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my wife's phobias
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my wife's phobias

My wife has had several health problems over the past few years and she was mistreated by physicians in the beginning (i.e., "it's just depression" etc.).  It got so bad that she started feeling guilty for not being healthy since no doctor could tell her what was wrong.  She has since been shown via diagnostic tests that she does have some gastrointestinal problems, but some of the negative thinking has persisted.  One thing is:  when she was not being diagnosed with anything, she felt that her weight was an issue.  She is extremely thin (5'7" and 105 pounds) and she seemed to feel like a very low weight was a validation of being ill.  She still worries about her weight.  The phobia I am asking about deals with her thinness.  When we were first married (prior to this episode with doctors), I thought she was insecure about her appearance because she was so skinny.  So, I said to her one night that when I first saw her legs I thought they looked nicer than what I had expected, since I figured they would be so horribly thin (of course, I did not word it in quite that way).  In any event, now three years later, she still often cringes when I look at or touch her legs because she fears I perceive her as larger than she is.  I have explained to her countless times that I only said that comment when we were first married because I thought that that was what she wanted to hear.  Of course, that was stupid, but I never thought it would lead to this. I cannot seem to get her to believe in me now when I tell her that of course she (and her legs) are skinny.  She has developed a fear of her own flesh - if she can squeeze any flesh on her thigh she seems to become afraid and again questions her worth to be ill.  She is not anorexic, but her mindset and her misperception of her own body is frightening.  I am the one who made her doubt the thinness of her legs with my comments when we were first married. Is there anything I can do to remedy what I have done?  She undertands now why I said what I said that night, she understands that I was only trying to improve her self-confidence, but her fear of me misperceiving her as larger than she is persists.  It interferes so much with the intimacy in our marriage.  I know she could be helped with counseling, which she is not getting right now, but I am wondering what I can do to have her believe in me more.  I welcome any suggestions.
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Avatar_n_tn
Dear Mike,

Your letter expressed that you may have a sense of guilt for your wife's pereception of herself.  It is important to remember your wife is probably very sensitive to comments and that you meant well.

From the information you provided, your wife may have low self esteem, and actually may have anorexia nervosa.

Your wife may benefit from psychotherapy. This may give her an opportunity to explore issues that concern her and build self confidence.

Best Wishes,


HFHS M.D.-SW
13 Comments
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Avatar_n_tn
Just a follow-up.  Are there any women out there who have struggled with similar problems with perception, worth, etc. as my wife is?  Have you been able to see, intellectually, that your fears and doubts are not founded in reality, yet they continue to persist?  Please do offer some advice to me.  Again, I know my wife should probably seek counseling, but I am just wondering what I can do.  Please help.
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Avatar_n_tn
My duaghter, who is 21, is never happy.  She is rarely home. Will seek any oppoortunity to spend the night and/or day with friends (has been doing this since High School). On the rare occassions she is at home she is beligerant and angry. She is nasty to her syblings and finds fault with anything she is involved with at home.  She often seeks arguments with her dad and myself.  Most times it seems to be a form of entertainment for her.  She is never light-hearted or able to joke about anything with anyone in our family. She seems to have a very deep love for us however. She expresses this to me when she calls (by being chatty and accepting) and in holiday cards.  But never at any other time.
If I am anything but 100% positive about anything related to her she snaps and turns on me. We never have conversations, ever. Either she does all the talking or I do all the talking.  Our relationship is unable to develop.  She is so critical of everything I say and do that even if I buy her something to show her I've been thinking of her she looks for any fault it may have and promptly returns it wheather it's clothing or a tube of lipstick.
If we suggest she move out and find peace and happiness elsewhere, she goes into a depression and needs to hear that she of course can stay as long as she needs to and there will always be a place for in our home.
She is a very pretty girl, blond, shapely, petite, very bright and truely a pleasure to know (very sincere and lively).  She is a student at The Fashion Institute of Technology and involved with fashion merchandising.
You would think that someone with all that she has would be thankful, happy and content.  She is always miserable.  The only time she is realy happy is on the rare occasion when she meets a boy, then she is exhuberantly happy.  The highs and lows are extreme.  She always has some sort of physical ailment,her stomach, her hip, her foot and will go to physicians for treatment.
I have tried lecturing, writing her letters, talking to her in her room, taking her out to dinner with me alone, yesing her, ignoring her, treating her like a child, treating her like an equal. To date nothing has worked.  
My concern is not realy for my relationship with her anymore, it seems to be unlikely we will ever be friends. I don't think she is able to get along with others ether and her general happiness in later life will be minimal if at all.
What do we do?
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Avatar_f_tn
Mike, The best thing you can do for your wife is to be supportive and loving.  I, and a lot of women, have struggled with the issues you desribe. I also have been diagnosed with GI problems and understand bad experiences with medical professionals.  Frankly, and I know you will not want to hear this, it sounds like your wife may have an eating disorder and the body image issues that come along with that.  I say this as someone who has dealt with an eating disorder most of my adult life.  Therapy was absolutely critical for me and I think it is for most people who deal with these issues.  Encourage your wife to seek counseling, if she has not already done so.  The therapist may want to see both of you eventually, but allow your wife the space she needs to work on her issues, while providing support and kindness.  

