Intimacy Anorexia: The Silent Marriage Killer

There is a silent killer among marriages today that few are talking about. Its name is Intimacy Anorexia and it is classified as a sexual addiction. This working paradigm was developed by Dr. Douglas Weiss. He defines intimacy anorexia as “the active withholding of emotional, spiritual, and sexual intimacy from the spouse.” In a marriage the withholding of intimacy in these three areas is like withholding oxygen from the human body. The withholding of intimacy in marriage can often lead to a very slow and painful death of the relationship. With that said, the goal of this blog is to define three core areas of intimacy and what withholding in each of these areas looks like. This blog will also touch on the characteristics of intimacy anorexia.

So, let’s define the three core areas of intimacy as defined by Dr. Weiss:

  1. Emotional Intimacy: Here the spouse says, “Here is my heart, flaws and all. I open it as much as I can and behold your heart as well.” When someone is dealing with intimacy anorexia, they are more likely to withhold emotional intimacy. “Regardless of how much of their heart they can access and give to you, they won’t share their emotional or authentic self with you.” This is an active choice they are making to withhold emotional intimacy.
  2. Spiritual Intimacy: “The spiritual part of a human being is by far the most intimate part of ourselves and spirituality with our spouse is one of the most sacred things on earth. It doesn’t matter the type of worship, prayer, meditation, or other connecting rituals, when we share this inner person with our spouse, we are sharing our authentic self, more purely then mere words can express.” An intimacy anorexic may allow others to share in this sacred place (i.e. will pray, worship, and read spiritual things with others) and will not allow their spouse to share in this sacred place.
  3. Sexual Intimacy: Both partners give and receive through the sexual encounters. The giving and receiving here is through the mind, body, and soul. An intimacy anorexic will give of their bodies but withhold the mind and soul aspect of the sexual encounter. Ultimately, sex becomes one-dimensional and purely physical.

Now that we have defined the three core areas of intimacy and what withholding looks like in each, lets define the characteristics/behaviors of this paradigm (as defined by Dr. Weiss).

  1. Busy: Here the intimacy anorexic finds every excuse to be too busy, so they do not have to spend much time with their spouse. While the activities the intimacy anorexic may choose to do seem innocent these activities leave little room for time with their spouse. Examples: Constantly spending time cleaning the house, always finding excuses to work, constantly watching TV or on their cell phone, etc. They never seem to have to free time to spent with their spouse.
  2. Blaming: For an intimacy anorexia they do not like to be seen as flawed. The spouse of an intimacy anorexic will often feel blamed by their partner for everything that goes wrong.
  3. Withholding Love: “To withhold love is to not give love to your spouse the way you know how to, or how they have asked to be loved.”
  4. Withholding Praise: Here the intimacy anorexic withholds telling their partner about their “positive qualities as a person and their positive impact on their lives.”
  5. Withholding Sex: This would be the act of “avoiding sex, sabotaging sexual encounters, or not connecting emotionally during sex with your partner.”
  6. Withholding Spiritually: This is simply withholding connection with your spouse spiritually.
  7. Feelings: In this characteristic the partner may have great difficulty sharing their feelings with their spouse or just be unwilling to share their feelings.
  8. Criticism: An intimacy anorexic may try to continually put down or criticize their spouse to create distance in the relationship.
  9. Anger/Silence: This characteristic is best described as “any use of anger or silence to push away, punish, or control the spouse.”
  10. Money: The partner will continually “control or shame the spouse about money issues.”
  11. Roommate: Oftentimes a spouse of an intimacy anorexic will describe their marriage as just like living as roommates.

The causes for this dysfunction can often be from sexual trauma, attachment issues with the opposite gender parent, sexual addiction, and/or role modeling neglect. I will unpack each of these in a later blog. There is a lot that goes into this dysfunction and as one reads this blog it should become easier to understand how intimacy anorexia silently kills a marriage.

All quotes are from Dr. Douglas Weiss and can be found in his book Intimacy Anorexia.


Written By:

Reid Wood, MA, LPC, SRT

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