National Eating Disorders Association

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Wife controls anorexia nervosa with having sex with sb else

So this might be a bit more complex. Bear with me please, as I'm not a native English speaker.
WARNING: this is only partly about eating disorder

My wife and I have been married for 3 years, but have been together for the five years before in a long-distance-relationship (both from two European countries). She was 19, I was 23 when it started. She's petite and has always been rather slim.
Overall, we both feel very close to each other and have had uncountable great experiences together. Since last fall, we're a family of three and we've also now settled down in my home country. She does speak the language fairly well, but has struggled over the past three years with periods of homesickness and with finding a job. She now has one that makes her quite happy. Our income situation is good, our child is lovely and all the other "external" things are improving step by step (house, friendship groups, hobbies, ...).
My wife has been away from home since the age of 13, to a performing arts boarding school. She quit the idea of becoming a performer in some way (or a coach) soon after she'd met me and she's since successfully been to university and now has a degree and said new academic job. Boarding school must have been tough and on several occasions she's shared with me the body and eating struggles she had back then.
During her last year at university (including a job training program), the extreme stress combined with the fear to have to leave her home country in order to finally build a future with me had an impact on her physical and psychological health. She didn't share all of it back then, but she lost weight and struggled. It got better when she came to my country. After our marriage 8 months into her being here, it got worse again.
That's when, as I now know, she met a guy. They met at this language group for immigrants, he's from another European country and has had the same struggles with integrating and adapting to a somewhat "foreign" culture. She'd be bubbly and open about whenever they met.
At the time, I was highly stressed in my job. I noticed she'd sometimes struggle getting out of bed and starting her day, she wasn't very successful with finding a job and she also didn't eat a lot, but it wasn't too extreme.
The situation affected me, I connected it to the meetings with this guy and I became suspicious. I finally decided to read her texts and found some suggestive bits that read like a jokey (?) way of flirting. I confronted her. Needless to say she was upset about my spying, but could understand my motives and assured me that nothing had happened. We communicated well and I put my faith in her being honest in the future. As I now know, from this moment on, partly because of this, but also because the other external things didn't get better, she actually started having sex with him. That went on (they only saw each other 4-5 times) for half a year until she decided to stop.
Right after it, we decided to start a family and it immediately worked. During pregnancy, she felt much better, ate plenty and also started a job that made her reasonably content and gave her some structure.
She was worried of postpartum depression, but we worked together to try to avoid it. 1,5 years after she'd stopped having sex with him and when our child was 8 months old (this summer), she "relapsed". She knew that breastfeeding would soon be over (and thus a reason to eat regularly), she had a few other challenges coming up and she'd applied to a proper part-time job, which excited her, but also stressed her out (non-native work environment, ...).
After she'd had sex with him again this one more time in June (more details below), she told me the reason our sex life hadn't been what it was in the early years was, in her view, partly due to the fact that she didn't feel a sexual attraction to me anymore. It wasn't accusing, but a very honest and caring confession from her. I am tall and rather slender, but had gained some weight over the last years that showed in some places. It was a massive shock to me, but I decided to do sth against it and have since gone to the gym more often.

Now I know that this "relapse" triggered what she described as the worst anorexic episode.

The summer was difficult. We'd just bought a house, moved in, started renovating, and this ofc added an enormous amount of stress.
She wanted to start treatment. It took some time for the referral, but over the last couple months, she's had her first sessions, which have been productive. Two weeks ago, she told me that her therapist had extended the diagnosis to anorexia nervosa in combination with an addiction and also signs of depression.

Also, she hadn't heard from this guy since June and texted him. He gave her some reasons, told her that he'd begun a relationship with a controlling girl (he has his own mental struggles), then told her he wanted to end their friendship/relationship. She told me everything (except the sex), was very distressed about the possible loss of a friend, but also upset about the fact that he didn't really seem to care about her and her current struggles. She'd also just lost her grandfather. She decided to have a final "goodbye" meeting because she wanted to completely end this friendship with him. She told me all of this.

Now comes the crucial bit:

The reasons why I decided to check her texts again was mainly because I felt completely helpless about what to do to help her with her struggles. I did it for myself, but also for the relationship. That is what I told myself.

That's how I found out about the 6 months sex relationship with him back in 2017 and the "relapse" this June. It seemed to have been more than sex, but in her last texts she talked about how she felt it was a damaging and toxic sort of "love" and that she connected it to her eating disorder and her addiction for "control" over an aspect of her life: her sex life. When they had sex, it was extremely painful because she closed up, but she didn't tell him. She was shocked that her body showed these signs, because for her, the sex was supposed to be her in control of something. She felt like her body had betrayed her.

We talked. It was brutal, but respectful. I was and still am in a dark place. One day later, she told me that because things spiralled down after the last sex/meeting with this guy in June, about four weeks ago, she started having sex with another guy who chatted her up at a cafe. She told me that it was purely sexual and that she did it as a way of remaining in control and to not feel caged with all the struggles that she has atm. She also told me that she and her therapist had discussed all of this just a week ago and that they are currently evaluating whether she doesn't fit into the "monogamy" category. Needless to say, I was already damaged enough, so this was just another brutal confession, but what choice did I have?

We didn't cancel last weekend's trip, our anniversary weekend trip, but instead tried to use it to talk and start rebuilding.

Because I am so worried about her mental health and because I feel like due to therapy, her job and other things currently slowly improving / stabilising, I have to grant her to continue seeing this guy once a week or so. She admits she doesn't know whether it's purely her need of control of dealing with her eating disorder, or also a way of dealing with her only recently discovered non-monogamic desires.

