National Eating Disorders Association

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hbintheam
Need someone to talk to about relationship advice and upcoming wedding culture anxiety

I'm in a 3+ year relationship with someone who's in ED recovery. I proposed over the winter and we're planning on getting married in January of next year.

My fiancee has had problems with restrictive eating and bulimia in the past (bulimia more so in the distant past). She has gone through in patient therapy before we started seeing each other and for the most part is good about managing her disorder. She has seen how destructive it can be and how it affects her health. After a year of us dating each other, she had to have her gall bladder removed. The doctors were all confused why a healthy young woman would have so many gall stones, but it made more sense with her history of ED. There are of course the bumps along the way and triggers to watch out for though while she's managing.

This past week has been a hard one for a few reasons.

There's definitely added stress and anxiety because of the upcoming wedding. She's in good shape but wants to make sure she's toned and looks good for the big day. We work out almost 5 times a week together, but are planning on joining a gym together too. She says that working out helps her feel more comfortable with eating less restrictively. We both know the next year will be hard with her dealing with these feelings and being pulled into the wedding beautiful bride/shedding for the wedding culture. But I'm definitely worried about her getting too obsessive.

She also had her first real period recently because of a lapse in birth control after not having one in years. Her periods make her hungrier than she normally is, so that's always a hard thing for her to deal with while being hormonal.

I accidentally triggered her last week and again last night and we had talked about how those were both contributing to her feeling more sensitive with her food issues. From there, once her ED has been triggered, it really puts a lot of stress on our relationship. I know that when we fight or have conflicts, we don't handle them in a healthy way. A lot of the time it ends up with her telling me what I did wrong, how I was thoughtless or careless, I didn't put her feelings first. And she's right. I have my own emotional development and communication issues that stem from my midwestern upbringing and an anxiety disorder I've been managing since junior high. She's had years of therapy and is a much better communicator and way more emotionally matured. Because of this, I always feel like it's my faults being pointed out while I try to look past hers because they're things that I can live with or they don't bother me that much (midwestern upbringing at work). I also too often try to defend myself or push the blame for something onto circumstances that were outside of my control. I realize I need to get myself into therapy to help deal with these issues.

But when her ED is triggered by something I said or did, some of the bad habits of our general conflicts end up affecting how we each feel in the aftermath. She withdraws, gets quiet, verbally combative. She's embarrassed by her ED and hurt that I was so careless with my words or how I responded to something. I realize I did something wrong and apologize. We talked about this last night and I've begun to realize that rather than me trying to comfort her and help her through this, asking what she needs/how I can help... I instead just apologize and beat myself up following her around looking for her to forgive me and say it's all ok. She has issues with her temper and when I try to apologize, take the blame for what I said/did, she sometimes reacts badly and says hurtful things or throws it back in my face. Then I feel worse and keep trying to apologize and tell her how terrible I feel about what I did to her.

Last night we talked about how this is so painful and difficult for her because she is the one who's struggling with ED. She knows I'm not to blame and I didn't try to trigger her, but she wishes I was more careful and thoughtful. But she's the one who's in pain. She's the one who's struggling with her brain fighting her body's instinct to eat. And me feeling terrible for how she's feeling and beating myself up over it makes her feel even more guilty about it. And then she has to be the one to say 'I forgive you, it's ok. I'm not mad anymore.' It should instead be me trying to comfort her and help her through this issue when her disorder acts up, but it's her having to wave her hand to make me feel ok while she's feeling broken herself. This is all stuff that she had to communicate to me rather than me learning on my own. Which adds to the same problem of her having to help me while she doesn't even have the ability to help herself.

I realize I need to do more to help her in these times and be a supportive ally. Last night and this morning I've been writing myself notes so I have something I can read over to remind myself of all of this. So i can keep what she's said will be helpful when she's triggered more front of mind and hopefully react in a more helpful and thoughtful way in the future. I hate that I now feel I need to give myself a cheat sheet on how to deal with it, but I feel like I've triggered her so many times and once I do, I feel like I'm walking on egg shells waiting for her to blow up. I need to be better with how I react in these situations and try to better give her help in ways she's told me would work better for her.

