Sexual and Emotional Anorexia
Published On: March 23, 2020
‘A Surprising Relational Disorder!’
In an old episode of Friends, Joey could not believe that Ross had not had sex in three whole months. Over ninety days, two thousand three hundred hours! Of course, all the rest of the friends gasped in disbelief and sympathetic pain. Ross looked down in sad, shameful desperation.
Quite a statement!
I wonder if marriage would still be desirable if being ‘sexual partners’ was off the table. When approaching marriage, or even common law relationships, most would never believe that it would be possible to live in a sexless relationship. How could two healthy human beings who love each other share the same bed every day, day in and day out for years, and not celebrate it with sexual intimacies. Touch seems so foundational to expressions of love.
Marriage, and especially children, can tarnish the romantic glow like little else. Couples that once could not keep from losing themselves in the torrents of passion now can find little drive to touch, cuddle or seduce one another.
The truth is that in a time when sex is so available, so accepted, and so mainstream, there are many long-term relationships that get sucked into the quick sand of intimacy anorexia.
You might ask, what in the world is ‘intimacy anorexia’?
Intimacy anorexia, according to the American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy, is defined as a relationship disorder that occurs in the context of marriage or long-term partnerships that displays “The active withholding of emotional, spiritual and sexual intimacy from the spouse of a partner.”
Douglas Weis was the first psychologist to coin the phrase. Intimacy anorexia has carved out specific characteristics that can fall mainly within the categories of:
Withholding Human Need
When a spouse or partner withholds nurture, touch, affirmations, human kindness, affection, love, emotional or spiritual connection or sexual intimacy- they can hold captive their partner as a dehumanized prisoner. They may isolate and starve their partner of human needs that are so needed to fully survive and thrive as a high functioning human and as a valued partner and person.
In a similar pattern, social and educational engineers have understood that children and only function academically and behaviourally if their stomachs are full. Hence, the breakfast school programs. In another institutional situation, we have recognized conjugal visits in prisons take the stress out of prison life and create more humane social environments.
A past prime minister has said, “Government has no place in the bedrooms of Canadians”. While this is mostly true, it does lay the burden of human rights and freedom and responsibilities square on the shoulders of Canadian partners themselves.
When partners withhold praise, affirmation and acknowledging the value of contribution it is dehumanizing. When one is not willingness to share feelings and keep their partner at bay – often resisting touch and physical intimacy with sabotaging behaviours – they enter into dehumanizing behaviours. If we believe that part of child abuse is neglect, a question must also be asked is this true in marriage as well?
What do these sabotaging behaviours look like?
Sabotaging behaviours may look like staying so busy that a partner can truthfully say they are too tired. If they are so busy contributing to the family income or caring for the children or the home, it is hard to argue that they are not contributing. After all, if I am so responsible taking care of the family that I am sacrificing myself it suggests the partner do the same.
When we overdeliver in one area and under function in another, the area needing help is still in jeopardy. If we exercise our body to just benefit one muscle group but ignore the heart, it might appear we are healthy but may, indeed, be unhealthy. Neglect is neglect, no matter how responsible you are in other areas!
Throwing Emotional Hand Grenades
The second category of sexual and emotional anorexia is throwing psychological and emotionally hurtful barbs. Criticism, shaming, sarcasm, anger, silence, cutting remarks, and blaming a partner are potential signs of emotional anorexia. This is an effective offensive attack that knocks the partner back on their heels. All of this serves one purpose; to push away and create emotional separation.
When someone is in great need and then shamed for having that need, this is emotional abuse. Certainly, when one person holds all the power to provide emotional and sexual needs there
also can be an abuse of power. Any time one person holds all the power, abuse often can be found.
What does the withholding of intimacy and the imbalance of power do? It redefines the relationship as no longer intimate partners, but roommates. Without conversations, relationships slide into contractual breaches of partnership agreements. Couples afraid of the withdrawal of affections and conflict or upset, unconsciously accept a new relationship’s dance of power imbalance.
What do we know?
At Bayridge Counselling Centres we seldom meet any bad people, just people who have been hurt and are afraid of being hurt again. Consequently, they do what humans do. When they feel vulnerable and afraid, they withdraw, fight or freeze. At Bayridge, we offer new insights, skill development and hope. After all, we all need and want to love and be loved!
You deserve to be loved! You are at your best when you love completely and when you experience love completely.
May I encourage you not to withdraw but to reach out for help!
Refuse to be anything less than human!
Kim R. Christink B.Sc., M.Div. D.Min. RP
of the Bayridge Counselling Centres