Intimacy anorexia is a very real and difficult condition to treat, regardless if you accept it or not. It cannot be found in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) but neither can sex addiction. We all knew alcoholism did not exist for decades until it officially made the cut in the DSM. As clinicians, we do not have the luxury to wait for the DSM board to catch up with hurting clients in our offices. If you are married to an intimacy anorexic, you know it is a very real condition. If you are a clinician trying to help this population, you know how slow change can be. If you want to know what it is like to be married to an intimacy anorexic, just watch the third season of Married at First Sight.
Intimacy anorexia, which is also known as sexual or emotional anorexia, is very difficult to treat. Over the years as a recovering intimacy anorexic myself, I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of men. Now, intimacy anorexia is not only a condition men struggle with. Women can also struggle with intimacy anorexia. I am seeing a growing number of men contacting our office desperate to get help for their wife who is withholding love, emotions and intimacy in and outside the bedroom, which has been occurring for years or even decades. These are good men who love their wife but are dying in a loveless, emotionless, sexless marriage. Anorexic men are difficult to treat; however, intimacy anorexic women are even more difficult to treat. It takes a well-trained and skilled therapist to be able to work with this condition in both men and women.
Here are the baker’s dirty dozen reasons I have found why women struggling with intimacy anorexia are so difficult to help treat.
- They do not want help. They do not believe they are the problem. When confronted and challenged, they are masters at deflecting, rebutting, justifying and minimizing. They are masters at manipulating therapists to side with them. They are very persuasive and likable. Personality disorders might be an issue to be addressed and ruled out.
- They act and believe they are entitled to what they want and should not be questioned or challenged.
- They are not teachable, as they believe they know what and who the problem is, and it is not them. Generally, they do not want to learn new ways of thinking.
- They sincerely believe they have been offended by others who have treated them poorly. It is because of these offenses they are deceived by their own thinking, emotions and beliefs.
- It is because of these deceptions that their emotions now control them.
- Their behavior illustrates, though they would never admit, that they believe they are “better than” or “not as bad” as their husband.
- They live with a double standard in regard to what is good for their husband and what he is expected to do in counseling compared to what is good for them and what they are expected to do.
- They lie and are dishonest with “little white lies”.
- They have legitimately suffered from emotional or physical trauma and possibly PTSD. They believe this is a permanent condition. However, trauma is not a permanent condition and is very treatable.
- They have been victimized and refuse to let it go. They are the ultimate victim.
- They accuse, blame, and criticize their husband so they do not have to change, keeping their spouse on defense.
- They use anger to keep their husband at a distance. They do not want to let go of the anger and forgive; because if they did, they would have to allow their spouse to get close to them again, which means taking the risk of being hurt again.
- They have a desperate need for control and to be in a place of safety. The wall of safety is a friend that helped her survive as a little girl. The wall allows love in but not out. However, this is the very thing dismantling the marriage.
As you can see, this list is very daunting and intimidating if you are married to or working with a female intimacy anorexic. There is a fortress around her heart with a fortified door. The key to unlock the door is on the inside, and it is up to her when and if she ever lets her husband in. It will take hard work, vulnerability and the removal of lies and vows. She is going to have to taking responsibility of own her behaviors and face herself in the mirror. She will need to begin to see and believe that she can love herself and is worthy to come out and be loved by her husband.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.