3 Tips for Dating Someone Who’s In Eating Disorder Recovery
Relationships are challenging at the best of times, but when you’re dating someone in eating disorder recovery, they can be even more so. After all, eating disorder recovery is a time when people should be focused on building a healthy relationship with themselves. Throwing another person into the mix complicates an already complicated situation.
I am speaking from my own experience. In my previous blog, I spoke about what I’ve learned about dating in eating disorder recovery when you are the person with the disorder.
Today, I want to give my advice to people who are dating the person in recovery. Despite a laundry list of failed relationships, I am coming up on my 11-year wedding anniversary with my husband, and together, we’ve prepared a list of what we consider the three most important tips for dating someone in eating disorder recovery.
3 Tips for Dating Someone Who’s in Eating Disorder Recovery
Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but we’ve distilled what we believe to be the core necessities of any relationship in recovery.
1. Don’t Try to Fix the Person in Recovery
When we first met, I was only beginning to think about taking my recovery seriously; I was only starting to believe there was a way out. So, my husband saw me at what I view as my worst, but he was not scared away and he did not try to fix me.
The only person who can fix someone with an eating disorder is the person with the eating disorder. If you try to take on the role of the healer, you’re being unfair to yourself (since you cannot be held responsible for someone else’s actions or the unpredictability of their illness) and you are being unfair to the person in recovery (since you’re unwittingly putting more pressure on them to get better to please you, and people with eating disorders already spend most of their lives trying to meet external standards).
2. Just Be Supportive, But Don’t Enable
There’s a fine line between being supportive and enabling destructive behavior. It can be hard to tell where this line is sometimes, but the way my husband saw it was by determining if his actions (or inaction) would ultimately help me or hurt me.
For instance, if I was going through a binge, which happened often in our early dating life, he would not go get me anything: no fried foods or sweets or bundles of refined carbohydrates. But he would not judge me if I ended up getting them myself.
This let me see I was cared for, no matter what, but also let me see that my partner had boundaries. These boundaries were important, because to my mind, it created a division between my relationship with myself and my mental illness and my relationship with my now-husband. I didn’t conflate the two, which I’ve seen happen many times in these sorts of relationships, and create a dangerous co-dependency.
3. Don’t Focus on the Physical
This is a tough one because, in new relationships, the physical often is the focus. However, when you’re dating someone in eating disorder recovery (or who has an eating disorder and is not in recovery yet), much of that person’s focus is already on their physical being.
The best thing you can do is show them and tell them the things you admire about them that have nothing to do with the way they look. Their intelligence, humor, kindness, or courage: these are all things you have to draw their attention to so that they can begin to see their physicality does not define them. Importantly, this sort of praise also helps them realize they are not their illness.
Dating Someone Who’s in Eating Disorder Recovery: The Takeaway
As I already said, dating someone who’s in eating disorder recovery is challenging, but it’s not impossible. Both my husband and I are proof of that. Remember that respect, boundaries, support, and perspective can go a long way to help you both build a healthy relationship.