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Eating Disorders and Realtionships!




All relationships take work, commitment, communication and understanding. When an Eating Disorder is involved in the equation sometimes it can be like living with a third person. Not easy for either end. I know years ago when I was in the depths of my Eating Disorder I truly believed that a romantic relationship would've been impossible. As someone who has progressed through recovery and now deals with my Eating Disorder better than I could've imagined and settled in a happy relationship. I feel fortunate that I am in this position. I wanted to give my point of view and my partners point of view of what it's like, how we communicate and have such a strong relationship. FYI, this post is for people currently in the depths of an eating disorder, in recovery or recovered. I’ve tried to write about all my experiences the best I can.


Unable to start relationships! 


With eating disorders, the brain is mainly occupied with food, weight, exercise and the disorder itself which leaves very little room left for anything else, especially relationships. Letting love in, compassion, or support is seen as a threat to an eating disorder meaning anything on a romantic level is a no go. I know in the past my social life and relationships have suffered by avoiding going out for food, making food or anything which involves food in fear of having to open up about the eating disorder and to ensure you keep that control over it. If you have to keep it a secret and struggle to talk to your partner or maybe someone you're dating (which is preventing you from taking relationships further) then being able to get through the barriers is incredibly hard. One thing I've found is when I've been unable to open up about my eating disorder, the person hasn't been the right one for me. You need someone who gives you comfort and safety to allow you to start opening up that little bit more about the struggles you're going through or have gone through. That person you feel confortable with.


Intimacy 


Intimacy is a big part of any relationship. Sexual contact can be incredibly challenging whilst suffering with an eating disorder or while recovering. Various research has been done on this especially regarding Anorexia Nervosa. Mentally an individual usually has very little self-esteem, body shame and low body image, making it impossible for them to show their body to someone. That trust barrier is hard to build. I know in my previous relationships and first meeting Ste, I was continuously conscious of what other people thought. What if something wasn’t good enough? What if I wasn’t good enough?

I was anxious when I first started opening up about sex with Ste but that soon reduced when I felt comfortable talking to him about it. The communication was there. He made me feel loved. He’s never judged or got annoyed he’s just listened and supported.


Physically with anorexia and low weight, there is a hormonal imbalance, oestrogen levels are usually low, creating a decrease in sex drive. While in recovery and an increase in body weight, the feeling of sex drive and hormones returning could be incredibly scary when you’re still not happy with the skin you are in or uncomfortable with weight gain. I know when I gained weight, the thought of anyone seeing my body sent shivers down my spine. 


If you are with your partner and they don’t quiet understand why you are losing that interest in them or sex all together, it can be challenging on your relationship. Your partner needs to be aware that your actions and feelings aren’t because of them but because of your eating disorder. It took me a while to realise the affect anorexia had on my sexual life and drive, purely because I was so young, it wasn’t until I recovered and regained it that I was overwhelmed by the emotions. My sex drive had suddenly gone through the roof which sometimes can be just as scary as not having it at all. I felt like I was going to explode. A study done to understand intimacy in females with anorexia showed the women desired an emotional closeness by acceptance from their partner and a physical closeness through sexual and non-sexual acts. If you already have a fear or lack of trust within you and your partner this could be another reason as to why you close down the relationship and fail to have the levels of intimacy you desire. Talking to your partner, explaining your desires whether they’re non-existent or they’re incredibly high. Having that mutual understanding between you both I have found to be incredibly powerful. 


Communication


Telling someone you have or have recovered from an eating disorder isn’t easy. A question I have been asked a lot is regarding how I talk openly to my boyfriend about my eating disorder. I know the thought of speaking out openly can create an anxiety and fear if they are unable to deal with what you tell them. When your partner more than likely wants to know how they can help you! People aren’t mind readers. If you are currently in the depths or recovering and already in a relationship, it’s hard I really know that. It can place a lot of tension on your relationship. What’s worse when the Eating Disorder is taking over your mind, it doesn’t care but you do, so it’s a never-ending war in your mind. Your partner may be struggling with seeing you this way because they love you. They want to help but they feel worthless. Your partner may also feel like they have taken on somewhat a carer role. The communication barrier may be slipping and neither of you can deal with the switch in your relationship. At this point despite whether you both want to do, you need to stop and talk things through. You need to decide what the best move is forward.

 I know for myself I longed for someone who wanted to know more about my eating disorder and would ask me how they could help. Not someone who shied away. Although not everyone can deal with it and that’s okay. One thing I do know is that the person who truly does love you, WILL stick by you. That still doesn’t make talking any easier neither for you nor your partner, they may not even know how to start these conversations themselves but being able to have these conversations is what start to build that trust. Especially if you are years into recovery and things you struggle with may be extremely hidden. Secrecy and leaving your partner to guess or wonder is going to make incredibly hard for you both to build that strong relationship. By taking it slowly, maybe having time to sit and talk with your partner about your worries is only going to help them understand that little bit more. I know for me, my fear is putting too much on my other half but again one thing I have discovered is that all Ste wants is to help me and make me feel more at ease the best he can. It doesn’t help him if I keep things to myself. We will sometimes breakdown problems, try to understand them between us both, he’ll make me feel more comfortable or sometimes help distract me and take my mind off things. Having that safe space to openly talk is a breath of fresh air and something I’ve not had. Being honest and communication is key!


The Positives


Up until my currently relationship I didn’t believe that a relationship would ever have much benefit to my life. I didn’t realise that years later in my recovery, meeting someone who understands me and supports me would have such a positive impact on the eating disorder itself. If you fear getting into or keeping your relationship successful, I hope this gives you some hope.


Being with Ste has given me a greater positive outlook on food. He is all round positive and speaks positively about food which makes a huge difference to someone demonising food or seeing it as bad and good. He encourages me in kind ways and never patronises. Subconsciously this has really helped in my recovery journey. His trust and pride in me, gave me a trust in myself I’ve never had. Which as I mentioned above gives you a strong aspect to your relationship. We talk about the future a lot and personally for me this really helps. I’ve always craved a sense of stability and control (one of the reasons my eating disorder triggered), so being able to hold onto the hope of our future really gives me hope. A weird one but I feel like my eating disorder made us connect on some similarities, it’s given me a better understanding to life, and things Ste has been through we could find common ground.


You don’t have to spend your life in fear whether you are in recovery or recovered. There are so many positives to pull out of your relationship rather than being fixated on your eating disorder destroying it.


Loving Someone with an Eating Disorder


It’s very easy for me to sit here and tell you my experiences and advice on relationships when I’m the one with the Eating Disorder. Now having such a stable, strong and happy relationship and recovered from anorexia, I wanted to get my boyfriend’s point of view on how he’s found it being the one on the other side of the relationship. I asked him some questions I felt were relevant and hopefully can help you and your partner.



1.     How do you feel talking about the eating disorder or me confining in you?



I feel absolutely fine talking to you about it, in fact I weirdly enjoy it and encourage it. I think it’s important for me to understand you and for me to know what can affect you. You know like if I do or say something that can trigger you, I need to know that so I can avoid doing whatever that may be. I know how much it means to you to be understood and feel safe which is massievely important to me.



2.     Do you find it hard to deal with at times?



Not at all. I don’t see this as ‘dealing’ with anything. This is a part of who you are, and I love you for who you are. Sometimes it can be difficult but that’s because I care for you so much! This isn’t my battle, it’s yours. I just support you and help you in anyway I can, just by being me, by making you laugh, making things not such a ‘big deal’ in your head. All I do is be available for you for whatever it is you need. I don’t have all the answers as I haven’t suffered with an ED myself but if I’m there for you to vent at, talk to and distract you, then I am doing the right thing. In my opinion.



3.     How important do you think communication is?



Communication is without a doubt the most valuable and important thing in any relationship. Like I said above, I need to know how you feel, what you are going through to understand what I need to do to help. This works both ways. Lack of communication is the death of any relationship in my opinion. You have to be able to confine in your partner, be weak and vulnerable and allow them to help you. You can’t put on a brave face and face everything alone, we aren’t strong enough on our own, as humans. We just aren’t. Strength in numbers and all that. Once you know someone is there for you, you can communicate openly and honestly without fear, it’s empowering, and you feel like nothing can stop you. It’s so important.



4.     What have you found helps us the most?



Laughter and silliness. Another one of the most important things in a relationship is being able to laugh with your partner. It’s medicine. I love how much I make you laugh, and I love how much you make me laugh. I think that has been the overriding feeling of our relationship and it’s just happiness. I have never laughed in my life as much as I laugh with you and again that is just so important because it connects us so much.



5.     Do you think Educating yourself helps?



Massively! I’m not going to sit here and tell you I went researching eating disorder because I didn’t. I think everyone is individual and what may be on the internet might be completely different to what someone else goes through. What I did and still do is listen to you, I observe and watch you. I try to understand what you’re going through, from my own experience of you, if that makes sense. I learn from that. The number of things you’ve told me about the illness and the things that go with it, blow my mind and I learn something new every day. I just take it all on board and work on how I can help you.



6.     What positives have our relationship taken from it?

I think it has made us so much stronger. I mean we connect on so many levels, the fact I suffer with addiction and we have discussed how an ED is like an addiction just made us understand each other almost instantly. The fact we share that experience and we can level with each other and just talk to each other so openly about our lives has had a very positive impact on our relationship, has made us stronger. We understand, so we know how each other are feeling and what we have to deal with on a daily basis.



7.     Do you think if influences the intimacy of our relationship? In a negative or positive way?


On a very very minute scale. I know sometimes you might not be feeling 100% about yourself, your body etc. it can have an impact on the intimacy. But it’s so rare. I have issues with my own body which can also switch the situation. I think we are so well connected, and we do love each other that much, that feeling rarely makes an impact anymore. We can work past it because no matter what we may be feeling about ourselves at a certain time, we know that we are both loved and attracted to each other very much.

I hope this have given you some information, advice and hope that living with an eating disorder and happy relationship IS possible.

Speak soon,

Holli Jessi x






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