Intimacy anorexia is the active withholding of emotional, spiritual, and sexual intimacy from the spouse. That means, and this is challenging to accept, that one spouse is intentionally withholding various aspects of him- or herself from the other spouse. It’s as if the intimacy anorexic is married to themselves and creates ongoing distance from their husband or wife.
If a man is struggling with sexual addiction and intimacy anorexia, it is very important he works on both issues at the same time; otherwise, he may be vulnerable to relapse and not totally understand why he is relapsing.
Characteristics of Intimacy Anorexia
- Busy. Intimacy anorexics stay so busy that they have little time for their spouses. They can be busy with house projects, volunteering, the computer, television, video games, or reading the paper. Their spouse feels very alone in the marriage and often even their pets get more attention than the spouse does.
- Blame. Intimacy anorexics will blame their spouses for the problems in the marriage. They want to be seen as all good, all the time; and therefore if it’s not good, it’s the spouse’s fault.
- Withholding Love. The intimacy anorexic actively withholds love in the way the spouse likes to be loved. If it’s touch, the spouse won’t give it. If it’s gifts that make the spouse feel special, that person won’t buy them gifts. When an intimacy anorexic realizes that the relationship is in serious trouble, however, he or she knows exactly what to do to show love and get back into good graces. Intimacy anorexics know what to do; they just intentionally and routinely don’t do it for their spouses.
- Withholding Praise. Intimacy anorexics do not regularly praise their spouses privately. In public, the spouses might get praise, but at home, day in and day out, there is an intentional lack of praise. It’s not that the anorexics do not know the great qualities of their spouses; it’s that they won’t speak these positive thoughts to them.
- Withholding Sex. Not all intimacy anorexics withhold sex from their spouses. Most intimacy anorexics do, though, withhold intimacy during sex. He or she might be fantasizing about something or just be disconnected. Some anorexics withhold sex by not initiating it, not talking about sex, or having no creativity about sex, although some actually withhold sex.
- Withholding Spiritually. Intimacy anorexics can be very religious by attending church and sometimes even being the pastor or spiritual leader at the church. At home they rarely pray with their spouses, or worship, or read the Bible together. Individually they do their spiritual thing, but they withhold their spirituality from their husband or wife.
- Feelings. Intimacy anorexics are unwilling or unable to share their feelings with their spouses.
- When it comes to feelings, they will avoid these conversations or go blank or silent when feelings come up.
- Criticism. Ongoing or ungrounded criticism is another characteristic of intimacy anorexia. This characteristic can flare up if the couple is getting close, or when closeness would be expected, like on vacation.
- Anger or Silence. An intimacy anorexic can use anger or silence to control the other spouse. I know couples who literally didn’t speak to each other for weeks. I also know other anorexics who use anger to keep the other spouse at a certain distance.
- Money. This is the least common feature of intimacy anorexia, but when it’s present, it is strong.
The intimacy anorexic will use money to control the spouse. This can happen in several ways, including giving the spouse an allowance, making the spouse have to ask for money, intentionally keeping the spouse ignorant of money issues, or letting him or her buy anything as long as they don’t ask for intimacy.
TAKE THE TEST
Often intimacy anorexics are in denial about these behaviors, below is a unique way to determine if your relationship is affected by intimacy anorexia. The first set asks how your spouse would rate you on the following characteristics. Would your spouse say yes or no if they were asked these questions about how they believe you relate to them? On a separate sheet of paper, write out what their responses would be.
My spouse would say about me:
- I stay so busy that I have little time for her.
- When issues come up, my first reflex or response is to blame her.
- I withhold love from her when issues come up.
- I withhold praise from her.
- I withhold sex from her or am not present during sex.
- I withhold spiritual connection from her.
- I am unwilling or unable to share my authentic feelings with her.
- I use anger or silence to control her.
- I have ongoing or ungrounded criticism (spoken or unspoken) toward her.
- I control or shame her regarding money or spending.
Second, answer these questions about your spouse. Use a separate piece of paper and just put yes or no on it.
I would say to my spouse:
- Stays so busy that she has little time for me.
- Blames me as her first reflex when issues come up.
- Withholds love from me.
- Withholds praise from me.
- Withholds sex from me or is not present during sex.
- Withholds spiritual connection from me.
- Is unwilling or unable to share her authentic feelings with me.
- Uses anger or silence to control me.
- Has ongoing or ungrounded criticism (spoken or unspoken) toward me.
- Controls or shames me regarding money or spending.
Count the number of yes answers that you put down on your score for yourself, and also your spouses score for you. If one or both of you have five or more yes answers, you have probably been dealing with intimacy anorexia without knowing it.