Hard to remember the last time your mate voluntarily shared feelings with you? Or genuinely seemed to care about yours? Pay an emotional price after sharing your feelings or seem like you’re not really allowed to have them to begin with? Forget what it’s like to have a conversation with your mate looking into your eyes?
If you answered yes, you may be dealing with intimacy anorexia in your relationship, and suffering from the corresponding intimacy deprivation. At core, intimacy anorexia involves withholding nurturing as a means of controlling the distance in the relationship. One of the most frequently used tools is to lock down the flow of feelings between the two of you.
Your intimacy anorexic may be unwilling to truly share himself with you. This occurs on a continuum from an absence of spontaneous sharing and aversion to answering your questions, to clamming up, stonewalling and shutting you out. Regardless of the method, you don’t have access to his heart.
The emotionally withholding intimacy anorexic doesn’t want to really “know” you. He is more comfortable with greater emotional distance in the relationship dance and may avoid looking into your heart or actively block you from your attempts to share. In fact, it may not be emotionally safe to share the real you.
It’s important to remember that intimacy anorexia is not a mere function of communication skill deficits, although difficulty in identifying and articulating his own feelings or in recognizing and responding to your emotions certainly compounds the withholding. It’s not just a guy thing (women can be intimacy anorexic too). Being a loner or shy or cold natured doesn’t make someone intimacy anorexic.
Intimacy anorexia is an active, intentional withholding of emotions that is specifically reserved for the primary partner. Yes, from the intimacy anorexic’s perspective the withholding may be motivated by an underlying fear of intimacy. But the weapon he uses is emotional starvation of you!
For the intimacy anorexic emotions are a commodity. It’s simple economics, governed by the laws of supply and demand. When the commodity is scarce, it’s value rises. In real estate they call this a seller’s market and it puts the power in the seller’s hands. The anorexic intuitively knows that controlling the emotional flow puts him in the driver’s seat in your relationship. If you are looking to the intimacy anorexic to be your main supply line for nurturing, then he has an emotional monopoly. In the US, monopolies are either banned or regulated by the government because a monopoly creates an extreme power differential that is generally harmful to the consumer. It’s harmful in a relationship too.
This type of relational pattern rarely improves on its own. So trying harder, screaming louder or suffering in silence won’t make it better. For the intimacy anorexic who is willing to seek help, a therapist who understands the dynamics of the intimacy anorexia and can hold your anorexic accountable, as well as address the underlying fear of intimacy that fuels the love avoidance will be important.
If you are the intimacy deprived, don’t wait for him to change before seeking help for yourself. Intimacy deprivation is like a tire with a slow leak, if you ignore it your spirit will slowly deflate and your life will go flat. Look for a therapist who can identify your intimacy deprivation and help you break free of the emotional starvation, regardless of your mate’s choices. Married & Alone groups offer an affordable healing community for the intimacy deprived. Therapists trained by Pia Mellody in Post Induction Therapy or in treating intimacy anorexia by the American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy are a good starting place for your search.
Dr. Janice Caudill, founder and Clinical Director of McKinney Counseling & Recovery, is a psychologist who specializes in helping individuals and couples heal from sex addiction, intimacy anorexia, intimacy deprivation and relational trauma. McKinney Counseling & Recovery serves the McKinney, Plano, Allen, Frisco, Dallas and Sherman area.