National Eating Disorders Association

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dan_man
Relationship has come to a halt

Hello everyone,

I've been in a relationship with my girlfriend for almost 4 years now. We're both 30 years old. About a year and a half into our relationship I discovered that she's got an eating disorder: she had very selective eating habits. In the summer of 2016 she had lost a lot of weight and was all skin and bones. From what I know now this must have been a relapse. She's struggled with this condition since high school.

Ever since I noticed, I read a lot about Anorexia and went to see a professional for advice. By now, I know about it's symptomatic nature, that an underlying perfectionism and need for controll is probably driving it - and also how (not) to mention it/interact.

Shortly after we had our "first talk", she told me that she's been in therapy since '14. An analytical type of therapy that tries to get to the "root" of things, i.e. you understand why you are doing certain things. As of autumn last year, she ended therapy (health insurance here only pays for a limited amount of time, apparently) and said she wanted to give it a go as she had learned strategies of how to deal with it.

Over the last years she'd shared a lot of details about her condition with me that she had not shared with anyone else yet and I really appreciate her openness and her trust.

We don't live together (~30 miles apart) and see each other once or twice a week. I know that she goes to the gym, running or to spinning classes four times a week and our dates are aranged to fit this schedule. There's never been anything like meeting up sponateously.

During the first 2 years of our relationship whe had a reasonably normal intimacy. At the beginning it was even passionate. This, however has been on a steady decline. The last time we were physically close was in mid April or so. It's not only the lack of it that's bothering me but the apparent absence of her need for intimacy. When we walk, she refuses my hand, when I try to touch/kiss her, she turns away. When we kiss goodbye ond sundays, it's just a peck without eye contace and when I smile at her, her response is only casual and she looks away. The utter lack of emotional closeness (also of physical intimacy but most importantly of empathy) is really bothering me.

When we see each other on the weekends, we head from café to café to bar to cinema and it feels as if we are not doing things together but as two separate people. It feels as if theres a concrete wall around her. Our one-week vacation was the same and the atmosphere was terrible.

When I ask her about something we've talked about before, she's oftentimes curt and condescending. She's certainly right in criticizing me for being unorganized and, at times, forgetful. When things don't go her way, I'm given the silent treatment and she locks up. I usually apologize or try to work out what's wrong.

She initiates a "talk" or tries to work things out in a conversation only very rarely.
Then, sometimes she apologizes and says that she knows she's being to perfectionist, that she's always been like that (also in previous relationships).

I often get the impression that she doesn't love me as I oftentimes feel like a mere companion. I've mentioned this.

Also, that she enjoys the time with me very much and that she wants me around, that she loves me and that the reason for her being unresponsive/silent is that she's simply burnt out and doesn't want to do do/say anything. We've talked about moving together. I think that this could result in us splitting up. She said that it could bring a little normality in our relationship as we wouldn't need to make the most of the few dates we have.

Meeting friends also seems to be difficult for her. A couple of days ago she said that this is often stressful for her as such "quality time" could be spent doing something productive (i.e. sports, work) and that it always involves having to eat something. Then, when we spend our evening in town or when we're at her family's, she eats enormous amounts of food and sweet stuff. Sometimes she orders two main courses at the restaurant. She also smokes a lot since her relapse.

She says that her perfectionsism, and hence, her eating disorder is a part of her, that it's "the way I am".

When I'm with her, this drives me crazy and I am oftentimes very frustrated as I know that I can't really do anything against it. I also know that the want for change should come from her and that I can't force/urge her to do so.

I don't really know what I should do. I've been thinking about ending the relationship a lot, especially after our last vacation and when there's been a particularly silent weekend. But after a couple of days into the week and emoji-laden whatsapp-conversations this thought wears off.

