“Intimacy Anorexia” is term that was coined by Dr. Douglass Weiss of Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs. Intimacy Anorexia means to withhold intimacy from relationships, most specifically romantic relationships, but it may extend to other familial relations like with children or parents as well. Often those who suffer from Intimacy Anorexia have sex/love addictions as well. On Dr. Weiss’ website, he estimates that 29% of male sex addicts also suffer from Intimacy Anorexia and that 39% of female sex addicts do. His study also found that 39% of the partners of sex addicts have Intimacy Anorexia. Intimacy Anorexia is also highly prevalent in those who play the role of the “Love Avoidant” in love-addicted relationships.
Five Aspects of Intimacy Anorexia
Those who suffer from Intimacy Anorexia also possess these five traits that cause and help to maintain the anorexia:
- Control – The anorexic feels most safe and comfortable when they are in control of every aspect of their relationships. They also try to control the public perception of their relationships-the anorexic must not let others see they are little more than roommates with their partner, so they often put on an act in public to appear normal.
- Foot Out the Door – The anorexic only feels comfortable when they have one foot out the door of the relationship, so to speak. This may manifest itself as constant flirting with others to serve as replacement partners, should their primary marriage fail. Or it might show in working too much overtime, having hobbies that keep them away from home, and so on. The anorexic feels most comfortable on the fringes of the relationship, just barely holding on to it.
- Safety Bubble – The safety bubble is an invisible wall that is always around the anorexic ensuring that nobody gets too close. What the anorexic may not realize is that as time passes their safety bubble also becomes a lonely jail cell. Nobody knows who they really are, nobody listens to their secrets, nobody every sees deep inside them. What they fear most is also what they crave most. The anorexic thinks-rightly so-the more someone knows and loves you, the more they can hurt you.
- Independence – Dependence means the anorexic cannot be in control, which we’ve already learned is necessary for their comfort. Basic human psychology dictates that adulthood is a time for interdependence in which healthy, stable relationships of give-and-take are formed. The anorexic is not capable of having such relationships and, thus, may have very immature thinking processes.
- Being Selfish – Typically, someone suffering from Intimacy Anorexia is unable to feel empathy towards others, as that would involve them extending something intimate out (while the other aspects on this list are to guard against another trying to share intimacy with the anorexic). They simply cannot allow the feelings of others to penetrate their safety bubble, as the consequences could be disastrous. Intimacy Anorexics are not incapable of intimacy; rather they’ve become addicted to completely blocking it out of their lives.
The Intimacy Anorexic’s Anthem
If you are still having a hard time grasping this sad affliction, consider Simon and Garfunkel’s classic I Am a Rock, which captures Intimacy Anorexia perfectly:
- I’ve built walls,
- A fortress deep and mighty,
- That none may penetrate.
- I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
- It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
- I am a rock,
- I am an island.
- Don’t talk of love,
- But I’ve heard the words before;
- It’s sleeping in my memory.
- I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
- If I never loved I never would have cried.
Recovering from Intimacy Anorexia
To beat this addiction, therapist and blogger Paul Lavergne suggests setting aside time each day for the anorexic and their partner to talk. During this special, uninterrupted time, each partner should discuss one feeling with the other. Often anorexics will, for example, answer the question, “How are you?” with something like, “I’m hungry,” “I’m sweating a lot today,” or “I’m sweeping the floor. How are you?” They are often so far out of touch with their own feelings that they really don’t even know how they are doing. Happy? Sad? Angry? They don’t know.
It can also be helpful for the anorexic to make a point of saying, “I love you because…” everyday to their partner. Partners of Intimacy Anorexics practically never hear the phrase, “I love you” least of all a compliment to go along with it. So, in completing the phrase, “I love you because…” both the anorexic and their partner get a huge gift-the anorexic can remember that their partner is special and why, and the partner can get a momentary break from the anorexic’s general M.O. of callousness, aloofness, and coldness.
To learn more about this condition, check out Dr. Weiss’ groundbreaking book Intimacy Anorexia: Healing from the Hidden Addiction in Your Marriage.