How can my marriage survive our child’s eating disorder?

When your child has an eating disorder, the entire family is affected.  Marriages can often bear the brunt of the stress as partners disagree over treatment or have a difference of opinion on how to handle their child’s eating behaviors.  Here are three tips to keep your marriage strong and your family unit intact throughout the journey.

1. Seek Professional Help

When your marriage hits a challenging time and communication between you and your spouse begins to break down, it is always a good idea to speak with a professional who can help navigate around the tough issues. A couples counselor will not pick sides or try to determine who is “right;” rather, the goal is to help each partner feel understood and validated.  Teamwork is a critical part of helping a child through her eating disorder and it is essential to maintain a united front in the face of chaos.

2. Communication is Key

Often times when parents are in the midst of their child’s eating disorder, one parent becomes more of the enforcer role and the other parent becomes the comforter.  These roles make it very difficult for the child to recover because when one parent sticks to the treatment plan, the other may overcompensate with comfort and allow the child too much leniency. When both parents stick to the treatment plan, your teenager will have a better chance of success because she will understand that pitting one parent against the other will no longer work.

3. Self Care

It is challenging for many parents to pay attention to their own needs because they feel so much stress regarding their child’s health.  A sick, worn out parent cannot be an effective family leader so it is vital that you make time for yourself.  Get a pedicure, go to the movies, or even writing in a journal each morning can help recharge your body and spirit.  When you feel energized and strong, your marriage also strengthens and you can become a partner who is tuned in and present.

Relationships can become strained during the course of your child’s eating disorder, but remember to fight for the ones who you love and you can come through the other side a more resilient and compassionate person.

Sara Sharnoff Chesley is an in-home eating disorder therapist in Charleston, SC.  For more information, contact her at Sara@CharlestonFamilyCounseling.org.