A common problem for sex addicts and their wives, both before and during recovery, is a condition known as “intimacy anorexia.”
The term intimacy anorexia was coined by Dr. Doug Weiss and describes the behavior of withholding physical and emotional intimacy from one spouse by the other.
Before a sex addict begins recovery, he often attempts to protect his secret life of infidelity and sexual compulsion by hiding behind the invisible walls of intimacy anorexia. This behavior usually baffles the addict’s wife, who cannot understand why her husband remains uninterested in nurturing a romantic relationship with her. Over time, feelings of intense loneliness and rejection plague her. In many cases, this situation continues for years before his secrets are unexpectedly revealed.
After uncovering her husband’s sex addiction, the tables often begin to turn. Before recovery, the addict displayed behaviors of intimacy anorexia, whereas after recovery begins, his wife becomes the one to engage in these behaviors. Typically, this happens because she feels completely betrayed and no longer trusts her husband, resulting in her own intimacy anorexia.
Intimacy anorexia causes a great deal of pain on both ends of the behavior. When it is present in the relationship, it is almost impossible for the intimacy anorexic to just “fake it” in order to keep the other spouse happy. At the heart of this condition, intimacy anorexia is characterized by one spouse’s continuance to actively withhold all displays of romantic affection from the other.
Common Withholding Behaviors of Intimacy Anorexia
Withholding Sex: It is common for an intimacy anorexic to withhold sex from the spouse, but it is not always the case. If the intimacy anorexic does engage in sex with the spouse, it lacks emotional intimacy.
Withholding Acts of Love: Many intimacy anorexics are uncomfortable showing tenderness and love to their spouses. The relationship is often devoid of affectionate touching and kissing, both behind closed doors and in public.
Withholding Time Together: Intimacy anorexics often claim to be too busy to spend time with their spouses. Work, friends and other interests usually come first.
Withholding Approval: Spouses often receive criticism, rather than praise, from the intimacy anorexic. Spouses may also be blamed for all the problems in the relationship.
Withholding Feelings: The intimacy anorexic cannot share his or her true feelings with the spouse. Feelings of romantic love and spirituality are absent. Often, the spouse does not know how the intimacy anorexic really feels about anything in their relationship.
Can intimacy anorexia be cured? Yes, it is possible to resolve this problem, but both spouses must have a real desire to repair the relationship. It is very common for this condition to be revealed after the wife discovers her husband’s secret sex addiction. Once everything comes to light, the addict’s behaviors begin to make sense to his wife. If she previously felt that her husband was withholding sex and love because he was no longer attracted to her, she might now see this behavior as a symptom of a much larger problem. Many couples are able to overcome the pain of this condition and find a solution, but it takes time, patience and rigorous honesty for that to be possible.
Please Note: Although the sex addict in this piece is portrayed as the husband, that is not intended to suggest that all sex addicts and intimacy anorexics are males. There are wives and female partners who suffer from sex addiction and intimacy anorexia, as well.