Dear KJ: How Can My Partner Help Me During a Relapse?

dear kj resize NEDA

“Dear KJ” is a monthly advice column by Dr. Kjerstin “KJ” Gruys, sociologist, author and body image activist. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology with a focus on the politics of appearance and is the author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall: How I Learned to Love My Body By Not Looking at It for a Year (Avery Press, 2012). Her work and writing have been featured by Good Morning America, 20/20, The Colbert Report, USA Today, People, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, NPR‘s “Tell Me More,” and “On Air with Ryan Seacrest,” among others. Find her at

I’ve been in recovery for three years and I’m noticing that I’m relapsing more and more. I have a wonderful boyfriend who wants to help but I have no idea how he could. I can’t explain to him what I need! What would be some things he could help me with or how could he help me during a relapse?

Congratulations on being in recovery for three years! You should be proud of yourself. I hope you are being kind and forgiving to yourself despite experiencing relapses. I’ve been there. At best a relapse is discouraging and at worst it can be quite scary. I’m glad you have a boyfriend who wants to support you in your recovery. Relationships, like recovery, are strengthened by self-knowledge, patience and time.

Without knowing either of you personally, and without knowing the details of your recovery experiences, I don’t feel comfortable suggesting specific things that your boyfriend should do to help. Eating disorders impact so many different kinds of people, and every person has an individual history and psychological makeup. What helps one person might be triggering for another. So, my advice to you is this:

If you’re encountering increasingly frequent relapses, you almost certainly could use some professional help to help you get back on track with recovery. Unless your boyfriend is a licensed therapist or physician (and, heck, even if he is!), his job is to be your boyfriend, not your therapist or your doctor. This means that his role is to help you feel loved, supported, accepted and understood.

Your boyfriend can’t take the place of trained professionals, but an important role he can play is to help you seek and follow through with professional help. He could help you research options for treatment providers if you need to find one (or if you need to find a new one). He could call and make appointments for you if you’re feeling overwhelmed. He could drive or ride with you to your appointments to make sure you go (especially on those days when you’d rather stay in bed and avoid the world). Finally, if your therapist is open to it, your boyfriend might want to join you in a therapy session so that the two of you can have a structured conversation about specific ways he can support you.

Just remember, before you can ask for what you need, you must know what you need. If your needs aren’t yet clear to you, I’m sure you can at least find great comfort in his willingness to help. Good luck!