How should I approach her and tell her to get back to therapy, maybe try another type of therapy? What can I do so our relationship becomes healthier, more intimate for both of us without making it feel like an obligation for her? Should I hold out the prospect of ending the relationship as in "me or your condition, your call"?
I find it hard, if not impossible to accept her attitude towards her condition, i.e. "this is how I am/this is a part of me".

BobJ48
Hey Dan...

Dan,

Sorry that your post sat here for a few days. I hope you'll see this reply.

So first off, I don't know how much the professional you saw mentioned this, or how much your reading mentioned it. but the relationship pattern you mention is extremely common. Things seem fine to begin with, but with time and with increased intimacy, things go through a puzzling reversal, and rather than becoming warmer, the relationship becomes increasingly cold instead. I've been on forums like this for a dozen years or more, and I can't begin to tell you how many times I've heard this exact same story, so if it's any comfort, you're not the only person to experience this exact same thing.

"As of autumn last year, she ended therapy...and said she wanted to give it a go as she had learned strategies of how to deal with it."

This really is an admirable goal. You rightly mentioned the control thing, and it's true : At some point they'll need to have control over the recovery part too. Recovery can seem to be a sort of turn-around from the ED sort of control, but it can still involve the control issue. And the perfectionism and all that. Just as EDs are hard to shake, so are the control/perfection issues too.

Except what's happening is that her ED is not gone, and she is still feeling it's draw.

And despite whatever you may say or do, she knows you wish she would get better. The fact that she's not getting better (when perfectionism and control says that she should be getting a grip) nags at her, and the relationship ( and your reasonable and caring expectations ) just serve as an increasing and ever-present reminder her of how imperfect she is. So she begins to withdraw, rather than becoming closer.

None of this is your fault, and I really do hope you can believe that. It really is another one of those sorts of paradoxes that can come with EDs. We believe that as with most relationships, our care and warm affection will serve to make things better, and yet they seem to make things worse instead. But really, what's our better response ? To act like we don't care ? As I'm sure I don't have to tell you, the whole thing can seem impossible at times.

"Then, sometimes she apologizes…"

Yes, I can pretty much guarantee that she knows how hard this must be for you.

"What can I do so our relationship becomes healthier, more intimate for both of us without making it feel like an obligation for her? "

You know, that really is the core question I think, because the "obligation" part plays a huge roll in all this. She may feel an obligation to not be a disappointment to you, and to be perfect for you. After all, look at how earnest and caring you are. But really, it gets back to the same old thing, she feels an obligation to be perfect for herself, and what with the binging and all, it's clear to her that that's just not happening. So she's being a disappointment to both you, and to herself as well. Which is not exactly the greatest atmosphere for intimacy.

As you know, people with EDs can be terrifically hard on themselves, so that's part of it too.

One thing you might say as a means to address this is "You don't have to be perfect for me." That's going to sound like a cliche I know, but whatever you can do to get that point across may help things a little. True, she'll still be battling her own personal expectations, but if you can convince her that you don't need her to be perfect for you…it may help clarify things a little, and take a little of the load off.

The "Dare to be Imperfect" thing. That's something she may want to think about too.

In any case, I think you're seeing just how complicated and tangled the control/ perfectionism can get. Like really tangled. It's likely that she's aware of this too.

As you said, therapy ( "I need therapy? Another sign of imperfection !" ) might help her untangle things a little , but as you also said, it will need to be her choice.

Dare to be imperfect, you know ?

Bob J.

dan_man
Bob,

Bob,

thanks for your insightful perspective. It certainly helps with the constant pondering about my own responsibility for the distance that has emerged. I'll have to let this sink in a little and see how I can get the message accross and understood.

Just two days ago - to my surprise - she said that she's thinking about joining a meditation course as she's also struggeling with stress at work. She said she'd even consider dropping one of her sporty activities to do it and she asked me if I wanted to go too. I was really happy that she brought up something like this. You can bet that she never comes up with any suggestions of the kind without having already made intensive research. So I guess that we'll start in autumn! Keep your fingers crossed!