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June 26, 2019

Marital Concerns of Eating Disorder Sufferers

Woman struggling with anorexia

An eating disorder can cause an immense toll on a relationship. Studies show that body dissatisfaction is negatively associated with marital concerns and “eating concerns in women are associated with less satisfaction, comfort, and closeness in romantic relationships [1].”

These statistics can be scary when you and your spouse are working together to help them recover. But, for every scary statistic, there is one that provides insight into what does and doesn’t work to keep married couples flourishing despite the challenge of an eating disorder.

Communication & Eating Disorder Recovery

This would be necessary whether your partner had an eating disorder or not. However, the shape this communication takes changes a bit when an eating disorder enters the relationship.

Research has found that couples, where one individual is diagnosed with an eating disorder, had “generally better” communication as compared to couples designated as “Maritally Distressed” and “Non-Maritally Distressed [2].”

This study also found the ED couples to have less negative interactions than those labeled as distressed, but also, less positive interactions than those couples not labeled as distressed [2]. The takeaway is that, absolutely, communication matters, BUT the type of communication is also essential.


Communicating is all good-and-well, however, if your partner is walking away feeling dissatisfied or negative about the interaction, the communication isn’t effective. Work on positive communication and interactions with your partner, ideally with the help of a therapist or treatment team. This will help alleviate may of the marital concerns.

Individual Self-Care in Recovery from Eating Disorders

Working through treatment and recovery as a team is absolutely imperative. However, it is also important to process this experience as individuals. You are both experiencing different sides of this disorder, with one of directly fighting it and another providing support for your spouse.

With these differing experiences come varied thoughts and emotions that you each need to work through on your own. It is not only the individual with the eating disorder that could benefit from the support of a therapist.

Additionally, support groups exist for both the individual with the eating disorder as well as their loved ones, providing you both the opportunity to gain social support from people in a similar situation.

Remain a Team United Against the Eating Disorder

Husband holding his wife and working through marital concerns of an eating disorderResearch shows that marital concerns in couples where one has an eating disorder decreases partially after treatment of the eating disorder [2]. This should come as no surprise, as, many times, one of the most significant stressors on a couple is the disorder itself.

Remove the disorder, remove the stressor. This will be a challenging task for both partners. However, the more emphasis there is on remaining a team and supporting one another through this, the better the outcome.

Focus on One Another

The eating disorder will want to take center stage in the marriage. Don’t let it. Disordered eating thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will need to be addressed, especially when it comes to fostering a positive, recovery-based environment.

However, many couples find that it becomes the center of their universe and that they lose sight of one another thus leading to marital concerns. Fight this by planning activities together that don’t center around food, and that allows you to focus on one another and the love that brought you together and is carrying you both through.


[1] Whisman, M. A. et al. (2011). Marital functioning and binge eating disorder in married women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45:3, 385-389.

[2] Woodside, D. B., Lackstrom, J. B., Shekter-Wolfson, L. (2000) Marriage in eating disorders: comparison between patients and spouses and changes over the course of treatment. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 49, 165-168.

About our Sponsor:

Eating Disorder Solutions

At Eating Disorder Solutions, compassion is at the root of everything we do. We understand that eating disorders are complex, deeply rooted mental health and medical conditions which require personalized treatment for successful recovery. By integrating behavioral health modalities and clinical interventions, we endeavor to address disordered eating at its source. As one of the nation’s few adult eating disorder facilities offering residential and outpatient programs, Eating Disorder Solutions is fully prepared to help people reclaim control of their lives and future.

At Eating Disorder Solutions, recovery is a community effort. We believe by addressing and processing feelings such as shame and guilt, we can begin the journey to recovery. Eating Disorder Solution focuses on the individual, not his or her diagnosis, to better understand the underlying cause and best treatment approach for each client. We offer a residential home to clients who need that extra support to begin the journey to recovery while also giving him or her the freedom that many other facilities are unable to offer. We pride ourselves on staying connected with each individuals support system, whether it is family or outpatient treatment providers, to ensure that our clients have the best continued care after treatment.


Image of Margot Rittenhouse.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 June 26, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on June 26, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

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