Written by: Ingela Edwards, MS, LPC-Intern, National CertifiedCounselor, McKinney, TX. Supervised by: Debra Dian Larsen, MS, LPC-S
When people get married, they bring their own ideas about emotional
closeness and what a happy marriage should look like. Most people envision romance, unconditional love and an endless supply of support, care and nurturing from their spouse. The fairy tale marriage does not always come true. Sometimes people find themselves in an emotionally starved marriage. The emotionally starved spouse who feels ignored may address the issue with hopes of connecting with their spouse, and in return receive a dismissive comment. This pattern continues until frustration levels reach the limit.
Couple’s often come to counseling due to intimacy issues in the relationship. It may be that one spouse has intimacy anorexia tendencies. The term intimacy anorexia is coined by psychologist Doug Weiss and refers to a person who normally shames, blames, and strategically criticizes their spouse. This person is may be controlling with money and withholds love, sex and appreciations from their spouse. Commonly, the emotionally starved spouse will report feeling more like a roommate than a spouse.
After several unsuccessful attempts at developing true intimacy in the
marriage, the emotionally starved spouse may shut down in order to self-protect. What was originally motivated by self-protection may evolve into payback fueled by anger and sadness stemming from the emotional neglect. They may start using the same tactics of shutting out their spouse. Now a vicious circle of shame, blame, anger and withholding has been created. This response of starting to utilize the
intimacy anorexic tendencies is referred to as reactive
The reactive intimacy anorexic spouse came into the marriage seeking ongoing intimacy with their spouse. They were able to take accountability for their actions, share their feelings and show love through affection, praise and respect for their spouse. They wanted to spend time with their spouse. Most people who became the reactive
intimacy anorexic did not intend to participate in the emotional starvation game.
The pattern of withholding and criticizing appeared gradually over a long period of time as a reactive response to being emotionally starved. Reactive intimacy anorexia appears as a side effect of being ignored and emotionally starved. The ignored spouse eventually shuts down and shuts out the neglectful spouse. It can be very difficult for people to be loving, praising and sexual with a spouse whom they cannot connect with -as all attempts are blocked.
You may be experiencing reactive intimacy anorexia and no longer wish to state your thoughts, feelings or opinions because of the verbal
attacks that you have received in the past. You now see your spouse as all bad and anything that goes wrong is blamed on your spouse. As this vicious circle spins out of control, the marriage will get progressively worse. The circle keeps spinning until one spouse realizes that it is time to step out, and seek treatment in an effort to restore the marriage.
Ingela Edwards, MS, LPC-Intern, NCC, therapist at McKinney Counseling and Recovery, specializes in helping individuals and couples heal from sex addiction, infidelity, intimacy anorexia, and intimacy deprivation. McKinney Counseling & Recovery serves the McKinney, Plano, Allen, Frisco, Dallas and Sherman area.
Ingela Edwards, LPC, NCC, SRT, CCPS is an individual and marriage therapist