At this point she's really disappointed and frustrated with me since I haven't been great in these situations for pretty much the duration of our relationship. I really have to start better showing her that I care about her ED, her triggers, what she needs to start moving through a flare up.

I'd love to hear any advice on how to help her manage through the build up to wedding season, things for me to keep in mind during ED trigger fall out, any recommended reading, or just even little ways you show your partner that you care and you love them and want to support them. I really feel terrible that I haven't been a better partner, and I know I need to step up.

Thanks for being a place for me to finally open up about some of this. I haven't really shared a lot of this with anyone and it's nice to have an outlet to unload at least some of what we've been going through.

iwanttolive
hbintheam

Hi. Welcome to the forum. I am glad you reached out and explained your situation so well. I first want to say that you are not responsible for your girlfriend's behavior, regardless of her being triggered. It is her responsibility to take care of herself and not blame you for why she is acting on behaviors. That is very unfair to you. It is also not fair that you should always be second guessing yourself and always being afraid of saying the wrong thing. That is not a very comfortable way to be living and being in a relationship. You need to be able to be you and not be fearful of setting your girlfriend off. I am not saying that she doesn't need help and is capable of not using behaviors, but to blame you, this is wrong and unfair. That you are always apologizing and her expecting that is unfair to you. You are in this relationship together. Things she does affects you, things you do affect her, any relationship is that way. In fact I just had a long conversation with my roommate on this very issue. How our "stuff" affects one another. I am sorry your girlfriend is suffering and is seemingly so easily triggered. Could you perhaps go to some pre marital counselling and try to work some of these things out? I would hate to see you always being the brunt of her anger, her use of behaviors and you feeling responsible for her and her illness. She is responsible to take care of her illness. You can love her, be kind and respectful and if you know something that you say bothers her, to try not to say it, but everyday conversation, having to be on guard for fear that you will trigger her is not right. That is putting too much stress on you, and you are not responsible if she acts out on the eating disorder behaviors. I hope you can see this. I am glad you posted and hope you get others posting to you to give you their take on this. I just hate to see you feeling so guilty and so responsible. We are only responsible for ourselves. We can not change anyone but ourselves. We can be there to support others but ultimately we are each only responsible for ourselves. I wish you the best and hope to see you around again. I would like to know what you think of what I wrote. Take care,

iwanttolive

ps I can tell you love your girlfriend. But you also need to love yourself and take care of yourself and not get beat up emotionally. Please take care of yourself.

iwanttolive

hbintheam
Thank you for the reply and

Thank you for the reply and the kind words.

We've talked more about it over the last 2 days and had some conversations that were helpful. I'm also looking into counselors for myself, ones who focus on behavioral issues, anxiety, and relationship counseling. A major plus if they also have experience with eating disorders, but there aren't as many of those available. I sent my first e-mail out asking about a phone consultation, so making steps.

Over the last few nights we talked more about the issues, and she reiterated that she doesn't want me to feel like I'm a bad partner, because she knows I'm a great one. I do so much more good than I do bad. Just the bad all comes from the same issues of me sometimes forgetting to be more thoughtful, caring, and communicative and asking her about things rather than just assuming I have the right answers all the time. I want to start counseling to work on some of these issues myself and have another outlet for me to talk about our relationship and get more perspective.

But she knows I care, and she knows I'm really trying to help. But she gets frustrated because she's given me examples of what to do the next time it happens, or instructions on how I should try to handle it. I have had problems remembering exactly what to do and instead fall back onto strategies that I think are right, or what I think were something she had said in the past. I run into issues because it seems like with her ED, it can be a lot of contradictions and it's hard to know what I should be following exactly. I know ED isn't logical. She does too. She told me she often feels like she's trapped behind a wall, and she knows I'm trying to help and she knows her thinking isn't healthy or clear, but she just can't break through when she's feeling that way. She can't help by letting me know what food sounds like something she could eat when I ask. I can understand how this makes it hard for her.