One other thing I noticed in your posting is that you seem to want to know how you can fix your wife's problems because you feel that you may have caused them by your comments about her legs.  Please understand that your one comment did not create what your wife is struggling with.  I'm sure you have a hard time seeing your wife unhappy and only want good things for her and your marriage, but my experience is that when someone tries to "fix me" or puts a lot importance on how I feel and act, I tend to withdraw from that person because I feel pressured to be better or whatever way I think the perosn wants me to be.  So, it may be helpful to put less emphasis on "undoing" the comment that you made and more emphasis on what will help your wife now.  She is the one who can do the emotional work to feel better about herself. I really don't mean to be harsh, I'm just trying to exlain my experience in the hope that it might be helpful to you and your wife.  Good luck to you both.

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Avatar_n_tn
Lisa, thank you very much for your comments.  I agree with what you said.  It is hard for me not to try to "fix" the problem, but I see how that only hurts things when I try to.

My wife, whose name is Sarah, does not deliberately starve herself or anything like that.  However, she does definitely show many of the traits commonly shared by people with eating disorders.  I think she should seek therapy.  But she does not want to at this time.  She is very wary of it since she is so tired and mentally unclear and is having a hard time expressing herself.  She does not feel she could express herself well enough to the therapist and that she would just end up feeling worse about herself.  She is so wary of people.  I am not sure how I can get her to take this plunge.  I can't make her go.  That has to come from her.  Also, she says she knows herself and that a therapist would not offer anything she doesn't already know.  I disagree with her.  I think she needs therapy and that a good therapist can help her.

What would you suggest I do?  How to encourage her to go?  I don't want to nag, but I also don't want to be passive.  Any suggestions?  Thanks very much.  This is very helpful to me.
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Avatar_n_tn
I'm glad my comments helped.  I thought maybe what I had to say would make you angry and I would get flamed.  Thanks for being open minded.  

Is it possible for you two to start couples therapy?  If you said you wanted to go because you were worried about her and your relationship would that motivate her to go?  It seems to me that might be a way for her to get some help and for you to learn more about how to be supportive without trying to fix the situation.  This would also provide an opportunbity for an assessment of the possibility that your wife is suffering from depression -- a very common thing in people who have food and body image issues.  Some of the symptoms you desribe sound like the symptoms I experienced when I was diagnosed with depression.  Taking medication and being in therapy were what worked to manage the depression and this is ususally the protocol used.

I understand your wife thinking that not being clear headed would hinder a relationship with a therapist and menas therapy wouldn't work, but that's really not true.  Most people who go to therapy do it because they are not clear headed and need some help figuring out what is going on.  The good news is that a good therapist will be able to help your wife articulate her feelings.

Are any of the doctors your wife has seen credible in her eyes?  If even one is, you might try talking with him/her about your conerns about your wife's health.  I think the informaiton the doctor could share with you about your wife is limited by law, but the doctor may be able to suggest some ways to get her some help.

One other thing.  And I don't mean to harp on this, but I guess I'm going to.  Eating disorders present in a lot of different ways.  Most people who are anorexic DO eat some -- especailly in front of other people, most bullimics do not binge and purge where anyone can see them, and most compulsive overeaters do not eat more than normal in public.  There are also people, like me, who do not fit perfectly into the definitions of eating disorders but still exhibit the symptoms, behaviors, and thought patterns of the disorder and still need to be treated.

