If your husband is intimacy anorexic, then you are suffering Intimacy Deprivation. You may have known for some time that something is not quite right in your relationship and that it is affecting you. But putting the puzzle together to figure out just what that something is has eluded you. If you feel deprived of a meaningful connection with your spouse, you may be on the receiving end of intimacy anorexia.
Intimacy anorexia is a pattern of active withholding of emotional, spiritual, and/or sexual intimacy by your spouse. It is primarily reserved for the marital or committed relationship partner, such that you are put into intimacy deprivation. Intimacy deprivation is the equivalent to emotional starvation.
The deprivation from intimacy anorexia can come in many forms: withholding love, affection, praise, attention, communication, time or spiritual connection. The intimacy anorexic may be unwilling to share feelings or have little true interest in yours. Instead of nurturing you may get overt controlling behavior such as anger, blame, criticism, or coldness.
Alternatively, a more covert form of intimacy manipulation includes indifference, passive-avoidance, staying overly busy to avoid relational time, or predictable illness during vacations or time reserved for you.
Sex may be withheld altogether – this is intimacy anorexia that includes sexual anorexia – or be intact but with little genuine emotional connection by your mate, otherwise known as objectifying sex. Both of these patterns may co-occur with a pornography or sex addiction. Additionally, the anorexic may sabotage sex either before, during or after sex until you get to the point you may feel, “What’s the point of even trying anymore.”
When the intimacy needs of an infant or child are neglected, stunted emotional development can occur. The child’s self-image suffers and trust of others becomes difficult. The child may have long-term issues with either freely giving or accepting love. When the intimacy needs of an adult are neglected over an extended period of time, emotional atrophy can occur. This can affect your relationship with either others as well as with yourself.
The negative consequences of intimacy deprivation differ depending on your spouse’s specific intimacy anorexia pattern, your prior relational trauma history and your personal disposition. The women I counsel universally report feeling lonely. Many experience self-doubt and a slow erosion of their self-esteem. Feelings of rejection and abandonment are common.
Depression, anxiety, fear and an eventual reluctance to be emotionally vulnerable with others may result. Some begin to objectify themselves and become hypercritical of perceived flaws and question their womanhood. Anger, resentment and bitterness are frequent, especially if the deprivation has occurred over a long period of time and the intimacy anorexic uses a more overt form.
Isolation from sources of support are also common. Many women have multiple caring friends and family who can be a support network for many other life problems. However, because the intimacy anorexia reserves the withholding behavior for the primary partner and usually presents as a loving mate in public, network members can neither understand nor be a true source of support. The intimacy deprived learn that seeking solace from others unfamiliar with intimacy anorexia usually leads to disappointment and frustration.
Intimacy deprivation only gets worse with time. If you are being deprived of the joy of being loved and appreciated for who you really are, and the ability to return that gift, or if you are fast forgetting what it feels like to be touched, held and made to feel wanted – seek out a professional trained in assessing intimacy anorexia and treating intimacy deprivation. Consider seeking help, regardless of whether your mate is willing to participate.
I believe group therapy offers your best bet for replenishing your spirit. The Married & Alone group is a healing community of women committed to recovering from intimacy deprivation and learning relationship boundaries that counter the intimacy anorexia.
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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