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Is Your Relationship Showing Signs of Intimacy Anorexia?

Last Updated: May 12, 2021

Doug Weiss

Doug Weiss, Ph.D., is a nationally known author, speaker, and licensed psychologist. He is the executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the author of several books, including Clean and Lust Free Living. For more information on his resources and services, stop by www.drdougweiss.com.

Excitement fills your heart when you prepare to marry the one you love. Maybe you fantasized about the many happy and blissful years to come, or dreamed of the backyard barbecues, annual vacations, or simple cozy movie nights you would one day share with your significant other.

However, most engaged or newly married couples tend to ignore the fact that marriage takes hard work and a lot of dedication. There will be days in a marriage when you and your spouse just simply cannot and will not get along. Hardships and arguments are a part of every relationship.

Remember, no marriage is perfect, and a few bumps and divides along the way are perfectly normal in any relationship. However, one thing can prolong and widen what could have been a temporary divide between you and your spouse: actively withholding connection from one another, whether emotionally, spiritually, or sexually. I call this intimacy anorexia.

Intimacy anorexia significantly impacts a couple and their relationship. It stunts growing and flourishing relationships, and causes them to become cold and toxic.

While an argument may only affect most couples for a few hours or days, the emotional pain and isolation attributed to intimacy anorexia will continue as long as the intimacy anorexic continues his or her behavior.

It is important to know whether your marital relationship is being hindered by intimacy anorexia or merely going through a rough patch? Here are ten symptoms and telltale signs of intimacy anorexia in action.

(1)  It seems as if everyone is busy, whether due to work, taking care of the kids, PTA meetings—the list goes on. However, an intimacy anorexic will continually stay busy in order to withhold quality time from his or her spouse. Continually putting a busy life ahead of one’s spouse is the first symptom of intimacy anorexia.

(2) Just as no marriage is perfect, no person is perfect either. That said, an intimacy anorexic will take this further by blaming his or her spouse’s imperfections for most, if not all, the problems in the relationship.

(3) The intimacy anorexic will also use ongoing criticism toward his or her spouse as a way to wedge an emotional divide.

Busyness and blame are the first symptoms of intimacy anorexia. The next four symptoms involve withholding. Whether the intimacy anorexic is (4) withholding love, (5) withholding praise, (6) withholding sex, or (7) withholding spirituality, he or she leaves his or her partner without the love, praise, intimacy, or spiritual connection needed for a healthy relationship and marriage.

(8) An intimacy anorexic is typically unwilling to share his or her feelings with his or her spouse to advance a disconnection. In a healthy, intimacy-filled marital relationship, sharing one’s feelings is a part of the daily routine. Sharing one’s feelings is important to a flourishing, growing emotional connection.

(9) An intimacy anorexic will use anger or silence to control his or her spouse, and the relationship.

(10) This last symptom is control of money. Though it is the least common, intimacy anorexics will use money as a way to control their spouses and the relationship.

On their wedding day, no one expects the person they have decided to share the rest of their life with to become unwilling or unable to share the simplest aspects of their relationship: love, praise, feelings, and time. Though you might never have suspected it, if you are experiencing intimacy anorexia in your marriage, the relationship that was once overflowing with love and intimacy may have changed dramatically. It is important to recognize the signs of intimacy anorexia and deal with the changes together, whether through an emotionally therapeutic discussion, or a professional mediator.

Through the Intimacy Anorexia book or DVD, a telephone session, or a 3-5 day intensive, I have seen even the most distressed marriage relationships transformed—like the pair that was once so alienated they had no sexual intimacy for over ten years. Countless others experienced a happily ever after greater than they ever dreamed could happen.

  • Comments on: Is Your Relationship Showing Signs of Intimacy Anorexia?
    1. Jo on

      Thanks for the great post! Are there certain qualities in a person that MUST be present in order for an individual to be called an intimacy anorexic? My husband never blames me for things and is fine being near me and hearing me talk. However, he is on his phone whenever he has a spare minute, he rarely shares himself on an emotional level, rarely compliments me, and when we have sex, it never feels truly intimate.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Hi Jo. “Intimacy anorexia” is not an official diagnosis, so no–there is not a specific set of criteria that must be met. “Intimacy anorexia” is simply a way of expressing that healthy intimacy is not happening. Men in our culture are socialized to avoid their feelings (big boys don’t cry) and to act out instead (boys will be boys). Many churches have further promoted this as “true biblical manhood” and “masculine christianity,” making it even harder for men to be okay with their feelings. As a result, many men do not know how to experience and process their own emotions, much less the emotions of their wives. I believe that this is the true underlying cause of the porn epidemic in the church today. It’s not about sex, really. It’s about an inability to deal with uncomfortable personal emotions; porn steps right in when a man is “bored”–which often means feeling emotionally uncomfortable–or sad or mad or scared, and makes him feel better for a minute. If your husband could learn to be present with himself, he could also learn to be present with you. Peace to you, Kay

    2. Charlotte on

      “Intimacy Anorexia” SHOULD be an official diagnosis, if only for assuring the suffering spouse that they are not “crazy”, “too demanding”, or “needy”. Only through an understanding of Douglas Weiss’ writings have my husband and I been able to start the process of unraveling his dysfunction, which led to his pornography addiction.

      Reply
      • Hanna on

        My husband shows all the signs of an intimacy anorexic, thank you so much Douglas Weiss for giving this disease a name, now I don’t have to battle this alone, I never thought anyone would understand but you lay out everything so perfectly for us to understand

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