Please keep in mind that I'm just one person who has some experience with the issues you have conerns about and I certainly don't have all the answers.  I hope this helps.
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Avatar_n_tn
Thanks so much for continuing this discussion.  It just helps me to have someone to "talk" to, since it is hard to talk about this with my wife.  She cries when these things are brought up.  

One major problem my wife is having is that she had been "diagnosed" with depression early on by the doctors, even without any diagnostic tests.  She then felt like the doctors were blaming her for her health problems, that she, through her depression, was the culprit.  Depression is a very touchy subject with her.  She readily admits, though, that she is depressed.  What she will not accept is that the depression is causing her health troubles, because, to her, that is blame.  It is a very difficult situation. She says the depression is a result of her physical problems, not a cause.

She is a perfectionist and she was held to a double standard in her family. She was the pure, quiet child who "never messed up" and was always the strong one for everyone in the family to lean on.  It was okay for them to break down and exhibit certain behaviors, but not her. I don't think these things were ever said aloud, they are just how she felt. She went to the doctor in the beginning only because I prodded her to, but then when she did not come back with a "title" or a serious physical diagnosis, she felt shamed and wrong, like people in her family (and I) would look at her differently then they had.  She had stood for ideals and she never would have gone to a medical doctor just for depression.  Understand, this is not me talking here, this is my wife.

It is very destructive.  This is how she began to feel unworthy to feel ill.  She has no peace.  She is not well, but she continues to struggle with the notion that she does not have the right to feel ill, even after several diagnostic tests have come back showing physical problems.  She needs help, definitely.  She is her own worst enemy.  I am at my wit's end.  I feel helpless. See, her eating disorder behavior comes into play here.  If she gets thinner, then she might be "worthy" to feel ill.  She says she would never do anything like that, she would never deliberately try to get thinner, but you have to wonder.  Besides, everything she eats gets her sick right away and she dreads eating.

And the very fact that she is struggling so much with issues of worthiness, etc. right now makes her feel like a failure.  To spend money on therapy is an admission of failure to her because, in her eyes, it means that she is a miserable emotional failure who cannot solve her own problems.  Of course, this is ****, but how do I get that through her head? How can she see that the problems she is struggling with are in no way a reflection of her "goodness" or "badness" as a person?  She tends to always feel "bad" and "wrong" about herself, and that is how she feels about this.  I have no idea how to get through to her anymore.

Sorry I have rambled.  It is refreshing to have a listening ear out there.  My wife has become so touchy about these things and it is hard to even approach her about therapy anymore. But that is what she needs in the worst way.  One thing she does that I cannot handle well is she cries and blames herself and has fits of sadness.  When she's like that, she will not be comforted.  But if I leave the room (which I sometimes do for my own sanity) she thinks I am deserting her.  Yet when I try to calm her down, she just cries more.  What should I do when those moments arise? I hope you don't mind my asking you these things.  It is a great comfort to me to have someone to talk to about this.
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Avatar_n_tn
Mike, I can definintely sense your frustration at your situation.  You didn't repsond specifically to my idea about couples therapy and I'm wondering if you might go by yourself?  Tell your wife that you are going to go to therapy to get some support and help with your issues and then go by yourself.  I think this might have a two-fold effect.  First, it would get you some help and might give you a better perspective on how to deal with the situation you're in and, two, it might encourage your wife to entertain the possibility of going as well.

As far as depression being the cause of your wife's physical problems or vice versa -- and it could be either way -- what does it matter?  Depression is an illness in and of itslef that needs to be treated.  Why or how it happened is sort of secondary until it's being managed successfully for the person who is ill.  I have seen both general practitioners and psychiatrist for anti-depressant medicaiton management and either can be effective.  It just needs to be someone knowledgeable.  I think it's quite likely that if your wife gets treated for depression she will be more able to deal with the bigger picture of what is going on.

