National Eating Disorders Association

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Hey BobJ48,

I have been exploring this forum for answers and it seems you have plenty of experience with ED, so I thought I would reach out to you directly.

My ex broke up with me recently because she relapsed in her ED due to a multitude of life transitions affecting her. We were extremely happy, had future plans together, including marriage. Our core values also aligned which made our bond strong and natural. She started becoming distant and withdrawn 8 months in, which I know now is very common from reading your posts. This ate away at our relationship, making our interactions the complete opposite of how we were in the beginning - less intimacy, barely talking, skipped out on vacations and gatherings. While I was aware she had a history of ED, I thought her general behavior was a sign of her losing interest, which caused me to become distant to protect myself.

I tried my best to be understanding and supportive, recommended that she should seek treatment, which she did. They diagnosed her as neither anorexic nor bulimic, but she did display patterns of restriction. Since she would hardly eat, she became sick often. Naturally, I was there for her, but it came to a point that it started affecting my mental health as well. We both realized this and I asked her to take some time to figure out if there is room for our relationship to grow. Yesterday, we met up and she broke it off, saying she is not healthy enough to give our relationship the energy to progress as much as she wants to, and that she is actively trying to fight this for her loved ones. As hurt as I am, I am also happy that she is taking action and prioritizing her health. We are both disheartened by it and left it off on good terms with much love for each other. We both know it is what is best for now, even though a big part of me wants to be able to understand and support her through her journey.

We had a great relationship, complemented each other, and did not see major obstacles outside of ED. I know every relationship is different, but in your experience do people torn apart by this get back together after recovery? Part of me thinks this is final, but the other part is saying this is just for the foreseeable future.

Your insight would be much appreciated. Thank you.


Yes, you are right about the withdrawal thing. I spent 10 years moderating another site that was for the partners of people with EDs, and this sort of withdrawal was the number one thing that partners would show up to talk about. And it was the same thing - Things would go fine in the beginning, but once the person had revealed the facts of their ED, instead of things becoming more intimate as a result of a revelation that is quite intimate, the withdrawal thing would begin instead.

My sense is that it can happen because the person knows that their partner is going to have expectations. Expectations that they will get better, or expectations that the person actually *does* want to get better. Which is not always the case. Often people don't want to get better, or don't feel like they are ready to get better. So they believe that they'll ultimately become a disappointment to their partner, and will never be the sort of person their partner hopes they will be, and etc etc. They can come up with a lot of reasons to withdraw, it seems.

It's hard to say if people end up getting back together, once the person is recovered. In my very limited dating experience, it kind of seems like if I've seen a partner behaving poorly, and things break up because of that (even if I am willing to forgive them ) the person usually would rather take up again with someone new who has never seen that aspect of themselves. Kind of like they cross people off their list who have seen them do things which they would rather that people not know about.

I'm not sure that this is always the case, and it does seem silly when two people really do know each other, and have had positive feelings for each other in the past, but I've seen it happen in my own life, so who really knows.

My sense is that if you've let her know that you still intend to care about her, you've kind of done what you can do. She can choose to see that as a positive thing, or she can choose to be intimidated by it.

How people end up thinking about things is curious alright, and all we can do is try and do our best with our half of the relationship. The other half of the thing will, by definition, always belong to the other person, and is not ours to control.

Bob J.