National Eating Disorders Association

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Wife won't seek help

Reading some of the posts in the spouse's forum, I can see that my situation is not unique:

My wife is bulimic. Somehow, it's been hidden from me for what I now think must have been many years, maybe the entire time we've been married.

Recently, after having been assured that "I have nothing to worry about," even after finding my wife engaging in bulimic behaviors, I finally read up on how to face the issue. It turned into a fairly positive discussion with my wife of how much my daughter and I love her, and that if there's something threatening her health that I would move mountains to help her. Oddly, never during this conversation did she acknowledge that there was indeed a problem, and I didn't press for a "confession".

I patted myself on the back for gently getting her to seek out a professional to speak with. When I asked if she'd like me to participate in whatever counseling there would be, she said something to the effect of, "No, this is my thing, I wouldn't be able to talk about anything with you there."

It's now become apparent that I've been manipulated/lied to yet again. She has no intention of speaking with a professional.

What is the next step? I think any sort of forced intervention would have the opposite of the intended effect, probably with most people and definitely with my wife who is extremely stubborn. Yet my wife is not motivated in any way, shape or form to seek out help for herself.

I understand there is the hotline, and I also understand that there is not likely to be any specific medical advice to be had on this forum. I am simply facing the issue of how to get a person who is unwilling to seek any treatment the help she needs.

I would very much appreciate any specific advice.



You seem like an incredibly caring, supportive spouse, and your wife is so lucky to have someone like you. It is super common for a person with an ED to be in denial of their disorder, unwilling to "confess" to it, as you put it. However, the fact that you found your first discussion with her about it to be a fairly positive experience is a good sign - maybe she isn't willing to get help yet, but with continued encouragement from you, perhaps her mindset will change. Unfortunately I don't have any specific advice about what could make her change her mind, but I do think that continuing to bring the subject up (making her realize that you don't have plans to brush it under the rug like she does) could lead her to realize that yes, it is a problem, and yes she would benefit from seeking help. I'm so sorry that your family is going through this, but love and support can get people through some seriously formidable battles, this being no exception.

Good luck and stay strong

orangeline, Seems like the

orangeline, Seems like the same story is repeated over and over, the more you dig into EDs. Following the birth of our first child, my wife's anorexia went into overdrive. She had always been a picky eater, but I never really worried that much about it. Her diet for the last 2 years has been the same. It's absolutely maddening ! My wife also will not seek help for her ED. It's pushed out relationship to the absolute edge and she's pretty hard to be around the majority of the time.

Few things that have helped during this difficult time:

*Counseling-Even if she will not go for herself, it's important that you get some of this off your chest. It will crush you very fast if you do not get it out.
*Support Groups-This site and blog are wonderful resources. Try and find a local support group to meet with. While sad that others share this issue, there's a peace in talking to others going through similar situations.
*Books-Read as much as you can to best understand this illness.
*Friends & Family-Not all of them will be comfortable talking about this, but if you can find one or two of them to lean on, it's a great addition to your tool kit.
*Faith & Prayer- Number 1 for me.

Other than that, not sure what else to tell you. This disease absolutely sucks! It's hard to see someone you love destroy themselves.

Wish you the best of luck! Keep fighting!

You can convince your wife to

You can convince your wife to go to a doctor, or join a counceling. If she dosn't want to go with you, send her alone to the doctor and then you can consult to the doctor about her ED later.


I want to thank the three of you for your advice and encouragement. It really helps.

We've made a little progress in getting it out in the open, and at times over the last 6 months since I posted it seemed like things were quite a bit better -- unfortunately they weren't, especially whenever the slightest stressor crept into our lives.

hannahls, speaking of stressors, I'm always unsure of when is the best time to lobby hardest for professional help -- at one of the "good" times when my wife seems very energetic and upbeat (of course her response will be that everything's fine, no problem at all) or at one of the "bad" times when I can see the look on her face (of course at these times I'm afraid one more thing, potentially a fight with me, might send her into a tighter spiral)? Any opinion?

Thanks again.

I'm happy to hear of your

I'm happy to hear of your progress - even if it is little, it's still a step in the right direction. That's a tough call on when to bring up the topic of help. You know your wife best and so you may have the best insight into how you think she will react. It always helps when someone is open and willing to listen - so if this is when your wife is having a "good" moment, I would suggest approaching the topic gently and non threatening and keeping the conversation open ended. There is no shame is asking for help and like previous posters mentioned, even if she won't seek therapy, there is nothing saying you can't. Sometimes having an objective person to talk to helps put things into perspective and allows you to learn better ways of communication or how to offer support in a way she needs it. I can tell that you care about your wife and I applaud you for your courage and commitment!

Update for others in a similar situation

To the spouses of ED sufferers -- I went ahead and heeded the advice of some of the posters here and scheduled counseling for myself. I would definitely recommend it if you're in a similar situation. The counselor was direct in what she thought was the best plan of action for my wife, and perhaps equally importantly, provided reassurance and validation of some of my thoughts and feelings. She brought up many of the behaviors I observe in my wife before I even mentioned them and explained where they might be coming from.

In my case, gaslighting was a tactic employed by my wife, and it's quite demoralizing and exhausting, I can tell you. "You're really blowing this out of proportion! You're nuts! If you don't believe me about this, then I think it's YOU who needs to go see someone!" Well, she happened to be right about that last one. It was quite a huge weight lifted from my shoulders, and I have a feeling, unfortunately, that it's a weight that needed to be lifted in preparation for a long road to recovery.

Update and comments

Orangeline and Kan and others, I am right there with you. I reached out a few weeks back and was so overwhelmed with gratitude for the responses. The helplessness that a spouse of an ED sufferer feels seems so overpowering at times. To know that others are coping is encouraging for me. I also struggle with the 'right time' to talk with my wife about this. I have been met with denial every time and am a bit reluctant at this point. I also struggle with the wording. Most websites imply taking a 'kids glove' approach so as not to embarrass her. But I am still met with denial and anger.
As to what to do for myself, I try to give myself some alone time every day. For me, it may be a walk or some gym time or simply meditation, but it helps. If I let my health and mental state go downhill, then we both crash and burn. Keep talking on this site, it helps us all.

self care

Hi wakeuptohope and orageline,

I'm sorry to hear that you are going through such a hard time, it seems that you are really supportive and wonderfully caring spouses. I know from experience that Eating disorders can be maddening, both for the sufferer and the family. Sending prayers for the journey ahead, keep taking care of yourselves!
Best of luck

One thing to keep in mind

Thanks for sharing your experience. I got goosebumps reading some of the stuff, because it happens to me. I didn't even knew the word Gaslighting but it describes perfectly one of the maddening features of this illness.

I can tell, though, that she feels the same when talking to me. I'm feeling I'm trying my best to end a senseless argument, and to make her realize that we agree by 95% of what we're discussing, but she feels something very different. She feels I'm twisting all her words, remembering all wrong and not understanding anything. Sometimes when she told me what meaning did she get from one of my sentences, I couldn't believe how she had understood completely the opposite of what I was trying to say. When she used to tell me those things I got madder, I felt she was accusing me of precisely what she did, and it infuriated me. So we both got madder and madder and sadder and sadder...

She's sick, so you are the one who has to break that circle. It's really hard, but it can be done.

1st you have to realize she feels cornered and threatened, and she is instinctively defending herself. She doesn't mean everything she's saying to you, she just reaches for weapons to stop feeling like that. You can tell many times that when she has her good stages, it's imposible she meant all that she said in the bad ones. She's still by your side, she loves you, she knows you love her, but sometimes she's not herself.

2nd: Another thing you need to keep in mind is that you're not the problem. In many fights the things she tell you might indicate that you are a problem, or that you're making it worse. You are not. There's a huge problem out there that she refuses to see, or admit, so she projects it into you, just because you're there. So you don't need to fight back.

So...This won't help specifically her illness, but if you manage your arguments better, you would be more able to help, and you both will be less stressed. So identify when she stops being rational, and then stop trying to "win the argument", drop the subject, take some minutes to think and calm down, then try to stay positive, loving if she allows it, or give her space if she doesn't. If an argument escalates into a fight, you both lose.

I used to think "she's just about to understand it, and then she will stop being mad, and she will realize I was on her side all the time. Something will click inside her, and the fight will be over." But that never happened, instead something clicked inside me. I know her, and I was able to guess what was really maddening her that day, it wasn't me, but it sure sounded like it was, but once I understood, I was able to turn the shadow of a fight into a beautiful moment of reconciliation. You won't know all the time what is really bothering her. But just knowing it's not you, will make things better. Listen to her, and dodge her attacks, don't respond to her attacks, because they're not really for you. The attacks are there to distract you from the real issue. She does them unconsciously. It's easier to be mad at you than to solve her problems.

