Close relationships and eating disorder recovery: Partner perspectives



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Past research has documented ways in which eating disorders impact and are impacted by romantic relationships, but it focuses mainly on the reports of individuals with an eating disorder and neglects to examine romantic partners’ experiences. Further, there is little information on the transition to recovery within a relationship context. Thus, the broad purpose of this study was to explore the ways in which disordered eating and initiation of recovery from disordered eating impacts and is impacted by romantic relationships as viewed by partners. Guided by the assumptions and methods of interpretative phenomenology, the study is based on analyses of semi-structured interviews conducted with four university students (two women and two men) who had been in a relationship, ranging from 8 to 18 months, with someone practicing disordered eating (restricting, purging, or both). Two of the participant’s partners had initiated recovery during the course of the relationship, while the other two had not.
The findings were, first, consistency across all interviews in partners’ prior understandings of eating disorders and recovery, transitions in understandings of eating disorders, beliefs about causes of partner’s eating disorders, the negative impact of eating disorder on their own well-being and on the relationship, and their attempts to influence or manage their partner’s eating disordered behaviors. Second, the two participants whose partners had initiated recovery reported positive changes in the relationship associated with the transition to recovery. Finally, differences were identified between the two participants whose partners had transitioned to recovery and the two participants whose partners had not made this transition. The former expressed more responsibility for their partner’s behaviors, and also a greater sense of self-efficacy and confidence in positively influencing their partner’s actions. Consistent with past research are the results from this study regarding the multiple ways that disordered eating may impact relationship functioning. But in addition, the study is unique in highlighting personal and relationship issues from partners’ perspectives and in identifying distinctions in participant’s sense of their role in the relationships based on their partner’s recovery status. This study points to the need for continuing qualitative research with both partners in a relationship involving disordered eating, and especially for research comparing relationships in which recovery from disordered eating is or is not initiated



Romantic relationships, Partner perspectives, Eating disorders, Disordered eating