WARNING: I share these intimate details of my life with hesitation and caution, knowing the great risks associated with sharing such information. I share my story because I desperately want to normalize the hardships that accompany marriages involving a partner with an Eating Disorder. I want to impart hope to couples that are struggling through the relational dance that can feel tangling and disappointing, at times. It is not easy to share these personal details with such a broad audience, so I pray you will consider my story with sensitivity and grace, knowing that every experience and every path is different. So, if you are someone who would take offense or feel uncomfortable reading about my sex life, I encourage you to move along. For others, I pray this entry imparts hope. I pray for those who have found themselves suffering in a relationship impacted by an Eating Disorder – that you would experience personal healing, a fun marital friendship, and the sexual fulfillment God intends for you to have.
It was morning, the window was cracked and birds were singing. I breathed in NC’s full, humid air and opened my eyes to our last day together.
Goodbyes were the hardest part. We had chosen a path less traveled – 4 years of long distance dating. Though we had walked hand in hand through high school living just 15 minutes away from one another, we had signed up for two separate college experiences: he in NC and I in TX. The brief trips we had to see each other were our most cherished and protected times.
The bedroom door eased open and he waltzed in wearing his baggy, brown sweatpants and a sweatshirt. He placed a tray with breakfast and coffee on the bed and sat on the ground. He said good morning. We both sighed deeply, knowing the pain, temptation and enjoyment this day would hold.
Our last days before returning to school were the hardest. We vowed to not share a bed, to not kiss, to not have sex, to save our most intimate moments for marriage. But each time our hearts ached in the goodbye, we would grow more unsatisfied with the limited expression our words and handholding could convey.
“One day we will wake up in a bed together. We will cuddle and hold hands and talk and the expression of passion will be unhindered by space, time and boundaries,” we would remind one another in those difficult days.
We had been married 3 weeks. The bedroom door eased open and he waltzed in wearing the same baggy, brown sweatpants and a sweatshirt.
This time, he placed the tray on the bed and climbed in beside me. My heart still fluttered at the idea that we now shared a bed. We now enjoyed the very passion and connection for which we had waited.
He leaned in and kissed my cheek awake.
I cringed as I felt the fat on my face move aside with his kiss. He moved closer and wrapped his arms around me and I could feel the folds of my skin swallowing his arms. I squirmed my way out of his embrace, and reached for the coffee. I made small talk about the day’s to-dos, and thereby avoided the intimate connection.
That night, he came home and enveloped me in a hug. He began to tell me how beautiful I was. I laughed and said, “You have to say that. You’re my husband.”
It was not until a couple of years later that I noticed how I was dismantling his masculinity by pushing away his pursuit. I was shaming his love for me. I began to notice the relational dance I spoke of in an earlier blog entry and just how unhealthy our patterns of relating had become. I dominated the attention and energy within the marriage by requiring ample comfort and reassurance while simultaneously shoving such attention away. My husband felt disoriented and confused.
We had looked forward to the companionship and physical intimacy of marriage for years. To finally enter into a marital covenant where such expression was not only permissible, but expected, should have been exciting! I was overwhelmingly disoriented by my internal struggles, and even more frustrated that we were not enjoying our sex life due to my Eating Disorder.
More than anything, I wanted to be present during these passionate moments. I wanted my mind to be anchored in my experience and I wanted to enjoy my husband’s body while he enjoyed mine. After all, that is one of the more sacred and beautiful benefits of marriage. A benefit that we had greatly anticipated and waited for.
It seemed unfair that such challenges would be thrust on us so early on in marriage, particularly in light of the long and trying path of purity we had chosen.
Nonetheless, we found ourselves stuck. There were definitely times when sex was fun and enjoyable. But, for the most part, the only occasions I was able to enjoy sex were the days when I over-exercised or under-ate. Feeling skinny and fit qualified me to enjoy love and to be enjoyed. This was a cycle that would eat away at my soul and at our marriage for years.
Due to my eating disorder I often felt frustrated because I was stuck in a tension of wanting sexual fulfillment, but feeling unqualified to engage in sexual expression due to my perception of my body shape. I had created a relationship with my body that was hateful, so to invite my body to partner with me in such a passionate and vulnerable expression was seemingly impossible.
In the midst of this tension there also rested an overwhelming guilt. Guilt for how my dysfunction impacted my partner. Guilt for wanting to be wanted when I did not even want myself. Guilt for not knowing how to receive sexual pleasure when I did not even want to be touched. It was an overbearing, emotional cycle. A cycle that easily consumed an under-nourished and tired brain.
Nobody wants to ride this shame-and-guilt-thought rollercoaster while making love, yet many people with Eating Disorders get caught in this cycle of thoughts while trying to express passion in a body that feels numb and reprehensible. The results are often disassociation, withdrawal and frustration.
It took me embarking on my personal path toward freedom and healing from my Eating Disorder for us to begin to experience the glory of sex the way God intended it to be. Once I began to make amends with my body and chose to believe that my husband’s thoughts and feelings toward my body were authentic, I began to experience freedom in my mind. I no longer rode the guilt and shame rollercoaster. I finally was able to accept that my husband truly loved me.
Every single roll and wrinkle.
I did not land in this place overnight. I had to do hard and (sometimes) awkward things to make my way off of the rollercoaster. I had to allow God to re-wire my mind. I memorized Scripture and practiced steering my thoughts. I prayed before, during, and after sex. I prepared my mind for intimacy. I read books about sex (books like Intimate Issues by Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus, Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat and Gaye Wheat, and Songs of Solomon – not 50 Shades of Grey). I had to affirm and bless my body before and after an intimate encounter. I was open and honest with my husband about my internal struggles. I spoke openly and vulnerably with other women about my issues. I actively worked on surrendering to the process of healing God had for me by doing these things. It was not a perfect process – and there were ups and downs along the way – but ultimately, our sex life was restored.
I did these things because my husband deserves to express his love to my body – a body that he loves and is attracted to, even on the days that I’m not.
Sex is a gift from God. It is what God uses to fuel, to breathe life into, to restore, and to heal marriages. A healthy sex life is worth fighting for. Sexuality is an innate part of life and was given to us as a blessing.
Eating Disorders can damage one’s ability to engage their sexuality in a healthy way. It is essential to seek personal and relational healing so that one can enjoy his or her sexuality the way God intended. Such healing will begin with knowing Jesus and understanding His thoughts toward us and His intentions for our physical bodies. He will carry the burden of this journey as we walk it hand-in-hand with Him.