It's a complete dilemma for me. The broken trust about what happened in the past is one thing, but I feel like this will eventually be forgivable and something we can leave behind. The combination of me now having to work on myself (body, ...?) in order to appeal attractive to her again combined with having to tolerate her sex meetings because she seems to be in a (temporarily?!) psycho-somatic need of it is just really, really hard.

She said that for her sexual intimacy and romantic/relationship intimacy are two not completely, but fairly different things, meaning that she fully and unconditionally loves me and that she doesn't question our relationship one single bit. She was utterly shaken when I honestly told her that since being loyal is such a big thing for me (at least unless both partners are on eye-level and agree on giving each other a bit of "freedom" for a while), I was struggling to keep the option of separating out of my head.

Over the last few days, we have supported each other whenever the other one had a breakdown: me because of what happened and because of my constant thoughts about what we have now agreed on (and the subsequent feelings of weakness and inferiority that gives me), her because she is so ashamed and guilty of what she's done and how it has affected me. I've always been the calm rock in our relationship, and she's never seen me like this.

One more thing: we've both told a good friend, who is impressed at how "gracefully" I am handling the situation.

We have decided to go to couple's therapy. She ofc is continuing her psychological treatment. She wants to stay above a certain weight because she's still in probation for her new job and because she couldn't endure being stationary and away from her child and me. She wants to consider going stationary when things have settled down a bit, though. I am working on my body and body image, but try to do it in a way where I can say I do it for myself.
She knows she is hurting me a lot with this. I know that if I fully believe her that all of this is true and that it's a life-line for her at the moment, I can't possibly reject her that need without either jeopardizing her health, or our relationship as a whole. It's a dilemma, and we both want to work on it.

The extreme amount of love that we show towards each other is making me feel optimistic. The worry about how long this arrangement/situation is going to stay the way it is is making me feel sick. I have asked myself seriously and I could possibly imagine tolerating her having the occasional sex outside of our relationship if OUR sex life, and therefore, to me, our relationship as a whole, is okay again. It DOES have to do with my insecurities, yes, so I feel like that needs to be taken care of before I could possibly give the idea of a partly-open (sex) relationship a thought. I have a strong urge not to tell her this contemplation of mine because I'm still afraid that she might take this as a sign that things aren't as serious as they are.

I'm sincerely sorry for going in-depth and into detail. The reason is that I feel that ALL of this matters. It isn't "just" an eating disorder. It isn't "just" a current lack of physical attraction. It isn't "just" her having sex with other men. It's a complex and tangled combination of all of these.

I am aware that this board is about eating disorders and not about such a complex multi-facaded issue, but if anything, this text of mine might make some people realise the complexity of eating-disorder-related issues in a marriage. If anyone has any input at all, please do so. As I said, we are going go to to couple's therapy and I might also seek for professional help on my own. I am aware that no community board can replace that.

Thank you so much for your patience, if you made it until here!!! :)

Dear vauban01 we would like

Dear vauban01 we would like to inform you that we edited your post to remote the BMI number, which is not allowed on the forums. You can review our community guidelines here. Thanks for your understanding!


Dear Vauban,

This sounds like a difficult and complicated situation, but here's a few thoughts that I had.

First of all, I suspect that she's not telling these guys about her eating disorder, and that this is one of the reasons she goes to them and not you. She can feel "accepted" by them, and perhaps accepted by herself, as long as they don't know all of these things. So she has relations with them in which she doesn't really have to be honest about herself.

In contrast to her relationship with you, where she does have to be honest. You actually do know about her, which may be the very thing which makes things so difficult for her. You may think it has something to do with your appearance, but I suspect that no matter how much time and effort you spend getting in shape, the intimacy problems are still going to be there.

My sense is that she worries about her acceptability as a person. As long as she is with people who don't really know the full truth about her, she can feel OK. But with someone who does know all about her, she doesn't feel OK about herself. If that makes any sense ?

So my sense is that until she starts to feel good about the person she is, including all her inner complexities, being with you is going to continue to be a problem for her, no matter how much you try and reassure her about your love and concern.

I must tell you, this is a VERY common problem between couples, and something I have heard about over and over. Things are wonderful at the beginning of the relationship, and the partners feel love and affection…until the person reveals the truth about their eating disorder. This is a very intimate revelation, but rather than the relationship becoming more intimate, the partner begins to withdraw instead.

What your partner may be trying to do with these fellows, is to replicate the original feelings she had, before she reveled her problems to you. This is why I said that I bet she is NOT telling any of these men about her ED. If she did, I suspect she'd quickly be done with them too.

Again, this is just my opinion, but my guess is that if things are ever going to be good for her, she'll need to work on personal acceptance. Rather than constantly presenting an incomplete view of herself to a string of unsuspecting sex partners. Because I suspect that being with all of these fellows, and her knowledge of how unfair it is to you, is not helping her feel better about herself - in the larger picture it's making her feel worse about herself instead.

How much patience you are willing to have with this process is up to you. If it seems like she's honestly trying to face up to things, and is trying to get better, then that gives you something healthy that you can support. But if she keeps going in the direction she's going…that doesn't really give you much to support at all. And I suspect you are seeing how that makes you feel, no matter how much affection you may have for her.

Couples counseling is a very healthy thing, I think. You'll have to keep an eye on the sorts of positions she wants to take though.

Hopefully the counselor you see will be able to accurately assess what's going on, and help point the both of you in the right direction, because the way things are at the moment doesn't sound like it's ever going to be healthy or happy for either of you.

I'm sorry that your note sat here for a while with no response, but if you see this keep writing ?