Can the tendency to withhold intimacy potentially harm a marriage or render damage to a relationship? Sonia Vadlamani walks us through what Intimacy Anorexia entails, the causes, and the seven keys signs you need to look for...


Relationships require hard work and commitment towards an open channel of communication. This is true not just for newly-engaged or recently married couples, but also for couples who have been together for a long time.


Incompatibility and/or the tendency to self-sabotage relationships without realizing it can lead to intimacy issues. Therapists often gauge whether a failing marriage is worth saving with the help of Three A’s as the deciding factors: Addiction, Affairs and Abuse. These temptations affect the emotional well-being and intimacy needs of an individual in varying degrees, often determining the course of their relationship or marriage.


RELATED: Try these 5 intimacy exercises to deepen connection


If you’ve been shirking away from your spouse or partner lately and haven’t been particularly interested in being intimate with them, you may be dealing with Intimacy Anorexia without even realizing it.


What is intimacy anorexia?

Intimacy Anorexia is a relationship disorder characterized by the absence of intimacy. It pertains to the withholding of intimacy – be it physical, emotional, or spiritual – in a marriage or relationship. And while it can entail some of the three A’s mentioned above, it is possible to work on the underlying issues by identifying them through counselling and therapy.


The term Intimacy Anorexia or IA was first coined by Dr Douglas Weiss when he began to observe and document a set of distinct yet related characteristics of sexual anorexia during his private counseling sessions for sex addicts and their spouses.


“Intimacy anorexia is a relationship disorder characterized by the absence of intimacy. It pertains to the withholding of intimacy – be it physical, emotional, or spiritual – in a marriage or relationship.”

This tendency to hold back can deter even growing and healthy relationships, replacing happiness and marital satisfaction with toxic feelings like resentment, distrust, and apathy. 

Where does Intimacy Anorexia stem from?

According to Dr Weiss’s research, Intimacy Anorexia can be due to the following underlying causes:

What are the signs of Intimacy Anorexia?

If you think you or a partner may have Intimacy Anorexia, here are seven of the main signs to look out for:


1. Being busy

Intimacy anorexics often find ways to remain busy so that they can spare minimal time for their spouse or partner. Typically, anorexics could be considered hard-workers and go-getters in the workplace, as their profession becomes an easy medium for withholding quality time from their spouse or partner.

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Furthermore, they can prove to be attentive and dutiful parents as well, as they may prefer helping children with their homework or finishing chores, in an effort to avoid spending quality time with their partner.


2. The blame game

Individuals suffering from intimacy anorexia tend to blame others for each mishap or event and avoid taking responsibility for any wrongdoing themselves. They tend to overlook any shortcoming in their personality or behavior and are quick to transfer the blame on to others. 

Blaming partners is a key sign of intimacy anorexia


3. Using criticism or anger to gain control

Intimacy anorexics are often seen using criticism, anger, or silence to exercise control over their partners and to maintain a distance from them. They also tend to highlight imperfections in their partners all too often, which puts the latter in a defensive mode and creates enormous amount of tension.


4. Avoiding sex

Anorexics are likely to avoid or withhold sex, despite finding their partner physically attractive. In the rare case that they indulge in physical relations with their partner, they may remain emotionally distant or prefer fantasizing rather than being present in the moment.

RELATED: How to promote intimacy and deepen connection


5. Withholding praise and emotions

Marriage is perhaps the most intimate form of adult relationship which requires open communication regarding emotions – both positive and negative – like love, happiness, anger, disappointment etc. In fact, researchers Lian Bloch et al revealed that emotion regulation is a strong predictor of marital satisfaction. 


“Intimacy anorexics often resort to everything in their power to avoid intimacy with their spouse of partner.”

Intimacy anorexics tend to avoid public display of positive emotions like love and praise, making the partner feel left out and unappreciated. Moreover, while they could be very actively religious or spiritual, they usually avoid sharing their beliefs and ideologies with their spouse to dodge intimacy.




6. Control of money

Although a less common trait, intimacy anorexics sometimes try to establish dominance or power by using money as the controlling aspect. There is surmounting evidence on lack of transparency regarding financial decisions or ‘financial infidelity’ being the leading reason for diminished marital and life satisfaction. 

Anorexics occasionally tend to keep their partner in the dark about their financial condition, thereby using money to gain an upper hand in the relationship. Thus, their inclination to control money and other resources results in a domestic environment that lacks trust and mutual respect.


7. Being distant

Intimacy anorexics often resort to everything in their power to avoid intimacy with their spouse or partner. This is the most common trait in anorexics, as observed by Dr Weiss, where they behave like roommates or flatmates, rather than a spouse or partner.

Being distant or ignoring partners is another key trait shutterstock/SFIO CRACHO


How does IA affects the other partner?

Individuals that display signs of Intimacy Anorexia often resort to a deprivation strategy labelled ‘starve the dog’ by Dr Weiss. It involves the suffering partner being starved of physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy for extended periods of time, sometimes even years. 


The constant neglect and stress from continued blaming, criticism and intentional deprivation of affection by the anorexic often predictably alters the spouse or partner. For example, the partner may act out in the form of stress-eating, angry fits, or nervous bouts. To make matters worse, anorexics may further deteriorate the situation by claiming to ‘read their partner’s mind’ and blame them further to evoke loathing or pity. 


RELATED: Dealing with rejection

As therapists who have studied the impact of criticism on relationships, Drs. John and Julie Gottman cite criticism as one of “The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse”, revealing that prolonged disapproval directed towards a partner’s choices and actions can impact the relationship adversely.




However, the good news is that Intimacy Anorexia isn’t definitive or irreparable, although it does call for considerable effort to heal the damage rendered and to build more intimacy. As the intimacy begins to return, there is a need for the partners to develop firmer foundation of communication, mutual understanding, and trust. 


Takeaway: Intimacy Anorexia

Intimacy Anorexia can result in undue pain, loneliness, stress and anxiety for a couple and their relationship. It’s important to understand the causes and identify the signs in time, so that corrective measures can be implemented in time to save the relationship. •

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Written by Sonia Vadlamani

bert.jpgFitness and healthy food blogger, food photographer and stylist, travel-addict and future self journaler. Sonia loves to write and has resolved to dedicate her life to revealing how easy and important it is to be happier, stronger and fitter each day. Follow her daily pursuits at FitFoodieDiary or on Instagram.




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