Close your eyes and imagine that you are married, yet alone. Day after day your spouse returns home from work, eats dinner, and loses themselves in countless hours of television. Or maybe they chat on the phone with friends, immerse themselves in video games, or read a book. Though they are physically present, they are completely disengaged. When you do manage to have a conversation with them, it’s typically superficial. Instead of talking about things that matter, you talk about the neighbors down the street, the weather, or sports.
As you reflect on your life, you realize that it has been a really long time since you openly shared your hopes and dreams. Your spouse has no idea what you are feeling in your heart. Come to think of it, it seems like their friends know more about them than you do.
What’s Behind the Mask?
Ironically, people at your church believe you have the best marriage ever. They always compliment your spouse on how quick they are to lend a helping hand. Or, they’ll comment on how powerfully he or she prayed for someone going through a hard time. Inwardly you think, “If they only knew…”
No one has any idea just how lonely much of your marriage has been.
Married and Alone
Years ago, when your mom was battling cancer and you were afraid, you would come home to an empty house after sitting with her at her treatment. Your husband was on the golf course with his buddies, and he didn’t even bother to ask how things went when he arrived home. You longed for him to listen, but felt overlooked and unimportant. Your heart cried out for him to pray with you and for you, yet he often neglected your spiritual needs.
Last year when the company you’d worked for over twenty years was closing, your wife never asked how you were feeling. You wanted her to know your concerns. There was a longing in your heart for her to affirm you and assure you that everything would be okay. Every time you tried bringing it up, you always received the response, “Oh, it’ll be fine. You’ll find something else.”. She didn’t understand that it wasn’t just a job for you. This was your career. It’s how you supported your family. Rising through the ranks, you took pride in representing this company and you didn’t know what you were going to do next. But instead of listening, she chose to spend her time shopping with friends, volunteering at school, and going to the nail salon.
It’s almost like you live two entirely separate lives but sleep in the same house.
Day after day, in counseling offices all around the world, similar stories are surfacing. One spouse feels rejected and alone. They feel starved for attention.
The Sexless Marriage
Some couples report living in a sexless marriage. One spouse’s desire for physical affection is frequently overlooked or ignored entirely. Excuses can range from not being in the mood to being too busy. Sometimes, the spouse may outwardly express a total lack of interest – believing sex to only be valuable for procreation. In an interview with Good Morning America in 2019, Dr. Doug Weiss, founder and director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, shared,
“Sexless marriages are in the millions. It’s an epidemic. There are many people sleeping alone, married and alone.”
Emotionally or Spiritually Bankrupt
In other marriages, one person may feel emotionally detached from their spouse. Compliments no longer exist in the marriage or are specifically in relation to what you do, not who you are. You’ve become a master at hiding your true feelings, as you’re either always told that you are overreacting or are ignored altogether. At times, it feels like a stranger has taken up residency in your home. Other times, you’ve become so accustomed to wearing the proverbial mask that you feel as if you’ve lost yourself.
And then there are those whose marriages seem to be spiritually bankrupt. A pastor’s wife, for example, may feel overlooked and insignificant when her husband spends all day praying for others but refuses to pray with her and for her. Couples who met in ministry school may find themselves pouring so much time and effort into building their ministries that they neglect the importance of joining in prayer together daily.
What’s Going On?
After years of working with couples whose marriages were falling apart due to withholding, Dr. Doug Weiss coined the phrase ‘intimacy anorexia’ to identify what was going on.
Intimacy anorexia is the sin of withholding emotionally, spiritually, and/or physically.
Using the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, we see that Cain chose to withhold his best from the Lord. Though given a choice to make things right, Cain decided to remain in his anger. Or 1 Corinthians 7 reminds us of a powerful truth: When you choose to withhold from your spouse, you’re opening the door to temptation.
Regardless of the damage being done to the relationship, the person struggling with intimacy anorexia continues with their behavior. They often create a story or narrative in their mind to justify their actions instead of choosing to pursue reconnection. They tend to withhold love in the way that their spouse receives it. Because of their actions, an intimacy anorexia often views their spouse as an object. This object-relationship is what allows them to become calloused towards their spouse and willing to disregard the sanctity of the marriage.
A husband may feel secondary on a consistent basis to the children, his wife’s career, or her friends. He begins to feel that his needs are being neglected and perceives himself as being unimportant to his wife. Or a wife may feel neglected, rejected, and unloved as a result of her husband’s demanding job or struggle with sex addiction.
As Dr. Doug Weiss shares in Stronger Together, a brand new study created to help couples struggling with intimacy anorexia,
“When you’re married and you’re not being loved, that’s traumatic.”
Causes of Intimacy Anorexia
So what exactly causes intimacy anorexia? There are several factors, some of which are more common than others.
Sexual Trauma is one of the leading causes of intimacy anorexia. For the trauma survivor, they often carry significant levels of shame which can result in building walls around themselves as a means of defense. Not wanting to let someone get too close, including their spouse, they may try to control intimate behavior and interactions. At times, they may even make themselves completely unavailable.
Pornography, masturbation, affairs, or any other type of sexual addiction can lead to intimacy anorexia. The addict tends to seek alternative or fantasy-based sources to fulfill their needs outside of the marriage bed. As a result, they struggle to connect intimately with their spouse.
When a parent is emotionally distant or absent in a child’s life, it can affect future relationships and intimacy with the same gender. For example, a woman whose father frequently traveled for work may find it difficult to share her emotions with another man, including her husband. In the same way, a man whose mom was emotionally unavailable may struggle to connect with females, including his wife.
Role Model Neglect
Children raised in a rigid and disengaged home can struggle with intimacy. Love and affection were rarely displayed in their home, therefore robbing them of a healthy example by which to model their marriage after.
This is commonly seen in a spouse who has been subjected to an intimacy anorexic marriage for a number of years. In an attempt to protect the heart from further pain, they have learned to disconnect entirely within the relationship.
There is Hope
Though space was intentionally created and maintained in your marriage, the good news is that it doesn’t have to stay this way.
Stronger Together is a five-week course that will help couples identify the issues that they are currently experiencing in their relationship. Hosted by Dr. Doug Weiss, you will begin to recognize the factors that have contributed to your struggle as you gain a better understanding of the various characteristics of intimacy anorexia that may be present. You will be provided with tools and techniques that can help you reconnect emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Plus, throughout the study, you will hear from experts and couples who understand what you’re going through.
Having these things exposed may be uncomfortable. At times, it may feel awkward to implement the tools that you are taught. But over time, you and your spouse will learn to reconnect on an even deeper, more intimate level than you ever have before.
Intimacy anorexia is always a choice. But today, you can choose to instead move toward the happily EVEN after that you once dreamed of. Are you ready to become Stronger Together?