I’ve read numerous articles about parental support and involvement in recovery for their loved ones with eating disorders. There’s an abundance of research, support groups, and books guiding parents through the recovery process with their child. But there seems to be a gaping void for spouses. Little attention is given to this relationship when, as an adult, spouses are often our primary support system and are left with minimal guidance. Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to get lost on this long winding path without direction.
Throughout our twelve years together, my husband has held my hand through two relapses. Initially, holding my hand was the extent of how he knew to offer his support. We’ve learned, often times the hard way, what was instrumental to sustain my recovery and what was detrimental to it.
Here’s a few things we’ve found most helpful for spouses/partners to keep in mind as you support your loved one through recovery:
DO understand that you can’t control our recovery. You can’t force, beg, or will us to eat. Recovery must be sought out and pursued by us and us alone. Your place is to encourage us when we struggle by reminding us why we want recovery when we lose sight of it. You can hold our hand, but this path is ours to walk. Empower us when we get weary but never forget that this is our battle to fight, not yours.
DO set boundaries. We can’t maintain a marriage to you AND an eating disorder. When one is stronger the latter will grow weaker. Be clear as to what that looks like to you and how it effects you.
DON’T expect a rapid change. It took years to develop an eating disorder and healing can often take just as long. We are going through it as fast as we’re able to. We want it to be over as much as you do and it can be frustrating when the process is slower than we’d like. Recovery takes time and patience. Remind yourself of that as often as possible.
DO whisper in our ear reminders of our strength when you see the look of exhaustion on our face. Fighting everyday to hold onto recovery takes all our energy, especially in the beginning. Having someone alongside you just taking notice of that is validating and keeps our motivation in the right direction.
DON’T equate holding us accountable to being unsupportive. No, it wont always be received well initially but I promise we’re grateful eventually. Eating disorders are sneaky and behaviors creep back in very slowly, so slowly that sometimes we can’t even see them ourselves. Knowing that our partner is aware of our behaviors and is watching out for any signs that ED is trying to slip back into our lives is helpful.
DO ask, and keep asking, how you can support us. Keep that line of communication open and allow space for the transparency that is so vital in this process. On our good days don’t hesitate to take the opportunity to ask what we need on our bad days.
DO know that our eating disorder hates you. Plain and simple. Your support and connection stand between us and the isolation the eating disorders craves. Some days that back and forth is downright vicious in our mind. You often get the brunt of that battle. Just know that on those difficult days we’re fighting FOR you even if it feels like the opposite.
DON’T forget how incredible you are for choosing to walk through recovery with us. For some of us our spouse may be the first stable support we have ever experienced. There may be moments of doubt where we hold our breath waiting for you to get tired of us and leave, but they are only momentary and get less and less the more secure we feel. Every day our gratitude for your continued support is overflowing. Don’t lose sight of the importance your love has on every aspect of our life, especially recovery.
About Vanna Winters: Writer. Advocate. Survivor. Vanna is a contributor for The Mighty, Recovery Warriors, Beating Eating Disorders, YahooHealth, MSN, Narratives of Hope, and Lost Got Found. Using her advocacy role, Vanna is able to draw from her twenty years of personal experience and her degree in developmental psychology to help use her writing as a way to reach those struggling with mental illness and bring awareness to the public. CLICK HERE to visit her at Instagram