7 Things to Do When Your Spouse Has an Eating Disorder
Published in Oct 2020 / Updated in Feb 2021
People develop addictions and mental problems all the time. Whether it’s alcohol or drug addiction, or eating disorders that they deal with at some point in their lives, the family and friends will also be affected.
How spouses and family react to addiction, depression, or other mental health conditions is essential for one’s healing.
Recently acknowledged as a disorder, eating disorders affect people all over the world. When your spouse or life partner deals with an eating disorder, it’s tough to show support without necessarily changing your diet.
It’s challenging on many levels, so spouses or life partners (and even roommates) need some guidance for handling the eating disorder of their close ones:
Ask a professional before making any steps
Even if your help comes from a place of love, you should talk to a professional before taking any steps to help your spouse. It’s only the professional who can decide, after considering all the symptoms, if your spouse is dealing with an eating disorder or not.
The professional will also give you tips on talking with your spouse about their condition.
Keep the conversation flowing
Learn about active listening to help your spouse open up about their condition. Ensure that your spouse understands that all your efforts come from a place of support and unconditional love and actively listen to what they are saying.
You can show your constant care and love with little things, from anything like a call in the middle of the day to congratulatory surprises throughout the treatment.
Here’s how you can create active listening:
Keep eye contact when you talk to your spouse.
Don’t hesitate to clarify things every time something isn’t clear for you.
Use your own words to describe what your spouse is saying to show that you’re engaged in the conversation.
Step away from any distractions and turn off the cell phone so that you’re entirely concentrated on the conversation.
Praise your spouse for the non-physical qualities
Various causes will make people develop an eating disorder at some point in their lives. People tend to put a lot of value on physical qualities, which can also turn into a negative thing.
You should let your spouse know that you care and love them for who they are as human beings, their spirit, and not their appearance.
Even if it’s not directed at them, petty comments we make about others can make your spouse believe that you value appearance more than you appreciate the spirit.
Don’t say, “our friend from college got bald. He should do something about it!” It sends the message that you value looks more than character or personality.
Instead, say, “our friend from college has come so far. He’s now his own boss and has a lovely family too!” recommends Susie Myers, who works as a therapist at the Holistic Sanctuary, a center that treats eating disorders among other conditions.
“People come to us thinking that there’s something broken or wrong about them. But it’s not that at all; they made some poor choices at some point in their lives.”
“We have nothing but compassion and support for our patients who learn how to move away from their disorders and grow as human beings.”
“We’re all beautiful, but we fail to see it for various reasons.”
Be ready to find out as much as you can about eating disorders
Knowledge is powerful, and you will help your spouse by gathering all the information they need about eating disorders.
Learn about people’s behavior with eating disorders, identify the signs, talk to them, and suggest treatment when things get worse. The number of resources is impressive, and you only need the time and will to collect as much data as you need.
Find support groups near you and talk to other spouses going through the same trauma as you do. They can understand you completely when it comes to supporting a spouse with an eating disorder.
Articles, books, and research studies can also provide you with information about eating disorders and how you can help your spouse.
Testimonials of former patients from various treatment centers and even podcasts on eating disorders are a great and modern way to find out more about the matter.
Assume more responsibilities at home
One of the reasons people hesitate to go to healing centers for their eating disorders is that they cannot take a break from their family duties.
You can show support by taking the pressure off your spouse’s shoulders and getting in charge of everything around the house while he/she is getting treatment.
Some treatment centers may not require family therapy sessions for their patients. After all, family dynamics are often toxic and not beneficial for one with eating disorders or any other mental health issues for that matter.
Even so, you may support your partner by making a plan about how to address the tasks around the house while he/she is under treatment.
Talk to your children
You never know how children see things, and your perspective as an adult toward the eating disorder could be different from your children’s opinion.
Take your children’s ages into consideration when talking about your spouse’s eating disorder. Be prepared to have an open talk to your children, and give them the answers they’re looking for.
If you think that you’re overwhelmed by the whole thing and don’t know how to show support or respond to your children, you may well book an appointment for a child therapist.
Try to have fun as a family still
Even if eating disorders are a serious matter, it shouldn’t change your life entirely and ruin your fun. As a matter of fact, you will help your partner a lot more by engaging in activities you both like rather than turning down the fun.
Look for the little things and actions that you both enjoy as they will give you both the emotional energy to tackle the more significant issues.
Before you go away
Don’t forget that it’s ok to feel frustrated, angry, sad, or overwhelmed. It’s not easy at all to see the one you love trying to move away from eating addiction.
At the same time, keep in mind that you will only help them if you have enough resources, so it’s not selfish to take care of yourself.