National Eating Disorders Association

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Talking to partners about concerns and self care

Hi everyone,

My girlfriend has suffered from her eating disorder (anorexia primarily with bulimic-like symptoms) for about 10 years. She's receiving treatment, but despite having been with her for a few years, I still sometimes struggle with how to talk to her when I'm concerned. I have trouble initiating the conversation and knowing what setting is best to express my concern. Sometimes, she's completely self-aware and receptive to my concerns, but other times, I think she uses her own knowledge of eating disorders to try to convince me that I'm overreacting and that everything is fine. I'd like to know what kinds of approaches people take to start the conversation and how people respond to their partner just saying that "everything's fine." I think the most difficult conversation I've tried to have in the past is when I was concerned that she might be relapsing and potentially needed a different or more intensive course of treatment. I'd love to hear if anybody has any suggestions or has any experience with talking to their partner about seeking additional treatment, for example (but not limited to): outpatient or inpatient treatment, and how they approached that conversation. Thank you everyone.

You sound like an amazing support for her

Hi Efarquha,

Your girlfriend is very lucky to have someone like you on her side. It's great how much you want to learn so you can help her best. I know it can be very frustrating when she says "everything's fine" or says you're overreacting, and any anger/frustration you feel in those moments are completely understandable. Just try to remember that those words are coming from her eating disorder, not her. Those are moments when her eating disorder is coming on strong. It's important for us all to be gentle and understanding when speaking with our loved ones about their eating disorders.

It sounds like sometimes your girlfriend is receptive to the conversation and other times is not. This is normal, and is ok. It's ok to sometimes back off the conversation and wait for a better time to revisit the topic. Here is some useful information for you:

When she responds "everything's fine", you could say something along the lines of "I just know you are working really hard in your treatment, and I just wanted to check in with you to see how you are doing today and let you know I am here to listen." And again, it's ok if that's where it ends for now. She knows you are there and she can turn to you when she is ready to talk.

As for speaking with her regarding treatment, again the calm, gentle, empathetic approach is best. Set a time to chat in a calming, non-distracting atmosphere. It may help to have some information on hand about what type of treatment you are suggesting. For example, if you want to talk with her about inpatient treatment, maybe have some information regarding what it entails and the positive results of inpatient treatment so she can have some idea that recovery is definitely possible.

I hope you find this information helpful! I'm glad you found these forums!

Great suggestions - I know

Great suggestions - I know this is a common issue. I especially appreciate the reminder that the words come from the eating disorder. It's so easy to forget that in the moment, but it's so true. Thank you.