In order to try and keep more on top of what strategies she says would help, and to remind myself to not beat myself up emotionally and that she's the one struggling with the mental illness, I've started writing detailed notes in my phone. Little things to remind me of how she's feeling, how she would like me to help her, things I should better try not to do. So far it's helped in the immediate present and I hope it ends up being a good resource for me. I haven't told her about it though because I worry it would make her feel worse, that I would need a manual on how to deal with her when she's having issues. But at this point I just want to try and do what's right for her and get those strategies and positive thoughts of how she cares about me and knows I'm trying into my head.

We had another triggered episode last night that illustrated some behaviors I think are really difficult and drive us apart more. We were talking about our upcoming engagement party and she was thinking about getting her hair blown out and having fake eyelashes done at a spa ahead of time, but she was worried about spending the money or being too extra. I talked her through options and was trying to be encouraging with my responses. When she asked at the ned of it whether I thought she should do it or not, I said "Yeah I think you should. I want you to be comfortable at our party." She took offense to this, and I realized what I said didn't really convey the message I wanted to send, so I tried to clarify by saying "I mean I want you to feel beautiful and special. It's a special day and I want you to feel good." And she got upset that I had said comfortable, meaning that she is so ugly that she would only be comfortable after having her hair and make up done professionally, or that she was so prissy she needed all this extra stuff done to feel comfortable. She said she wanted to do them because she didn't want to lose it in front of her brother while getting ready or in front of the party guests, knowing that she's been having a rough time lately with her ED and mental illness. I kept trying to tell her that she had misunderstood what I meant by saying comfortable. That I realized it was the wrong word choice, but I tried to clarify the meaning better right after by saying I wanted her to feel beautiful and special since it was a special party. But at that point, her disordered thinking had kicked in and she only heard the negative meaning she thought I had said instead of what I was actually trying to convey.

Then I realized something that really effects me and frustrates me. When something like this happens and her disordered thinking kicks in, she no longer trusts me about what I had meant to say or and it feels like she doesn't believe me when I try to express how sorry I am and what I was trying to say. Then she often will say something like "It doesn't matter. I was looking forward to the party but now it's ruined and we should cancel it. I do'nt want to do it anymore." So then I feel more like I'm being punished because she's taking away this thing without listening to me or believing best intentions for where I'm coming from.

I now know it's a common thought loop for people with ED to often think that they aren't good enough for something, and have issues with control. Those both seem to play a lot into this situation. We talked a little bit this morning about trying to remember each other having best intentions, but I still think it's a bigger conversation we need to have maybe when she's feeling a little more stable.

I hear where you're coming from about it being her responsibility to manage her own reactions to triggers and how she handles them. I do think that it's something we need to have more conversations about, but I don't feel like I have space to make her feel more to blame for this. I have a problem with pushing off blame in general and not accepting it, and I know it will feel like me pushing blame onto her and me washing my hands and saying "I can't deal with you when you're like this." Which will hurt her a lot. I also need to be better about just thinking more about what I say before saying it.

Thank you for the message about needing to love myself and taking care of myself. I need to remember that more often when we're having issues, since those always seem to blow up to being such a big thing. I think counseling will be a big help for me, and maybe it's something we need to look into together as a couple at some point but it's scary to think about doing counseling together. I always feel like that's such a slippery slope to just being the start of the end, but I know we have some fairly difficult problems we could use help working through in order to make sure we're both as happy as we can be together.

iwanttolive
Hi

Hi again. I read over your post and again, I feel that your girlfriend is being overly critical of what you say and do. It is not fair to you. To have you being the brunt of all her baggage. Yes, she does have an eating disorder, but that doesn't give her the permission to make you her punching bag and that is what is sounds like from what you are saying. Boundaries are a very important thing in relationships. They are good, not bad. She is the one that brought up going and getting a spa treatment. You supported her. She didn't like the way you worded it, so she got mad at you. You shouldn't have to micromanage what you say for fear of upsetting her. I really hope that you do get some help as this will destroy any chance of a healthy marriage. I am not married but do have relationship difficulties with my sister that I live with. Sometimes a third party is really necessary. Wishing you the best.

iwanttolive

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