Marriages often have three go to’s for people trying to figure out if their marriage is worth saving. Most experts and people will say if these three things are in your marriage it’s time to bail: Addiction, Affairs, Abuse. Now, I personally believe that is way too simplistic and general. Sure, plenty of marriages go through addiction and affairs and can survive. If there is abuse, I completely advocate for the marriage to end and to get to a safe place.
Now, what if I told you that Intimacy Anorexia (IA) has the ability to have all 3 A’s in your marriage at once? Talk about a challenge. Intimacy Anorexia, discovered by Doug Weiss, is an addiction to withholding love and intimacy. For those who are unfamiliar, this concept might seem pretty out there, but it’s very real, and it’s extremely painful and damaging. Most people wouldn’t even know what’s wrong with their marriage, but once reading about IA a lightbulb goes on and they are like, “this is what’s wrong with my marriage!”
Intimacy Anorexia has 11 signs to look for:
- Staying Busy
- Withholding Love
- Withholding Praise
- Withholding Sex
- Withholding Spirituality
Some of the above may seem normal, and for most marriages there are times where sex can be slow, or you’re simply just missing each other when trying to communicate and connect. That is normal. Intimacy Anorexia is not.
Staying Busy is one of the main characteristics of IA. The IA’s often stay busy to the point of having minimal to no-time for their spouse. That can look like the husband who comes off to everyone else as a hard worker, but in reality, the IA is using work to evade intimacy with their spouse, and works extra hours to make sure they miss encountering their spouse at home. They can use the guise of “trying to make more money” but really they just want to avoid intimacy.
Blaming is another characteristic of IA. IA’s will blame their spouse to keep distance from them and to look good to themselves. The IA doesn’t want to be seen as “bad” and wants to be seen as “good” all the time. The IA will blame their spouse for things that a spouse might take responsibility for because the IA can make it seem reasonable or the IA can blatantly blame their spouse for something that anyone would see is completely untrue. They use blame as a way to decrease any chances of intimacy with their spouse because the spouse is “always at fault.”
Withholding Love is a very painful characteristic of IA. The IA intentionally withholds love and affection from their spouse, which means there will be zero intimacy. Every human being has a basic need for love and affection. The IA intentionally withholds love either ignorantly (if they are unaware of their IA) or are aware and use it as a means of control.
Withholding Praise is another characteristic where it prevents the spouse to ever feel positive about themselves from the IA. The IA will not tell their spouse anything nice (i.e. “Thank you for cooking dinner, you did an amazing job”, “You are amazing at your job, I am so glad you got a raise they must love you!”). This can be either toward the spouse or around other people. An IA might never say a positive word about their spouse, and the lack of encouragement and affirmation can easily start to negatively impact the marriage and intimacy is lost over time.
Withholding Sex is another very painful trait of IA. This is a very easy one for an IA to achieve and it greatly damages the relationship. The IA will avoid sex, not talk about sex, reject their partner, will make unwanted advances on their partner to get the partner to reject them (a way to blame the issue on the partner), will sabotage romantic moments that can lead to sex, and if sex occurs will be emotionally gone. If your IA has this issue they might also be struggling from porn/sex addiction as well. If they are using porn, prostitutes, webcam girls, having affairs, then the porn/sex addiction could be a secondary addiction that would need to be addressed as well as the IA.
Withholding Spiritually can be a devastating trait for those who are religious. A lack of intimacy occurs because the IA is withholding spiritually, whether that is refusing to pray with their spouse, not going to church, or even making fun of their spouse’s religion/beliefs as a way to push their spouse away and humiliate them.
Withholding feelings and refusing to engage emotionally with their spouse is one of the quickest intimacy killer traits they can use. The IA will refuse to talk to their spouse about anything relating to their personal world unless it’s superficial and “safe” to the IA. Sharing emotions, feelings, fears, is a normal part of any healthy intimate relationship, but when in a relationship with an IA, the spouse can share their world but will never be allowed to know their IA spouse because the IA will either not answer their questions, say “I don’t know”, or can shut their spouse down with anger/silence. The IA can also block their partner from sharing emotions as it can make the IA uncomfortable. The IA can shame their spouse about feelings so their spouse will be less likely to share with them in the future.
Constantly Critical of their partner is another IA trait that has the ability to destroy the marriage. When the IA uses criticism multiple times a day/every day the spouse can get worn down quite quickly and start to feel worthless. The IA criticizes the spouse as a tactic to keep their partner feeling worthless and associate the IA as someone the spouse should not find intimacy from. Intimacy cannot happen or will be halted when the IA picks apart their spouse, pointing out every little fault they can find. Their spouse is left feeling insecure, distant, and alone.
Anger/Silence is a very effective (and possibly scary) trait of IA. The IA can use silence when the spouse tries to engage with them, basically playing the “silent treatment” game with their spouse until the spouse relents and walks away, or the IA can use anger/rage to intimidate their spouse into submission and fear so the spouse does not challenge them nor wants to get close to them, thus keeping the distance (the IA’s goal). Through the anger and/or silence the IA controls how close their spouse will get, thus limiting any attempts at intimacy and making sure that intimacy has no chance to form and grow.
