDA if you need addition support beyond the forums. They have a lot of really good resources and have trained volunteers on their helpline and chat.

https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/help/caregivers

NEDA Contact:
Helpline 1-800-931-2237
Chat at www.myneda.org
Text "NEDA" to 741741

chris78
Wow, than you all three for

Wow, than you all three for your comments, perspective and kind words. To be honest I didn't know if I'd get any response at all. I will keep in touch and hopefully my posts and comments to it will help others down the road who deal with similar situations. Not too much has changed since my last post, one step forward and one step back. I know she is trying and I am seeing some positive things, but then the other shoe drops and I either misread the signals or like all three of you mentioned it's the ED talking. I have started reading the book and it's definitely given me insight into her thinking which is really frightening. We all have feelings of self criticism and low self esteem at points in our life but ED amplifys it 10 fold. It takes up the most of their day to day thinking so there are physically there but not mentally. This is another conversation but I'm also very fearful for my little girls as they start growing up. I've read that ED can be hereditary but there are certainly other factors that go into it. Just reading about how this person in the book had her first "weight" experience while she was only four years old in dance class makes me not want to put them in dance or ballet even though they love dancing. Anyway, thanks again everyone and I'll try to post an update in a few months.

BobJ48
Hey Chris.

Chris,

"I have started reading the book and it's definitely given me insight into her thinking which is really frightening. We all have feelings of self criticism and low self esteem at points in our life but ED amplifys it 10 fold."

You certainly got it about that. In the beginning it can be about personal accomplishment. If one just sticks to it, then we will become improved as a human being. And finally become "Good enough". But then it turns into all this stuff with numbers - if the scale goes down, then…we are OK at least for the moment. If the scale goes up, it's just further proof of what a failure we are. Self-judgment can become pretty black and white after a while, rather than nuanced like it is for healthier people.

" It takes up the most of their day to day thinking so there are physically there but not mentally…"

I'm not sure it's always that way for people once they get older, but it's certainly the case with younger folks. You hear them frequently talk about how pretty much all of their brain-space is taken up by numbers and thoughts of food. They often begin to have problems with school, and keeping up with social activities, because they don't have room left in their head for those things any more. And when you consider the fact that people's brains are not fully formed until they are in their mid 20s, imagine how their brains are becoming wired if they are young, and that's all that's going on inside there. It's no wonder that people can continue to have problems with these same sorts of thoughts on into middle age sometimes.

At the same time, you'll hear younger people often state this "obsessional thinking" as the main reason they want to recover. Like they want to reclaim their brains, and make room for the things that they used to be passionate about in the past. Having it filled up with ED thoughts all the time begins to get exhausting after a while.

Also, when we hear about increased awareness about bullying and fat-shameing, it starts to make a while lot more sense when you hear people with EDs talk about how early their EDs got rolling, and how vividly they remember those moments from their youth. Things like that really can make a difference it's true.

In any case, stick with your reading. And don't try and sugar coat things with your wife. If she can begin to believe that you are beginning to really understand what she's going through, then that may help decrease the marital tensions and help matters a bit.

Bob J.

kayleigh91
Chris

Hey Chris! Your posted reminded me a lot of myself and my husband. Any rockiness I ever felt between us was when I was struggling with self-hate or the ed voice was really loud. ED wants your wife to herself when its strong and sometimes its hard to deny or separate that from true love. I am lucky enough where my husband forgave me for all of my outlashes and hysteria. It sounds like you are very supportive as well. I wish the best of luck for you and your relationship with your wife.