National Eating Disorders Association

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i am letting my girlfriend's ED bring me down. i feel like i'm failing her.

My girlfriend of 2 years has an ED that has been with her for a very long time. She is 32 years old, and she has had anorexia since she was a teenager. She never really got all that much help for it, but about a year into our relationship, her mother decided that we couldn't watch this anymore and she found a facility where she could go for a 1 month residential program. she knew that she needed help, and as much as she didn't want to go, she went. after coming out of there she was doing pretty well for a while. she found a therapist and a psychiatrist, got on a regimen of seeing them, got on medication for her moods and whatnot, and was doing fairly well. eventually she started slipping again. she is not great with expressing her emotions, so she has a tendency to completely shut down to me. and i have my own tendency to internalize this and think that she is upset with me about something. i am 37 and was previously married. my ex wife was attractive, and my GF is extremely insecure about her. for the most part, we have gotten past a lot of those things. she just has a really low self esteem and body image. for a while she stopped seeing them for financial and time constraint reasons… which obviously put a strain on our relationship. but recently she has realized that she NEEDS to be going, and she has picked it back up again. they have told her that she needs to be more open with me, and ask me for support when she needs it instead of just shutting down. and she has been doing that.. i have so many fears of our future though. i know that is not uncommon or abnormal. and because i was left in my previous marriage, i have some codependency issues. over the last couple months i have been starting to doubt whether or not i can stay in this relationship, and i have started getting panic/anxiety attacks. i'm just so scared of a life with her, but i'm also terrified of a life without her.. i love her so much and i want to be supportive and loving, but i feel like i am letting her ED bring me down. we have been living together for about 15 months, and just over the weekend, i told her (when i woke up in the midst of a panic attack), that i wasn't sure if we should be together anymore and that i wasn't sure if i truly loved her. i wish i didn't do that, but i needed to take a step away to figure out what was going on in my own head. i'm having such a tough time separating my fears of her ED from my true feelings for her. i'm letting my fears tell me that i don't love her, when i know thats not true. she moved her things out of my house this weekend, at least partially, and went back to her moms. i'm so terrified right now and i know that i made a huge mistake. i just don't know what to do. her mom texted me and told me that she has been falling apart. i feel a tremendous amount of guilt for putting so much hurt on her. she finally was letting me in and starting to make progress, and i feel i may have pushed her away. she texted me on saturday asking what she can and can't take from my house so that she can be out of my life. i texted her back telling her how lost and confused i was and that i just needed some space to figure out my feelings and my head. and then i didn't get a response. then last night, i texted her and told her that i was again so lost and confused, but i wanted to make sure that she knew that i truly loved her, and that i was just so scared. i hated that i left her for 3 days thinking that i don't love her. of course i love her, i am just so terrified. i haven't heard back from that text…. as for therapy, i have been seeing someone. its actually the same therapist that she goes to...when i first got these panic attacks, she had an appointment that day and asked if i wanted to go with her. her therapist is an experienced person in dealing with EDs. so i went with them, we had a good session, and then her therapist said if i wanted to continue seeing her on my own, i absolutely could… so i have been. when i told her on my own about all of my fears, she said that i absolutely need to tell my girlfriend about those fears, and thats its natural and all. so i did, and it made me feel good. but these panic attacks haven't been going away. i have a stressful job, so i think that may have something to do with it, but i am worried that i placed all the blame of these panic attacks on her, and i left her for that reason. i want her back, but i am just so scared and confused. i know i can't keep flip-flopping on her, and if i get her back, i need to be in this for the long haul. i have another appointment tonight with the therapist, so hopefully she can help me a bit too. just wanted to get another opinion on all of this. some people tell me i should run, cause this is a long long road to recovery. and its a tough life for anyone to live with. but i love her. i've stood by her through so much more than most people would have up till now. i feel terrible for giving up on her at this point when she is finally getting back on track (on meds again, and in counseling again, and really opening up to me more about things than ever before). i just know that i love her with all my heart. but i also know that i deserve happiness, and i deserve to be in a healthy relationship. i just worry if she will be able to ever get past this. i guess i am not asking this forum to tell me to stay or leave, i am just asking for some advice from people who have had similar situations.

thanks so much.

You will overcome this!

Hi headandtheheart,

First of all, you should be proud of yourself for pulling through this extremely difficult situation and for being open and honest with your feelings. Your girlfriend is lucky to have someone like you who cares so much about her! I'm sorry to hear that things have been so rocky for the both of you, but it does sound like you've taken the right steps in getting help.

I'm hopeful to hear that you and your girlfriend are both seeing a therapist, and that your girlfriend has seen a psychiatrist as well. Recovery is full of ups and downs for most people and maintaining consistent appointments with medical professionals can be crucial to getting through the obstacles that you stumble upon along the way. It's also great to hear that the therapist you have been seeing specializes in EDs. I'd encourage you to continue being honest with both the therapist and your girlfriend, and continuing writing (in forums like this, a journal, etc) or using other modes of tracking your emotions, fears, and stressors. You seem very self-aware of all of these worries that you have, and keeping track of them can help you and your therapist target those specific problems and work on ways to solve them.

Also, going to another appointment together with your girlfriend may be a way to work on your relationship as well. Having the therapist there can help facilitate the conversation, as all of these emotions and feelings are so deeply personal and hard to vocalize. Also, if your panic attacks are still not working, perhaps seeing a provider such as a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist could be helpful for you too. It's essential to keep in mind that your own health is important too! If you make it clear that your actions are out of love, and work on maintaining your own mental/physical health, it can help you express your motivations in the best way.

Getting connected with others who are in (or have supported someone who is in) recovery may also be helpful to build another support system. Here are some links for support groups that might help connect you to others in your area or online:

The NEDA Navigator program is another great resource that can connect you with someone who can also help you give advice, find helpful resources, or simply offer a listening ear:

Never forget that you and your girlfriend both DESERVE to find peace. It is clear you are strong and being proactive - keep going and don't give up!
Wishing you all the best,