I am in love with someone in recovery from binge eating disorder. There was no manual for this trip, no “how to” guides. It has been a many year journey. This is a bit about what I discovered to support her along the way.
When she started her recovery, my wife was profoundly unhappy in her body, and with herself. I could not see what she saw when she looked in a mirror. But I had to try to understand in order to walk with her.
It took a while to learn that my wife had an adversarial relationship with her body, a body I love very deeply. She hated parts that didn’t fit her version of ideal. She was angry at her body for its appetites. She felt betrayed by her body for not losing weight. I was so saddened to see this, and confused, too.
My wife taught me that, in order to heal her relationship with her body, she had to accept it as it was at the moment. That meant a lot of changes for her and a lot of work. My wife had to learn that her body always does the best it can. She needed to own the effects of her eating disorder, and the impact shame was having on her whole physical life. She needed to, many times, apologize to her body for the damage done, make a sincere effort to stop that kind of hurting, and forgive herself for not knowing better at the time. My wife had to come home to her own body, to care for it in a loving rather than restricting way, and to move her body in ways that bring joy and health. This work has taken courage and persistence. From both of us.
My wife has told me many times that I have been a critical part of her healing.
What you can do
These are the most important things I learned as a man about being an ally for a wife or female partner in recovery:
1. Be patient with her, and with yourself. It takes time to learn new ideas and ways of being.
2. Binge eating is NOT about willpower; it has many causes that are real and not her fault. Not yours either. But you both need to change some things.
3. Dieting is not the answer.
4. Never make disparaging remarks to her, especially about her body. Ever.
5. Don’t make comments to your friends, or her friends, or anyone, about her body.
6. Be aware of how you objectify women in general. We are all taught to do so. Own it, educate yourself about it, and change it.
7. Let go of your ideas of what a perfect body is and use your love for your wife to find beauty in all of her, however she is right now.
8. Get over any attachment to her losing weight. If it bothers you, find out what it may mean for you.
9. Accept your own body.
10. Give up the bias that fat equals mortal danger. Read studies that disprove the conventional, unfounded “wisdom.”
11. If you have a sexual relationship, sincerely express your desire to be with her and share each other’s bodies. If she withdraws from you, tell her in a loving way that you miss being with her, but that you will wait until she feels better – and mean it.
12. If you can’t do some of these things, get help. Get a therapist who knows about binge eating disorders. Or find a support group for family members.
I hope these help you as you travel through the journey of recovery with your wife or partner. And remember just how much your voice matters to her—and to your partnership. Recovery is a hard road, and one best traveled together.