Your EGO will tell you that it is unfair that she is mad at you, and urge you to respond. It takes a lot of control to be able to stop, and do something that looks like losing or surrendering, but in fact you're building something positive.

I don't have a clue if this makes sense only to me, but I hope it gives you/someone some idea that could grow into something positive.

Then positive is positive. I mean, if you as a couple are happy, it will influence all things to get better (not immediately, don't be impatient). Take and enjoy the happy things, even if there are some still unsolved. Use them to charge your batteries, because you will need them. The battle is long, and if you're exhausted you can't help her to win.

I had some really rough weeks and then a wonderful weekend in the last days, she isn't more willing to seek help, or to eat (although she's eating a bit more without thinking too much about it). But her thoughts are more positive, and that's great. I don't think now it's time to remind her she has a problem, she needs all the happiness she can get. And you too, you need to take some breaks too. Finding the right moment to advance an inch, it's hard, but only you that know your wife can do it. Just don't despair.

I'm proud of all people trying to help their partners even when they don't let us. We are not alone. There isn't a perfect way to do it, you are doing great.

just found out my wife has an ED last night.

Hope you guys are still active. Its been years since the last post they're really very helpful. It is distressing for a spouse to find out. She is very defensive and has turned the argument around saying that I'm sick in the head for labeling her. This is long term. I need all the support. I pray a lot and that helps. thanks guys

She’s (we’re trapped)

Hi, thanks for all your posts. They have been really helpful.

Even though I see myself in most of what has been said. In my case, my spouse has tried therapy, antidepressants, CBT, anxiety pills.... she acknowledges she has a problem. The problem persists, and it has been a nightmare the last two months.
We have young kids, and they are very demanding. I think they are the main reason for her anxiety. First the responsibility they represent, with which she can’t cope, and second, the difficult they can get when they are tired or stressed.

I fully support her, don’t get lost into her arguments anymore, help a lot with the children and house chores.... but still, even though its seasonal (high and low months...) the problem persists and is really tiring and frustrating.

I would really appreciate your feedback.


Yes, sometimes a person can try everything and none of the things seem to work.

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, do you think that residential treatment might help ? What I mean is is the opportunity to get away from the everyday stresses for a while, and really work on herself and her issues ?

One thing to remember is that as a spouse and a helper, sometimes we can personally do everything that we can….and it's still not enough. So residential might be something to consider.


Thanks BobJ48. Is there a website or link you’d recommend I should read?
Also, have any of you experimented this while having young children and then saw things became better once the kid grew up?


There's good information here I believe, so you could read some of information on this site. Otherwise, posting links to anywhere other than NEDA is against the rules, so go figure. But you could do a web search for the topics you are interested in.

Not exactly sure what information you are after though. General material on eating disorders ? Or situations more specific that that ?

I can't speak to the situation with the children, other than saying that I'm sure your wife has regrets regarding the limitations that her ED imposes on her abilities to deal with the children in the ways she'd prefer.

Because yes, most people with eating disorders are not at all happy about the ways that their EDs effect them, and the ways in which they are robbed of the sort of normal life which they wish they could have.

And yes, as you mentioned, these last few months have been hard on everyone. You often hear that EDs are about control, and given the situation with the pandemic…it's hard to feel in control of much of anything right now. So…these feelings of NOT being in control (insert whatever situation here ) will often trigger people's EDs to get worse. Because of how it once was associated with being in control in the past, if you follow me ?

Of course it's not about being in control anymore, but those old mental associations really can take on a life of their own, in ways that your wife can feel powerless to resist. That old song "My mind has a mind of it's own" is often a good description of how things can feel to them.

In any case, if you can encourage her to be gentle with herself, and not be too self-judgmental, even if things seem particularly terrible, then that might be a thing which feels supportive to her ?

In any case, I'm starting to ramble, but keep writing if any of this seems to help ?


Thanks BobJ48! I much appreciate your words.
I’ll do my research as you suggest.

And yes, I completely get what you say about how she must be feeling. It’s all about support and encouraging to be gentle with herself.

Thanks again!


Other thought that came to my mind is that it is all about anxiety. ED is the escape to relieve that anxiety and feel in control (we know that in the end that triggers the ED paradox and you then feel lost).
Obviously this pandemic year is a tough one, but I’ve noticed that depending on how things are at work, with the weather, with family, at home, etc... anxiety levels vary a lot, and so ED.

She has started taking some pills to lower the anxiety, but not anti depressants, which I’ve seen working nicely in the past.

I see this solution not a sustainable one, but I would like to know if some of you have gone through that path before.