When your spouse develops an eating disorder, life can suddenly become a bit more complicated. Above all things, you want to do everything you can to help your spouse get the most out of treatment and experience long-term recovery. But determining the exact steps to take to achieve these goals is not always easy. Below are ten steps to help you support your husband or wife along with five things that can delay or impede the recovery process.
Ten Steps to Follow if Your Spouse has an Eating Disorder
No two eating disorder cases are exactly alike. However, there are some universally positive steps you can take to help your spouse overcome an eating disorder and develop a healthier relationship with food. Here are ten steps to follow if your spouse has an eating disorder.
1. Seek guidance from an eating disorder specialist before you take action
Your spouse’s chances of recovery will dramatically increase if you contact an eating disorder treatment center for guidance before you reach out to your spouse and dive into a discussion. Here are just a few of the many reasons why you should seek the expertise of a specialist before you do anything else:
- A specialist can listen to the symptoms you describe and help confirm whether you spouse may have an eating disorder or another problem
- You can receive a professional recommendations on what measures to take next
- A specialist can provide tips on how to talk to a spouse about eating disorder treatment
2. Show your spouse unconditional love and support
Your unconditional love and support can be the fuel that helps power your spouse through treatment and recovery. There are many ways to express your support to your husband or wife. From phone calls and visits during inpatient treatment to congratulatory surprises as your spouse achieves treatment goals, your ongoing support can be a difference maker during treatment and recovery.
3. Be an open and active listener
Becoming an active listener is one of the best ways to show your spouse that you genuinely care about their struggles. Because many people struggle a bit with active listening, here are some eating disorder recovery tips that focus on becoming a better listener to your spouse:
- Maintain eye contact when your spouse is talking to you face to face.
- Turn off your cell phone and try to eliminate distractions when your spouse is talking to you about important treatment updates or progress.
- Ask for clarification if you do not understand an aspect of treatment your spouse is describing.
- Periodically rephrase what your spouse is sharing in your own words to show you are following the conversation.
4. Focus on the non-physical attributes of your spouse and others
A fixation on physical attributes often plays a key role in the development of eating disorders. So the last thing you want to do is focus on a the physical appearance of your spouse or other people. For example, rather than saying, “Our new neighbor could really use a haircut and a few sessions at the gym,” you could say, “Our new neighbor really has a talent for updating homes – you should see how he refaced his front entryway.”
5. Participate in any recommended family therapy sessions
Family therapy is sometimes recommended as a component of eating disorder treatment. If your spouse or their treatment team reaches out to you about participating in family therapy, do your very best to adjust your schedule so that you can attend all scheduled sessions. Most sessions last no longer than an hour and help you and your spouse sustain a strong relationship as your spouse works to overcome their eating disorder.
6. Craft a plan to take care of responsibilities at home
The best way for your spouse to maximize their treatment experience is to make recovery their top priority. This will require them to attend all appointments and participate in residential or inpatient treatment if necessary. You can help out in this capacity by reassuring your spouse that you will take care of chores and responsibilities at home. This will allow your spouse to focus on treatment without worrying that things will fall apart at home.
7. Resolve to learn everything you can about eating disorders
Educating yourself about eating disorders will help you understand your spouse’s behavior and why recovery can be so challenging. Fortunately, there is a wealth of information available on eating disorders, and you can even choose the format that you receive this information. Here are some ways you can learn more about eating disorders:
- Support groups for spouses of people with eating disorders can provide valuable tips you can use to help your spouse
- Books, research studies, and articles can help you learn how eating disorders develop and how you can support your spouse
- Podcasts on eating disorders are a convenient way to learn while you are on the go
8. Have a heart to heart with your children
If you and your spouse have children, they may have difficulty understanding your spouse’s eating behaviors or the need to participate in treatment. The approach you take will depend on your children’s age, but if your children are old enough to ask questions, you should plan to sit down with them. If you are not quite sure what to say, your spouse’s doctor or therapist can provide guidance.
9. Continue to participate in enjoyable shared activities
An eating disorder should not signal the end of enjoyable life as you know it with your spouse. In fact, a great way to deliver eating disorder spouse support is to continue to schedule activities that the two of you enjoy together. Whether it is a trip to the movies, or a sightseeing road trip, you can help keep sparks alive in your marriage while your spouse completes their recovery.
10. Take care of your own health
Supporting a spouse with an eating disorder can be mentally and physically exhausting. Between supporting your spouse’s treatment, facing an increase in home responsibilities, and handling the lion’s share of child-related duties, you may find yourself burning the candle at both ends. If you are feeling overwhelmed, do not be afraid to ask a family member or friend for support. And make sure you attend your annual appointments with your primary care provider and dentist.
Five Things to Avoid Doing if Your Spouse has an Eating Disorder
Remembering what not to do or say can positively impact your spouse’s progress and recovery. Your comments and behaviors will resonate deeply with your spouse and you could end up doing more harm than good if you do not think before you act. Make sure that you avoid these five things if your spouse has an eating disorder.
1. Do not blame yourself
Eating disorder spousal support should never involve self-blame. While it can be natural to wonder what factors contributed to your spouse’s eating disorder, it is important to recognize that you are not responsible for your spouse’s condition. If you find yourself asking, “What could I have done to prevent this?”, encourage yourself to change the question to, “What can I do to help my spouse recover?”
2. Refrain from passing judgment
Learning how to talk to a spouse about an eating disorder can have a dramatic impact on their recovery. Passing judgment, on the other hand, can leave your spouse feeling alienated and less likely to listen to you. Rather than dwelling on your spouse’s past habits, you should focus on current treatment goals.
3. Never force your spouse to eat food
Using force or bribery in an effort to get your spouse to eat food is counterproductive. In fact, trying to force your spouse to eat food may exacerbate certain unhealthy behaviors such as vomiting or use of laxatives. If you are worried that your spouse is not consuming enough calories, it is best to share your concerns with your wife’s doctor or therapist during your spouse’s next treatment session.
4. Avoid making comments about your spouse’s appearance
Many people with bulimia, anorexia, or other eating disorders are extremely sensitive about their physical appearance. In many cases, it is a distorted body image or desire to appear thinner that causes an eating disorder to develop.
Rather than focusing on changes in your spouse’s appearance, focus on changes in their attitude. For instance, rather than saying, “Wow, it looks like you have gained 10 pounds this week in treatment,” say, “Wow – your doctor said you made amazing progress this week! Way to go!”
5. Do not rush the healing process
Treating an eating disorder is much different than treating a cold or a wound. People rarely recover from an eating disorder after one trip to a specialist and a prescription. Treatment can take a long time and weeks away from home, especially if your spouse’s eating disorder is severe. By knowing this in advance, you can develop realistic treatment expectations and avoid putting pressure on your spouse to recover by a specific date.
The Best Path to Recovery from an Eating Disorder
Providing eating disorder spouse support is not always easy. The most direct path to recovery for your spouse is to seek treatment right away from an experienced eating disorder treatment center. With the support of a skilled treatment team, your spouse can overcome their eating disorder and rediscover a life that is free from unhealthy obsessions with food.
For more eating disorder information for spouses, we invite you to contact us at Fairwinds Treatment Center today. We look forward to helping you put your spouse on the road to eating disorder recovery.