Several weeks ago, I was in a conversation with a husband whose wife suffers from Anorexia. Having a spouse with an Eating Disorder can be very challenging. The Eating Disorder inevitably becomes a third wheel in marriage. A married person with Eating Disorder is often not aware of the full impact their disorder has on their partner, children, or other family members.
Eating Disorder in marriage is a destructive third wheel.
Please read the story below.
I got married at the age of 26. I was at a Conference in DC in 2002, where I met my future wife. We got engaged and married in 2004. We planned everything together, our mortgage, our bank balance, our future children, our pension scheme and our retirement. Like mature couple we dealt with career relocation so it could help my wife with her career progression. We agreed that 2010 will be a year for us to have our first child and in 2014 we’ll have our second child.
How did We Discover Ana, a Third wheel in Marriage?
In 2009, my wife told me she didn’t want children. She wanted to focus on her career. It’s so easy for a couple to fall into a downward spiral when the spouse behaves in such strong way. We spent good part of 2009 arguing. We then sought help from a marriage Councillor. It was during those sessions that anorexia was picked on. She told our councillor that she was terrified of gaining weight and getting fat and just couldn’t go through such body changes.
Anorexia at the age of 30? I was more baffled than anything. She was always thin, always in control and always conscious of her weight. I simply accepted her for being naturally thin, always in control and very disciplined.
People suffering from anorexia do genuinely need to be in control of their lives; they need to feel special and they need a sense of mastery.
Anorexia in Older People
There is increasing research showing that eating disorders affect many older adults than previously thought and that both men and women are vulnerable.
After some sessions with psychiatrist, we discovered that My wife Sana suffered from anorexia from her teen years, but it went unnoticed and undiagnosed because she managed to function well and do well for many years.
What surprised the treatment team was Sana’s ability to live with anorexia for so long, to hold down such a high-profile job, maintain her relationships and appear very normal in everyday life.
Sooner I found myself facing a bigger problem. Her weight loss was more notable and it was all put down to stress at home. When one of the partner has opposite wants, this changes the balance and affects the marriage.
Family Dynamics Change Because Of Eating Disorder- Eating Disorder dictates the way family dynamics work. Instead of being moved by mutual love and family interest, the Eating Disorder pushes people around according to its rules.
As the gap between us widened. My wife was forced to take leave of absence from work. She entered treatment program in late 2011 and that’s when everything started to fall apart. All those behaviors, rituals, dietary guidelines that she followed religiously were now put into question. With Anorexia, the behaviors a person adopts become a part of everyday life.
- Always weighing/measuring food
- Only eating at a fixed time
- OCD rituals around Cleaning
- Long Working hours
- Inability to sit still
- Compulsive Exercise
- Anger, Mood Swings
- Blaming others
- Never Happy
Eating Disorder In Marriage Creates A Blind Spot
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of Eating Disorder is the blind spot it creates for the affected person. It distorts their ability to perceive what’s happening to them. They can’t take other people’s perspectives as well as they used to. Beyond this, they don’t realize how much these abilities have been deteriorating as the Eating Disorder has progressed.
It’s very difficult to help someone who doesn’t believe they can be helped. I couldn’t supervise her meal times because it simply lead to another argument. She became very defensive when any of us tried to question her decision to exercise or choices around her food.
The marriage counseling was another challenge. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything to make her doubt my commitment to her, but through the counseling I learned I am part of the problem. During the sessions, all we focused on was what’s wrong with each other. We always argued after our therapy session and it took hours for us to calm down.
“Maybe you need a separation in order to figure out whether you really want this marriage” our therapist told us.
Time to Say Good Bye
I never had serious doubts about our future until recently when my wife made it clear once more that she does not want to have children or treatment. We spent good part of 2011-2014 trying to make our marriage work. After many therapy sessions, fights, arguments, trial separations and failed treatment programs, the time has come to say Good Bye to Each Other. It took me 10 years to understand the nature of my wife’s illness. Eating Disorder is a deceptive cunning disease. In four years she gained a fraction of weight and then she lost that weight. In marriage Eating Disorder is like an ungrateful house guest. It puts itself in the middle of the relationship and pushes to have its way. It may stay cloaked for some time before anyone finds out the truth. Eating Disorder can disguise itself as perfectionist, control freak, healthy eater, fitness lover, workaholic, or highly creative ambitious person. These can be Eating Disorder symptoms or distractions from deep emotional pain. So what does a man do when he discovers his wife no longer wants to be a mother? Where do his dreams of becoming a family man go? All I know is I can’t be happy forfeiting my chance to be a father. I am afraid that she’ll never be ready for children. She’s lived with anorexia for so long that now it has become a part of her identity. Now as we near 2015, the option is we go our own separate ways.
Eating Disorder Divorce
I don’t know much about eating disorder divorce rates in Muslim culture. Divorce is a harrowing experience. In Islam, divorce is disliked in the eye of Allah. So far I’ve come across three cases of divorces on this blog, all resulting from eating disorders. And more cases where families intervened to make the relationships work, by using mediators. The Eating Disorder itself doesn’t lead directly to divorce, it is the consequences of not addressing the illness and not getting the treatment. Divorce is often a prelude to downward drift where the person with Eating Disorder seeks and receives less treatment or refuses treatment, suffers more frequent and more serious mood swings, anxiety, depression, encounters problems with life in general, and experiences deteriorating finances and physical health.
For the Eating Disorder spouse, the divorce may lead to a number of difficulties that compound their mental, emotional, physical, and financial difficulties. Many studies show that living alone or being single often leads people to stop complying with their treatment plans in general. For the spouse who does not have Eating Disorder, the consequences of divorce are pretty much the same as for anybody else, they may get severely depressed or just get on with life and be happier and healthier, either as single people or as part of a new couple.
The difference lies in getting treatment – there’s no other way around this. Always remember Eating Disorders kill and destroy families. Eating disorder is a confusing condition, especially for someone viewing it from the outside. In other words, marriage to a person with eating disorder who is in treatment and not using eating disorder behaviours is pretty much the same as being married to a “well” person. Once the spouse is stable, it is possible for both partners to gain insight into eating disorder and its impact on both partners – both as individuals and on their marriage.
There is hope, even when things seem very dark. If this is your situation, please don’t give up hope. Things can get better, but you have to know what’s going on and what to do. Speak to Your GP.
This is a wonderful guide by BEAT on : Supporting a partner with an Eating Disorder