National Eating Disorders Association

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Partner in Long Distance Relationship Struggles with ED

I've been in a long distance relationship with my girlfriend for close to a year now. When we started dating she disclosed that she had been in an outpatient program for bulimia, but that she had it "under control". She didn't really bring it up much so I didn't think much of it. As the months went by, I started noticing some peculiar, troubling and mysterious behaviors surfacing on her part. She was avoidant, set up unnecessary boundaries, pushed me away, kept me at arms length, very weird about intimacy and sex (in the worst of times she would cry when I initiated), and very guarded about her need for isolation/alone time. I tried my best to be respectful. Of course, I thought it was all me, and that she just didn't want to be in this relationship, that I simply wasn't enough for her. But of course, every time I started losing hope and becoming unresponsive she would pull me back in.

I've been in several long and somewhat healthy previous relationships and never experienced anything like it. I thought the relationship was almost certainly doomed, but a few months ago we seemed to turn a corner, and a lot of it had to do with her finally opening up to me about her constant struggle with the compulsive thought monster of her ED. I read as much as I could about it, and it was like a laundry list of things falling into place, mysteries revealed.

I'm trying my hardest to be supportive, and show her that I'm not going to leave her because of the ED. That she's not broken, and even though it's become part of her identity after being an intimate part of her life for the past 15 years, it isn't who she is. It's very difficult to do this over distance, and most of the time when she opens up to me about it, confiding in me that she's slipped or that it's getting really bad, she'll withdraw and push me away out of shame or embarrassment.

It's the feeling of being pushed away, and that I'm not really helping that is the hardest and will ultimately lead to the relationship falling apart, because I might not be strong enough to shoulder the burden. I truly love her, want to accept her for who she is, and want to help her through all of this, but it's obviously really hard. I know I can't fix her, and I don't want to try. I'm committed, and trying to stay open and vulnerable, even though it's, more often than not, unreciprocated. There are days where I just feel so alone. Days where it feels like she's actually in a relationship with her ED, and not me.

The distance compounds an already complex issue, and I think her ED likes it that way.

Do any of you have advice in terms of how to deal with this? Coping strategies? Walking the razor's edge of supporting without judging on one end, or enabling on the other?

Thanks for your help, and apologies for the length.

Pushed away.


I have to tell you, I worked on another site for partners for about ten years, and the situation you describe, about people's partners withdrawing from them once the truth of their ED was revealed was by far the most common thing that fellows would show up to talk about. So what I mean is, what you are seeing is *really* common.

As you said, it's probably a mixture of things that cause it. Shame may be one of them, in combination with the fact that they know that any caring partner is going to want them to get better. Which…they often doubt they have the ability to do. This it puts them in an emotional position where the feel as though they will be a disappointment to their partners, as well as being a disappointment to themselves. So they pull away.

As you said, judging is not going to help anyone. What's better I think is for us to show some understanding for the emotional things they must feel. How must it be to feel helpless in the face of their ED ? How must it be to realize that this thing which once gave them a feeling of control over things has now morphed into something that control them instead ? To resolve to try and change things, and yet to have those behaviors just show right up again ? If we can convey to them that we have some scraps of understanding of some of the emotional stuff they are finding themselves up against, I think it helps them feel safer and able to be more open with us.

And then the self-hate thing : I suspect you may have seen some of that too, so it won't hurt to mention how difficult a thing you understand that to be too.

Showing that we understand these things, I don't really think it's enabling, or that it encourages them to keep wallowing in those feelings. Perhaps it even removes a little of the power that these thoughts have over them, just to know that people who are close to them don't find those feelings so difficult to understand.

Also, while it's only human for us to feel unsettled, depressed, frustrated and helpless in the face of all this, I think it's best to keep those feelings separate from our conversations with them. We don't want them to feel that they are harming us, or being a burden to us by being open with their feelings. This is not to say that we shouldn't have those feelings, or that we somehow shouldn't need to talk about them, but more that we need to find someone other than our partner to vent to. Which is hopefully one way that writing here can help.

The more of a "steady Eddy" we can be, with a calm and assured demeanor…I think that's best stance to try and project, even if we have to fake it sometimes.

In any case, this is getting long too, but hopefully some of it helps. And I do hope you can keep writing if it does seem to help.

Bob J.

Our main option is patience

Hello LDR17

My name is Rob. I have a similar situation happening myself. I can only empathise with the difficulties you must be going through.
My partner is currently away at her home far away from me and where she studies. We are both used to failures in relationships and work and certain other things in life.
Her disease is something i can't imagine but i'm trying to teach myself to not be reactive and to give her time and space, whatever the outcome of our relationship. I haven't been very successful so far as i have still tried to talk to her. But at this point i am understanding that the pain she feels from seeing the suffering in me isn't helping. She isn't talking or opening up to anyone because she feels worse when she sees other people's pain. At this moment, she just needs to be alone and concentrate on her own needs without any other distractions or added pain.
I hope that in the long run she might see again and be ale to connect with those closest around her. In the meantime it's best - however difficult - to allow our loved ones to be in their own zone (if that makes sense). I'm not trying to be preachy, because as i have already said , i am struggling myself, but if we don't do this we may loose them completely. I personally don't want that. So i'm trying to be patient in order to have a future that may include the woman i love. She deserves that ...It might not work, but i am willing to give it the chance.
I far as I understand it and with the help from Bob J, just being here when and if they need us is possibly the best help at this point. It doesn't mean we can't say a hello here and there or a goodnight here and there, it just means that our ability to stand like a big old redwood will help more than showing our emotions that may betray our true feelings, …..don't get me wrong, it's good and natural to feel upset, helpless and ultimately our love, but the more they see that, the more they will feel the burden of which they already feel they are.
I know each situation is different, so I only say things from my point of view, but I hope it helps in some way.
Good luck


Re: Our main option is patience

Good Evening,RobertH, your post has been edited to fit within the NEDA forum guidelines to not include age.  We appreciate using our forums for encouragement and support.Thank you!