National Eating Disorders Association

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Feeling more like a therapist than a partner

My girlfriend of two years and I have just gotten engaged. I have known from the beginning that she is in recovery from a very serious eating disorder that she spent years in inpatient therapy for. She suffers from bipolar disorder and an exercise disorder as well as anorexia.

I love her. I am absolutely thrilled that we’re getting married. However, I sometimes feel incredibly exhausted by having to assist with food decisions and offer comfort constantly. During the week we have started to meal prep, and I think this change may have impacted her in an extremely negative way. I don’t know what to do. She spends a minimum of three hours a day in the gym and still panics when there’s a minor change in meal plans. If we are not physically together, she will text me and ask what she should eat or talk about how much she hates herself for eating a snack. It hurts to see her hurting but I have no idea how to help.

Because we’re both women, it’s also hard to find a way to comfort her that eating is okay when we look very different. She is very athletic and frequently runs 5Ks. I am an art student that is not particularly thin or fit. I worry that she resents me for not being concerned about my weight. I have had issues with disordered eating in the past, but I no longer struggle with this very often and find it easy to redirect myself into healthier coping mechanisms. I worry that our relationship will fail because I can’t handle the constant pressure to be a therapist and a partner. I plan our meals for the week so she doesn’t have to, help her make decisions about all of her meals, and comfort her when she is upset (which is all the time). I don’t know how to help her.

Flower Ribs

Dear FR,

This is a tough situation alright. But the first thing that stood out to me is that she doesn't seem to be making an effort to get better. Granted, by being so dependent on you, she's admitting that she needs help, so there's that. But by seeming to put so much of the responsibility for her well-being on someone else, that's not really the most healthy thing.

You mentioned that she'd been inpatient before, and while that's not always the miracle cure, most people come away from that experience with a pretty good idea of what will be required of them to get better.

And it's true - When we love someone, and they're in trouble, we want to do all that we can to help them. So I can understand why you'd want to assist her. But from what you've said, she's not making a whole lot of effort to help herself. I hate the term "enabling", because we should try and help those we love, but even so, maybe there's a bit of that going on ? Not on purpose on your part of course, but it does sort of sound like she's putting you in that position.

So I guess I would ask what the plan is ? Does she actually have a plan to get better ? I work on some forums for people with EDs, and it's really common to hear people admit that they don't want to get better. Or that actually they want to relapse. Or the idea of gaining weight remains unacceptable to them.

So...have you talked with her about what her plan is ? Because if she intends to continue to keep working at staying thin ( I imagine she's weighing herself at the gym) then that's something you deserve to know.

Because it sounds like you guys need a plan, and one which involves her taking some measures of responsibility for her recovery.

Perhaps even she would admit, while it's OK for you to be supportive, you can't be expected to be responsible for that.

Keep writing ?

You are doing a great job!

Hello FR,

It sounds like you are a very supportive and calm partner so kudos to you for that. It is difficult to be leaned on in this way and sometimes you have to take a break for a second and remind yourself that you are doing a great job. You are doing as best as you can, and nothing more can or should be expected of you.

Sometimes if I am feeling in a similar place w my gf I will bring it up in a gentle way - nothing accusatory just the simple fact and honest truth of how you are doing. You have an internal life, emotions, and your own recovery as well.

Sometimes I also have to remind myself I am dating someone with an issue and that I can’t engage or be drawn into every thing. Your partner can’t expect you to be perfectly patient all the time. And if she can’t cope with that idea, then that’s something you need to talk about, because that is not good thinking for recovery.

Does your partner have a big support network? Sounds like she should use it more. If she doesn’t, it may be good to have her or help her find a way to enlarge it, esp. if she isn’t already meeting regularly with a therapist- that should be happening.

Keep on fighting the good fight FR. You are strong and you are not alone