National Eating Disorders Association

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Wife with anorexia left me - enrolling in IOP

Hi Everyone,

About 2 1/2 months ago, my wife (we'll call her M) left me. She told me on the phone that should couldn't be in the marriage until I "got help" for my issues (anger/bipolar), and she got help for hers (anorexia, depression, anxiety, hopelessness). I had no idea until a few months before she left that she suffered from an ED, and at first, I didn't take it seriously because I didn't know how big a deal it was. Since then, she blocked my phone from calling/texting her, and only communicates occasionally through email.

At first, M was opaque about her intentions for our marriage - she never stated she wanted to divorce/end the marriage/permanently separate. But when asked, she refused to say whether she intended to reconcile after she "got help" and sorted out her issues. However, M sent me a long email about 5 weeks ago in which she said she was moving in with her parents 1,500 miles away for this summer and "the next school year" (she's a teacher). She also said she intended to enroll in the Intensive Day Program at Emily Program (one step down from inpatient).

Although M said she does not blame me for her ED, she also said she does not trust me to "be supportive of [her] recovery and weight gain." This is due to a conversation we had a few months before she left, when M first tried to confide in me about her ED she asked, "How would you feel if I gained weight?" The idiot that I was, I said, "I don't want to be too supportive because I don't want you to get fat." In retrospect that was probably quite damaging. She also said she needed time to "erase the feelings of weakness, self-doubt, hopelessness, depression, and anxiety."

I just don't know what to make of all this. I'm cognizant of the fact that most couples who separate for a significant amount of time end up divorcing, so this is scaring me. However, I keep trying to tell myself that this isn't a typical separation. M is an extremely conservative, devout Catholic who prior to this believed marriage was for life and didn't believe in divorce, etc. I want to think she still believes that, but this experience is definitely shaking her up. But who knows if she'll still believe it or how strongly.

What should I make of all this?

Irish : What to make of it.

Hey Irish,

Boy, I'm sorry to hear about all of this. It must be confusing, as well as a strain. Like you said, how are we supposed to think about things like this ? They are clearly important, but…..well, I'm pretty sure you know what I mean. It can all seem pretty confusing.

First off, I'd try not to beat up on yourself for "insensitive" comments you may have made in the past. One thing to keep in mind about stuff like this in general : When women ask us for opinions regarding their weight or appearance, either now, or in the future, don't take the bait !! Some women may be able to accept your opinion, but even so, it's always dangerous ground, particularly if you are dealing with someone who has an ED. If you say you are fine with them getting thinner, you are being supportive of the unhealthiness of their behaviors and the demons that plague them, and simply don't get it. If you are fine with them gaining weight, it's the same thing : You aren't being sensitive to their inner worries and self-doubts. It's a lose-lose situation any way that you cut it.

Also, as any of the guys here will tell you, nobody should be expected to instinctively know about EDs. There are just too many twists at turns to the thing. A person can begin to understand them after a while, but there's really not much that is obvious about them in the beginning.

The sort of withdrawing you are seeing is real common too. I know there's not much consolation in hearing that, but what I mean is….it's not out of the ordinary.

Is it going to be the big solution for her ? It's hard to say. People with EDs often feel the need "to do something". Move away, break up with their partners, quit their job….something to make a big change, you know ? Like change of that nature is going to be a big part of the solution, just in itself. Which….may or may not turn out to be true. If there was a bunch of stress in your marriage it might help her to be away from that for a while, even if the stress was not caused by you, but by her own demons you know ?

The good thing in all this is that she seems willing to do the program she mentioned. Being willing to do a program can really be a big step for someone. It means that they have faced the fact that they "have a problem", which….is a pretty big deal. That they should be willing to face up to that, you know ?

Also, it's possible that the program will help her get her mind clear as to whether breaking up with you is actually helpful and productive….or just one more symptom of the sorts of thoughts that people with EDs can find themselves having.

So what to do !

