Emotional starvation is a silent epidemic in our country. Thousands of spirits are dying a slow, painful death everyday. They are dying from hunger, from thirst, from unfulfilled needs – but not a need for food or water. Souls are being lost, spirits insidiously snuffed out from an unfulfilled need for emotional connection.
Sadly, these deaths are not happening to random strangers trapped in the dungeon of some madman. They are happening in what we expect to be our marital safe haven. Some of you are watching your hope for emotional intimacy with your spouse slowly slip away, while others of you are already in zombie mode, your relationship on life support.
As a marriage and family psychologist as well as specialist in working with recovery from sex addiction, I’ve had to accept that a certain number of marriages will wither from lack of TLC where both spouses suffer the affects. However, I also know that some of you are dealing with a bigger, more dangerous beast: a pernicious form of love avoidance called intimacy anorexia. Your intimacy hunger comes from being emotionally starved by your spouse. Whether it is by passive-aggressiveness or passive-avoidance, your spouse consistently puts up barriers or sabotages your attempts at emotional connection.
When this happens in a parent-child relationship, we call it neglect and know that over time it has a deep and profoundly detrimental impact on a child’s development. When it happens in a marital relationship we call it intimacy anorexia know that over time it has deep and profoundly negative impact on the intimacy deprived partner’s spirit. No matter how seemingly benign the anorexic’s behaviors, the underlying message is bleak:
“I don’t want to know your heart and I won’t let you know mine.
You needs don’t matter; you don’t matter.”
Fairy tales don’t prepare us for intimacy deprivation. As women, we are particularly unprepared. If you are in an intimacy anorexic relationship, you probably didn’t recognize the gradual buildup of deprivation until your spirit began to shut down. In the early years of your emotionally anorexic marriage, you spent more and more time trying to figure what was missing and how to get through to your husband, desperately seeking the perfect set of words that would make him understand the emotional starvation. If you are also dealing with a spouse who struggles with pornography or sexual addiction, the sharp pain of betrayal may have may have masked your awareness of the duller but ultimately more damaging pain of the relational neglect.
You tried harder and harder, physically and spiritually exhausting yourself in the process. It probably took many, many years of this before it dawned on you that the reason you are in emotional starvation is because you are being starved by your spouse; the reason the anorexic won’t release the break on the emotional shut off valve is that leaves him in control of the level of emotional intimacy.
If left untended, intimacy deprivation is as damaging to your spirit as food starvation is to your body. Be aware that if you are combating intimacy anorexia, the typical relationship self-help book will be inadequate and standard marriage therapy may actually be harmful. To learn more about intimacy anorexia or to find a counselor trained in dealing with intimacy anorexia and intimacy deprivation, contact the AASAT.
Dr. Janice Caudill is the founder and Clinical Director of McKinney Counseling & Recovery. MCR offers individual, couples, group therapy and multi-day intensives for partners of sex addicts and wounded hearts struggling with sex addiction, infidelity, love addiction or love avoidance, intimacy anorexia, or relational trauma in the McKinney, Plano, Allen, Richardson, Frisco, Carrollton, Lewisville, Dallas and surrounding areas.
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