Sunday 28 May 2017

Dear Patricia: I'm comfort eating because he never seems to think about us

Patricia Redlich

Q I try so hard to combat my comfort eating, which is related to loneliness in my marriage. I am quite young and lead a very vibrant, exciting -- and laid-back -- life that has bags of potential. But I am crippled by my needs, which my husband of five years doesn't meet. We are not parents yet and quite work-focused, and the only thing that gets a look-in is our social life, rather than our personal life.

There are no candlelit dinners or impromptu conversations about us, life, work, etc. We are like passing ships, unless I steer us on a collision course and force communication. We've been to couples therapy, but nothing changed. He doesn't communicate and doesn't prioritise us.

I don't have an alternative husband in mind. I just want my husband to be more attentive. And I do understand that he might not want to pay attention to someone who is now bitter.

I know the bitterness is not really justified. I should try to meet my own needs, be more independent, lean less on my husband, build my self-confidence rather than constantly looking for praise and reassurance.

I also realise that my constant complaining and demanding is a form of control. I suppose I'm scared that if I become more independent and let him off the hook, he might leave me, or at least cheat on me.

Unfortunately, all this knowledge doesn't help me change. My husband is understanding and tolerant and patient. In my good moments, I understand that I am the problem, not him. But I'm still sitting here, comfort eating, frustrated and sad.

A COMFORT eating is an addiction. And yes, you are right. All the insight in the world doesn't really help. Well, it does help in the long run, of course, and you should be proud of yourself that you worked so hard at understanding the emotional backdrop to your despair.

But no, knowledge, in and of itself, doesn't bring about behavioural change. And the change in behaviour we're talking about here doesn't just involve ditching food as a comfort blanket.

Being demanding, constantly asking for more attention, endlessly complaining about the absence of succour in your marriage -- all that puts you in a permanent "one-down" position. It sets you up for defeat. The reason is simple. You are asking your husband for something he cannot give you.

What you are seeking is a personal sense of courage, emotional togetherness, the capacity to feel safe and at peace -- in short, the ability to comfort yourself.

Nobody can give you that. It's called maturity. It's something we earn in the hard slog of life.

No, I am not for one moment criticising you. Quite the contrary. I understand that you set out with a deficit. The human capacity to feel reasonably in control is laid down in the early years of childhood. Inadequate parenting limits that capacity. This is not a blame game, merely a tool to help you.

And I'm not suggesting you should go it alone either. I just don't think couples therapy is the way to go -- not right now.

You need proper professional help to learn as an adult what you missed out on learning as a toddler, namely that you can make yourself safe. That doesn't mean mad independence, or going solo, or giving up on marriage.

It means developing the confidence to negotiate a relationship, so that the two people involved can be heard and enriched.

Don't turn your insight into self-bashing. Use it to find the professional you need; the first step in saying that you are a worthy human being. Which you are, and a very brave one too.

Sunday Independent

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