Have you ever been in a relationship with someone that seems very distant? Of course, this can be natural at times in any relationship – friendships, marriages, or casual relationships – and you shouldn’t take it personally if somebody is being distant. People occasionally need space.
Sometimes, however, a serious, ongoing distance between people might be an indication of a condition known as intimacy anorexia. This is far more difficult for partners to overcome than a simple need for space, but the difficulty isn’t so much in the problem itself – it’s recognizing that there is a problem there. This can be a very touchy subject that’s difficult to discuss, but learning about it is the first step towards overcoming it.
What is intimacy anorexia?
Intimacy anorexia is similar to, although a bit more broad, than sexual anorexia (which is, in itself, similar to ‘normal anorexia’). These conditions are all marked by an individual who consciously deprives themselves of something because they believe that it’s healthier, better, more comfortable, or more progressive to deprive themselves of that thing.
In the case of anorexia in its most basic form, the individual deprives themselves of food despite glaring physical repercussions of doing so. This is because they are entrenched in a serious belief that their body is misshapen (known as body dysmorphia), and this belief is more powerful than their belief that they need food to be healthy.
In the case of intimacy anorexia, an individual deprives themselves of intimacy. Many people don’t consider intimacy to be as important as food, but it’s absolutely certain that intimacy is a basic need for not only humans, but most animal species.
People with intimacy anorexia will eschew all forms of intimacy, both physical and non-physical. This means that they may push themselves away from:
- Deep, bonding emotional connections. Some people with intimacy anorexia will even avoid deep, bonding conversations because that allows too intimate of a glimpse into their psyche.
- Physical intimacy, such as sexual intercourse, cuddling, sleeping next to each other, and even hugging.
- Spiritual connections. Spirituality is a very intimate practice, though it’s uncertain whether that intimacy connects more to yourself, those around you, or the universe as a whole. Regardless, this type of intimacy is still a problem for many intimacy-anorexics.
The basis of the issue is that the individual makes a point of not developing any serious connections. This can make it exceedingly difficult for them to form long-lasting, honest relationships, and can also make it extremely difficult for anybody involved in any type of close relationship with them.
Some people unwittingly enter a relationship with someone suffering from intimacy anorexia because the person suffering from the condition isn’t aware that they have it. They might subconsciously, however, be aware that they won’t be able to build up the security of a relationship if they are distant, cold, or ‘frigid.’
For that reason, they may seem warm and affectionate at first but quickly become distant. Or, on the other hand, someone may develop intimacy anorexia in the middle of a relationship. It is not definite.
What are the signs of intimacy anorexia?
There are a few signs and symptoms that could indicate intimacy anorexia, whether it’s newly emergent or has been there for a while.
- Individuals ‘making themselves busy’ in order to avoid spending time with people they are close to – friends, family, lovers, etc.
- An individual blaming their partner for all of the problems in their relationship, or constant criticism of their partner for their opinions and actions.
- Constant withholding of intimate activities – sex, spiritual engagement, deep conversations, bonding moments, being physically close.
- An individual having difficulty expressing feelings or being honest with a partner.
- Constantly using emotional manipulation, anger, or silence to direct the relationship instead of positive things like praise and approval.
Any or all of these symptoms may indicate that someone is developing a problem with intimacy anorexia.
How can you heal intimacy anorexia?
To best figure out how to heal your own intimacy anorexia, or your spouse’s, you should find a counselor that can talk to you about these things. Many sexual addiction counselors or holistic therapists are well-equipped to deal with intimacy anorexia.
If you would like to try on your own, Dr. Doug Weiss, the doctor who first described intimacy anorexia, suggests that you engage in the ‘3 dailies’ with your partner. These are:
- First, pray together. This doesn’t have to be religious – it can be spiritual, it can be acknowledging a higher power, or it can even just be laughing and dancing. Connecting yourself to something outside of your bodies is the goal here.
- Second, acknowledge two emotions completely unrelated to your partner and then get them to do the same.
- Third, give each other a praise or a compliment.
Doing these things everyday will slowly break down the walls that someone has built up against intimacy and will help them recognize how fantastic it is to love and be loved.