If you actually are bi-polar, you could "model good behavior" by getting help of your own. If she's going to be doing her own work, it's going to look good to her if she sees you doing work of your own. It kind of puts the both of you back in the same boat, you know ?

In any case, I hope you won't worry too much about being a jerk. Because it's been my experience that jerks would never even consider posting on a site like this.

So I'm thinking you are in the clear about that part.

Keep writing ?



Thanks for your response. I am getting help for my own issues. I'm also attending a biweekly support group for spouses/partners of ED sufferers so I can learn more about what M is going through.

I actually heard from her a few days ago. She said she started the IDP a couple weeks ago and that so far it's going well. I know it will take time, but hopefully she starts thinking clearly and feels up to telling me where things stand with our marriage.

Support groups ?


Wow, they have those in person where you are ? That's pretty great.

How many people show up ? Is it run by a hospital ?

Emily Program

Yeah, the support group is run by the Emily Program. Attendance varies. It's usually 5-10, although the therapist who leads it says there's usually a drop-off around summertime. Last week I was the only one who came.

She started IDP

I also forgot to mention that I just heard from M. She said she just started the IDP two weeks ago. However, just last night she posted a selfie on Facebook, and she still looks dangerously thin and her face looks very gaunt. I'm really worried about her.

IDP Program.

It's good to hear that she's doing that program. Did she go into it voluntarily do you think ?

If she's in bad shape medically , then they may recommend that she do a more intensive program. Treatment people are obliged to pay attention to a person's medical state I think. It's part of their ethical responsibility. So if her situation is bad in that regard, they may want her to do a more intensive program.

Of course she can quit any time, but if she continues to stick with it, and the challenges they'll be setting before her, that in itself will be a good sign, even if she still struggles with getting quit of her behaviors.

And good that she is at least showing her face to people online. And not totally hiding I mean.

Good to hear about the group you are in. This stuff really can be too much to be alone with sometimes.


Unfortunately, my patience ran out with our lack of communication so I finally gave M an ultimatum via email. She has until the end of the month to tell me whether or not she wants to reconcile - yes or no, straight up. She acknowledged it and said she would give me an answer by my deadline.

She's been in IDP for about 4 weeks now. Based on her recent Facebook photos, she doesn't look like she's gained any weight, but hopefully she's made some progress in therapy with her emotional/psychological issues. This could go either way, there are multiple signs that point towards each possible outcome.

I know that even after she's discharged from IDP, M will be downgraded to regular outpatient and will be in treatment for a while. I didn't demand that she immediately move back in - only that she make a decision whether to stay in the marriage or not. Is it unreasonable to ask someone in recovery to make that decision? As someone with admittedly a more traditional/conservative outlook on these things than most people, I think her decision should've been final on our wedding day. Just asking her to reaffirm that isn't really the same as asking her to make a new commitment. Is that reasonable?



For various reasons, people with EDs quite frequently find themselves wanting to distance themselves from their partners and personal connections; decisions which often have to do with the various ways that EDs can cause a person to think, so there's a chance that she might decide that leaving is best, based on the ways that her ED causing her mind to look at things. Which is not always the way people with EDs might normally look at them if their head were in a better place. Given that fact, you may be walking on some shaky ground when it comes to presenting ultimatums like this.

Still, I know what you mean. These situations are uncertain and unsettling for partners as well, so it's not odd that you should find yourself wanting some answers, and be able to have at least one or two basic facts that you can actually count on as you try and figure out whats' going on. Plus the idea that she's apparently planning on taking up residence 1500 miles away - If it were me, I'd want to have some idea of what to expect from that sort of future as well.

So you'll just have to see how it goes, I guess. Hopefully this is something she's discussing in therapy, and that the person she's talking with is familiar with the "I gotta get away" thing, which is often a quite common urge in people with EDs.

Personally, I hate to see people break up, so I'll admit that I'm biased in that regard. Let us know how things are proceeding, OK ?