Research has shown that the family absolutely plays a role in eating disorder development, treatment, and recovery. These findings have been implemented with family-based treatment methods, particularly with adolescents.
However, for adults struggling with an eating disorder, “family” becomes a much more broad term, and their significant other may be the most involved relationship in their life and, therefore, the most valuable asset in their recovery.
It isn’t surprising that disorders that take such a toll on the mental, physical, and emotional health of the individual would have great impacts on their romantic relationships.
Studies have shown that women with an eating disorder diagnosis report “lower sexual desire and activity, as well as increased anxiety about sexual intimacy .”
Additionally, couples struggling with an eating disorder are “less likely to naturally describe problems and meta-communicate, and more likely to demand unilateral change .”
Relationship dissatisfaction is also, unsurprisingly, commonly reported in couples dealing with an eating disorder.
This impact goes both ways, with levels of body disturbance proving to be associated with a partner’s comments about body weight or shape .
As one study aptly summarizes, “partner dynamics can enable and help to maintain the disorder or aid in recovery from the disorder .”
A 2016 study found that, despite “partners who did not experience an eating disorder themselves still experience(ing) significant distress from dealing with their partners’ eating disorder-related symptoms,” they rarely reported receiving any therapy support for themselves or as a couple .
Considering the great impact these disorders have on both individuals and the relationship as a whole, it is clear that a crucial factor in adult eating disorder treatment and recovery is being overlooked.
If this is your current reality, do not be afraid to shirk conventional family-based eating disorder treatment and request inclusion of your partner for couples therapy.
Couples counseling differs from including your significant other in your individual eating disorder treatment therapy, as it would focus primarily on the relationship and both members in it as opposed to the eating disorder.
While the disorder would absolutely be discussed, sessions wouldn’t revolve around solving it and would, instead, revolve around individual challenges, experiences, and needs and how this pertains to couple dynamics as a whole.
It is also encouraged that the individual not struggling with an eating disorder receive their own individual.
Despite the urgency and importance of eating disorder treatment and recovery, no single member of a couple is more important than the other. With the couple working as a team, recovery is possible. However, each member of the team and the team itself must be taken care of.
 Linville, D., Cobb, E., Shen, F., Stadelmen, S. (2016). Reciprocal influence of couple dynamics and eating disorders. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 42:2.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published February 26, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on February 26, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC