Intimacy anorexia is a form of love avoidance in which the anorexic systematically deprives his or her spouse of emotional, spiritual, and/or sexual intimacy. The end result for the receiving partner is emotional starvation and intimacy deprivation.
Controlling the purse strings is one of many strategies the intimacy anorexic uses to restrict the free flow of love in the relationship. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including direct control of the finances (the power or blame game that justifies the anorexic’s “no you can’t” stance), the guilt trip (the shame game that induces a “no I can’t” or “I shouldn’t have” in the intimacy deprived partner), and the more subtle but oh so effective control by abundance. Although statistics suggest females may out number males when it comes to intimacy anorexia, I see significantly more male anorexics who engage in financial control in my counseling practice.
The Blame Game
The power/blame game is the classic version of control that sets up a one up-one down situation in the relationship. Although in some marriages this merely represents a more traditional value system, when it occurs in the context of intimacy anorexia it creates a power differential that results in barriers to emotional connection.
The anorexic’s tight fisted approach to money, in combination with other anorexic withholding strategies, trains the spouse that her needs, and most certainly her wants, are only important if sanctioned by the anorexic. She gradually learns to survive on less and less; she becomes needless and want-less or learns to get some degree of financial access by complying with the intimacy anorexic’s primary goal – keeping distance in the relationship.
The Shame Game
In the shame game, the control can come on the front end of the cycle (shaming the spouse for expressing the desire or intent to spend money) or back end (shaming the spouse for a money expenditure). Regardless of whether the spouse is denied freedom to make financial decisions or has the illusion of freedom but it comes with the price tag of judgment or shaming, the money control creates a barrier to the feeling of genuine closeness and partnership.
Over time the intimacy deprived spouse may disconnect from awareness of her own needs and wants. Some become unable to fully self-nurture or harbor resentments toward the anorexic. Others go underground with a secret life of purchases that inevitably become the fodder for the next round of blame/shame attacks when discovered.
Money abundance is less often recognized as a relationship control tactic. Although it may seem counterintuitive, when abundance is used in the context of an intimacy anorexic relationship it can be a deviously effective form of control. Many of the women I see in my counseling practice are blind to the intimacy deprivation, the consistent pattern of their emotional, spiritual or sexual needs being denied because they are not deprived materially.
The rationale goes something like, “I shouldn’t complain about him not showing me love because he lets me buy whatever I want.” That rationale doesn’t sound so rational when I remind them that is an arrangement that describes a kept woman, not a cherished wife. I also point out that intimacy anorexia is only diagnosed when the anorexic has the capacity to show love but chooses to withhold it. The withholding behavior is almost always reserved for the committed relationship partner.
If you are in a relationship with a spouse who is controlling, blaming or shaming about money, I encourage you to learn more about intimacy anorexia and attend our Partner Empowerment or Married and Alone women’s group. To locate a counselor trained in identifying and treating intimacy anorexia and intimacy deprivation, contact the American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy.
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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