Controlling Money is another IA trait that can show itself overtly or covertly. Most people are aware of financial abuse signs -partner controlling all accounts, credit cars, etc. But there are more covert ways that money can be controlled. IA’s can control money through the more known ways mentioned above, or they can control their spouse and the flow of money through using all the money on them and their own purchases, leaving little to no money for the spouse/family. This tactic not only endangers their livelihood, often resulting in varying levels of debt but also leaves the spouse with no way to survive on their own and can have the spouse dependant on the IA for survival. This IA tactic is about control and trust and includes shame as well (shaming the spouse for wanting to spend money on themselves, while the IA can spend money on whatever they want). This imbalance of power and this use of shame and control makes sure that there is no way for there to be intimacy or even safety in the relationship.
They Are a Roommate is another characteristic that Doug Weiss has come up with in his years of research with couples with IA. The IA has created an environment at this point where there is no emotional intimacy, no display of love and affection, no sexual intimacy, and there is fear and control so the spouse cannot survive on their own and it leads to the spouse feeling like they are living with a roommate and not a spouse. The spouses of IA’s have been “starved of intimacy” for years sometimes and feel that they are living with a friend, roommate, or in the worst case a stranger.
Are You Serious?
I am 100% serious about this. This IA is a vicious disease that kills marriages silently all the time. Most couples don’t have a name for why their marriage is falling apart. Spouses of IA’s (referred to as the Married and Alone partner- MA’s) are left in a confusing and isolated world.
No one on the outside see’s what they see. The IA can seem normal to the outsider, and even appear as a healthy individual, but behind closed doors they will be ice cold to their spouse.
As I mentioned earlier, this addiction can easily include the 3 A’s: Addiction (check), Affairs, and Abuse. IA is an addiction, and whether the IA is cheating through porn or physical affairs, or cheating the spouse financially is dependant on the individual, and if the IA’s anger is enough then their anger can become abusive. Even so, most of the traits of IA are abusive, emotionally speaking. Doug Weiss has the analogy of “The Starved Dog” in his books.
There is help for this addiction. Doug Weiss offers IA intensives and has created take-home workbooks for couples to use as a last ditch effort to save the marriage. If interested in the take home program (which is amazing!) here are some links (affiliate):
Intimacy Anorexic books
- Intimacy Anorexia: Healing the Hidden Addiction in Your Marriage
- Intimacy Anorexia: The Workbook
- Intimacy Anorexia: The Steps
Spouses Married and Alone books
- Married and Alone: Healing Exercises for Spouses
- Married & Alone
- Married and Alone: The Twelve Step Guide
Are You a Starved Dog?
Doug Weiss’s analogy for the spouse of an IA is that they have become a starved dog. He explains that if you buy a cute sweet loving puppy at a shelter and take the puppy home and lock it in a small crate, and refuse to feed and water and walk the dog and only address the dog with anger and abuse, that sweet little puppy becomes a starved “mean” dog.
This analogy explains the dynamic when everyone on the outside sees a great person (the IA) and they view the spouse (the starved dog) as unreasonable, mean, “a bitch”, controlling, emotional, etc. This is one of the worst parts of being a spouse of an IA. Not only are you alone in your marriage, but it’s possible the very people who care about you view you as the person who is being unreasonable and the reason the marriage is failing. You can become alone in marriage, and alone in your social circle as the IA can create the environment where you will seem like the bad guy when you’re the one who has been hurting and been abused for years sometimes.
Personal Experience with IA and Being an MA
I have mentioned before that Jak has had his porn addiction and his Intimacy Anorexia addiction. I couldn’t understand for the longest time why Jak struggled with rebuilding the relationship after the damage his porn addiction caused. Only when we came across Doug Weiss did we have that “aha” moment. Jak instantly was relived to know there was a reason he was pushing me away. I was relived to know that I wasn’t crazy for wanting to be loved.
We are currently going through Doug Weiss’s take home program and are at the half way mark. I have to say, if you cannot afford the intensive the take home program is amazing. It teaches the spouse to understand IA and what behaviors are and are not IA based, it teaches the IA where their fear of intimacy comes from and makes them understand that they make active choices every day to either love their spouse or push their spouse away, and the workbooks go together in tandum. The first half of the book is pretty gut wrenching for the spouse, while the first half of the book is easier for the IA, then it flips.
I would have to say Doug Weiss must have done this purposely as the spouse will be needing some support in the beginning while the IA will need the support more in the second half of the program.
My experience with the books has been amazing. The exercises really help you heal from the damage that the IA has inflicted and helps you grieve and build a new healthy relationship. For the IA it helps the IA start to own their behaviors and teaches them the discipline of recovery not only for their marriage but for themselves to become healthy again and be able to have meaningful relationships with people other than their spouse. IA doesn’t just have impact on the spouse, but on the family, and on friends, and coworkers. When the IA starts to get healthy, everyone notices the change in their demenour, in their ability to engage in more meaningful conversation, etc.
As with any addiction, you must, as the spouse, understand that whether your marriage survives is up to the IA. If the IA wants their addiction they will choose their addiction. If the IA wants their marriage they will work the program and get healthy and come back to the marriage.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s reality. No one can make an addict want to get healthy. The addict has to want to be healthy themselves or they will be sober reluctantly, not recovering willingly.
If anyone has experience with this, comment below, and if you have questions don’t hesitate to reach out to Heart to Heart Counseling or you can email me about my experience.