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Understanding What Intimacy Anorexia Is And How To Heal

couple lying in bed experiencing intimacy anorexia

Many of us have been in a relationship at least once in our lives where we felt no matter what we did, our partner just wasn’t capable of meeting our needs. And you have been perplexed as to what was really going on. It very well could be intimacy anorexia. 

Intimacy anorexia, a term coined by Dr. Doug Weiss, is considered a hidden addiction. It’s often not readily apparent, and its symptoms can coincide with other conditions. That makes it difficult to diagnose, but there are 11 characteristics that can help us understand it beyond normal intimacy issues.

Understanding Intimacy Anorexia: 11 Signs

  1. They’re always busy 

People with this condition keep themselves busy, leaving little to no time for their spouse.

  1. It’s not their fault

Problems in the relationship will always fall on the shoulders of the other partner, not the individual with intimacy anorexia.

  1. They withhold love

They’ll intentionally withhold love in the way their partner desires to be loved.

  1. They withhold praise

While you may receive praise in a public setting, praise in private is non-existent.

  1. Withholding sex

This isn’t always the case, but if they’re not withholding sex, they’ll withhold intimacy during the act. The same addict who is doing everything to avoid intimacy will often feel terribly needy and lonely. Sometimes the addict is aware of a longing for connection; other times the addict lives without intimate connection but doesn’t quite know what is missing.

According to counselor John Thorington, isolation and loneliness can then become the excuse for sexual acting out. 

  1. They withhold spirituality

People with intimacy anorexia can be very religious, or even a spiritual leader, however, they rarely connect spiritually with their partner.

  1. Unable to share feelings

Whether unwilling or unable, those who suffer from this condition don’t share their feelings with their partners.

  1. Highly critical attitude

Do you feel your partner always has something negative to say? Negative feedback and highly critical behavior are hallmarks of this disorder.

  1. They use anger or silence against you

When things don’t go their way, you may find yourself up against the silent treatment, or extreme anger.

  1. You feel like a roommate

Most people, when describing their relationship with someone dealing with intimacy anorexia, say they feel like they’re in a roommate situation, not a relationship.

  1. They control the money

This is the least common characteristic, however, if it’s present it’s serious. They’ll use money to control their partners and keep them where they want them.

How Can We Heal?

Some of the above may seem normal, and for most marriages, there are times where sex can be slow, or you’re simply just missing each other when trying to communicate and connect and it can feel that emotional intimacy is lacking. That is normal. Intimacy Anorexia is not.

Doug Weiss’s analogy for the spouse of an Intimacy Anorexic (IA) is that they have become a starved dog. He explains that if you buy a cute sweet loving puppy at a shelter and take the puppy home and lock it in a small crate, and refuse to feed and water and walk the dog and only address the dog with anger and abuse, that sweet little puppy becomes a starved, mean dog.

This analogy explains the dynamic when everyone on the outside sees a great person (the IA) and they view the spouse (the starved dog) as unreasonable, mean, controlling, and emotional. This is one of the worst parts of being a spouse of an IA. 

Not only are you alone in your marriage, but it’s possible the very people who care about you view you as the person who is being unreasonable and the reason the marriage is failing. You can become alone in marriage, and alone in your social circle as the IA can create an environment where you will seem like the bad partner when you’re the one who has been hurting and abused for years sometimes.

As with any addiction, the crux of healing is held by the IA. They must choose to want to save the relationship, come back from years of controlling everything, and want to change. Without that, the afflicted partner will be doing the work alone, without anything changing.

The hardest part is taking the first step and acknowledging there’s a problem, then forming a plan to solve it. And healing can happen, with counseling and therapy offering a safe space for couples to grow out of this emotional addiction together. 

The Bottom Line
Intimacy Anorexia is a painful disorder for the partner who doesn’t have it. But there is hope, through talk therapy, sex addiction therapy, or even courses you and your partner can complete at home. All journeys begin with the first step. Talking with your partner about healing the damage incurred can be difficult, but if your relationship can be saved, it’s vital to do it.

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