This post is Part 2 in The Communication Series. Read Part 1 HERE
Communication is an essential part of any relationship, but it is especially important for the romantic kind. When you’re struggling with an eating disorder, it can feel impossible to find the right words to say to your partner. You may be worried that he or she will think you’re vain, attention seeking, or even unsatisfied with the relationship itself. Let’s not kid ourselves – it’s not an easy conversation to have. But working through an eating disorder is a full time job, and keeping such a huge part of your life secret from your partner is both exhausting and unnecessary.
The purpose of today’s post is to walk you through some common questions, concerns, and reactions your significant other may have about your eating disorder, how to approach each, and how to ask for the support you need. Your eating disorder doesn’t have to drive a wedge between you and your loved one.
The First Conversation
Before we get into the nitty gritty of how to begin a conversation about your eating disorder with your boyfriend or girlfriend, there’s a conversation you need to have first. A conversation with yourself in which you honestly ask: am I ready for a relationship? A couple of years ago, I shared my story of failed relationships when I was still very much trapped in my eating disorder which made any romantic involvement mentally and emotionally disastrous. I encourage you to go back and read You, Me, and ED: Am I Ready for a Relationship, to determine if a romantic relationship is in your best interest right now (and if not, how to know when). Be sure to ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the idea of this person seeing my body make me feel anxious about how much I’ve had to eat or how much I’ve been exercising?
- Does the emotional involvement put pressure on me or take away from the effort I am giving to my recovery?
- Does my therapist think it is a safe idea to be dating right now?
- What are the pros and cons of waiting to start a romantic relationship until I am more comfortable in my own skin?
In This Together
Once you’ve established that you are in a mentally and emotionally secure place to be in a romantic relationship, it’s time to breach the subject of your battle with an eating disorder in a way that your significant other will understand. Keep in mind that the mindset you enter the conversation with is just as important as what you say. Remember that relationships are built on trust, love, and respect. You’ve chosen to share your life with this person, so you have to trust that your significant other will respond with love not judgement and give you the respect you deserve for opening up about something difficult in your life.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
Be sure to make clear to your significant other that your experience with an eating disorder is in no way caused or influenced by his or her actions. Explain that eating disorders are caused by a variety of factors, can be triggered by numerous different things, and are very much a personal struggle.
That being said, this is a great time to bring certain triggers to your partners attention. If he or she does or says anything in particular that makes your ED flare up, take this opportunity to kindly explain to them why those comments or actions bother you and ask them to refrain from doing so in the future. If your significant other becomes defensive, gently remind him or her that you are not blaming them. This is your journey to work through, but avoiding certain comments or behaviors will help you in this transition.
Be prepared for a degree of frustration. It may be difficult for your significant other to understand how you couldn’t possibly see yourself as lovely and beautiful as he or she does. Explain that eating disorders are less about vanity and more about control. Learning to love yourself will be a process, and your partner other doesn’t have to entirely understand that, but they do have to be supportive of it.
Supporting VS Saving
In addition to initial feelings of defensiveness, another common reaction your significant other may have is to want to fix the problem. Whether or not he or she says it directly in the form of “But what can I do to help? How can I fix this?” or expresses it with his or her actions – it is your job to tell your partner firmly that you need to be supported, not saved.
Love heals a lot of things, but not eating disorders. This one is all you. Make sure you provide your significant other with a list of different ways he or she can support you, and remind them that that is enough. Their love and support will make all the difference. For more examples about how to begin and execute a productive and warm conversation with your significant other about your eating disorder, download my free sample script HERE.
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