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  • Sara

Supporting Your Partner Through ED Recovery

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

Battling an eating disorder can feel very lonely. The illness often convinces a person that they need to go through this alone and that isolating themselves will be an effective way to maintain control over their lives and their unhealthy habits. There is also a lot of stress and shame that comes along with eating disorders. Much like an addiction to a substance , gambling, gaming, shopping, or whatever else it might be, addiction feels lonely and shameful. The person engaging in the behavior feels trapped in a cycle they cannot get out of, they make fleeting attempts to "fix" things themselves and they don't want to worry their loved ones by letting them in.

Having an eating disorder or an addiction involves a lot of ritualistic thinking and behaviors. And these rituals tend to be time-consuming. Even if the person who is following them knows that what they're doing is wrong or wouldn't make sense to someone not suffering, these cycles often feel impossible to break.

Because of the time and effort it takes to engage in an eating disorder, reason with oneself about it, try to hide it and try to break it, Inevitably, those suffering often isolate. And this leads to issues with relationships.

As the partner without the eating disorder in a romantic partnership, please remember that feeling pushed away occurs not because they don’t want you or need you, but because their illness is telling them to do so in order to protect you and your perspective of them. It may seem counterintuitive to the goal, but in your partner’s mind, this is the only way to handle the situation. And it is difficult situation to be in, especially if you're no aware of the gravity of it. Those with EDs can hide their behaviors quite well and excuse away weight loss or other physical symptoms, at least for a while.

If you’re feeling at a loss when it comes to how to best support your partner, you're not alone. Here are a few tips for offering what you can while protecting yourself in the process.

Understand You Can’t Control Recovery – Recognize that you are able to help your partner through their recovery, but you cannot control their recovery. Recovery is a very personal process, and it needs to be up to the person who is battling a mental health condition to determine next steps. This can be very frustrating but there's really no way around it. Someone with drug or alcohol use disorder is not going to put down until they want to. And sometimes this isn't until there have been significant losses. For those with EDs, unfortunately, these losses are often to their own health. As heart-breaking as it can be to watch, understand your role in the situation and create boundaries to protect your own mental health in the process.

Don’t Expect Change Overnight – Recovery is a long and windy road that cannot be rushed. Be cognizant of the fact that you will not see change overnight. Instead, find ways to celebrate the small wins and cheer on any steps made by your partner towards health and recovery. You might also notice your partner in dismay when they are met with setbacks or relapses – remind them that the process is not linear and encourage them to move past these roadblocks. Just because there's been a "relapse" doesn't mean they don't want to improve their health. They may genuinely want to keep trying and shaming them in any way will only discourage them from pushing forward.

Give Your Partner Reminders – Remind your partner that they are doing great when they accomplish small wins along the way and that you’re there to support them. When you notice that your partner is starting to feel disheartened, take the time to check in and affirm that you are there if they need to talk.

Ask How You Can Support – Keep asking and never stop asking how you can support your partner throughout the process. They will likely appreciate that you are willing to help if in moments that seem impossible and asking is much better than assuming what the best move is.

Remember How Important You Are – Give yourself some much-deserved self-appreciation for staying strong and steadfast in your partner’s journey to recovery and recognize your ability to remain consistent is an integral part of navigating the chaotic world of eating disorders.

Watching the person you love battle an illness is never easy, but there are ways to support and help them through that journey. Keep checking in and keep trying because you will both get through this. Even if your partner doesn’t verbalize it often, they appreciate that you are being patient and understanding. Just make sure to be patient and understanding with yourself as well.


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