It's hard to explain to someone who has not been depressed how debilitating it can be.  And when you're in the middle of it and you're not being treated, it's sometimes almost impossible to see that things can be better and that you deserve things to be better.  I believe that everyone has an emotional "bottom" (like addicts hit bottom) and until things get to that absolute bottom point, people don't usually seek help.  And it's really hard to watch someone you care about be in more emotional pain than you think is necessary or tolerable, but you can't make anyone want to get better.

I wish I had a plan or specific advice about how to handle this.  Do you read?  I have found that reading about these kinds of issues can be very helpful.  You might look for books about depression -- and not ones on how to solve it or fix it, but rather books about what it feels like and so on so you have some additional understanding of what it's like.  One of my favorite authors on food issues and body image is Geneen Roth.  I would recommend "Feeding the Hungry Heart" and "When Food is Love" to give you an idea about how it feels to have those kinds of problems.  The library or any good sized bookstore would have these.  I would really encourage you to take the focus off your wife by bringing up these issues to "get her" to deal with them and instead focus on yourself and how you can help yourself a bit.  I don't mean for you to stop being supportive or caring with your wife but taking the focus off these topics might give you both a break and get you some clearer insight.

Hang in there.
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Avatar_n_tn
I just want to thank you for all of your help and support.  You have had to read some very long entries of mine.  I am in a better frame of mind this week.  I am indeed trying to put the focus on myself, and, all in all, that works much better.  When I am simply loving and supportive, my wife tends to do better emotionally.  There are still problems, but they are not nearly as severe as when I try to "fix" her emotionally or tell her how she should be working things out in her mind.  When I do that, she only gets more upset.

My wife shows signs sometimes of seeing things more clearly, but she has a long way to go.  For now, I will just be the best husband I can be and hope that that helps over the long haul.  In the meantime, we will continue to try to seek medical help for the GI problems she has.

As far as being treated for depression, my wife is not prepared to do that right now.  Hopefully, she can get better without that.  If not, then, as you say, when a person hits emotional rock bottom, she will seek the necessary help.  As bad as it has become for my wife at times, she evidently has not yet hit rock bottom.  I hope she doesn't, and I hope she can start feeling better as we continue to try to get help for her GI problems.

I have thought about going to counseling myself, and I might.  Right now, I feel that I need to be a good, supportive husband, and I know how to do that.  Sometimes, stress and frustration makes it hard, but that is something I just need to do.  I do read, and that helps.  I try to understand what my wife is going through, and that does help me deal with things.  I think I just need to be a supportive, loving, non-critical husband.  I have always slipped up in the past.  If I do not slip up and revert back to my critical ways, maybe even that can help my wife's depression.  She needs to feel loved and safe, and I sure haven't always made her feel that way.

I hope you write again, Lisa.  I really look forward to seeing what you have to say.  You have been very helpful.  Thank you for your support.
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Avatar_n_tn
Sorry it's been awhile.  I just re-read your last posting and a couple medial things come to mind.  First, has your wife been tested for Lyme's disease? I've been reading about GI illness and symptoms because of my own gut and that's one of the things that I read about that may be unlikely but it can cause GI symptoms and a simple blood test will tell her for sure.  Also, Mayo clinic is doing research on women and GI propblems and one of the early findings is that an increase in soy in the diet can have a major positive effect.  It's also been helping menopausal women.  I don't know the specifics, but adding soy is pretty easy and is good for you even if it doesn't cure the GI trouble.  I've started adding it to my diet, along with really high quality, fairly high dose vitamins and minerals and I have been feeling pretty good for a couple weeks.  The one other medical thing I thought of is thyroid.  Has your wife been tested for thyroid disorders?  It's pretty much standard procedure when unidentifiable GI problems surface, but I thought I would ask just in case.

I'm glad to hear things are better on an emotional level for you and your wife.  It's great that you are trying to be there for her without trying to fix and take on her problems.  There's one thing you said that I would be careful about and that is where you said you've slipped up in the past and if you just don't do that again, things should be better.  I realize I'm paraphrasing a bit.  Please understand that even if you could be a perfect husband, which no one can because we're all human, your wife may still be ill.  Unfortunately, depression and physical illness can't be cured by love alone.  Don't get me wrong, love and kindness are tremendously important in the healing process, but I sense something in your post that you might think that if you are just really great at being a good husband, she will be better.  This is sort of still thinking that you can fix her, just another way of going about it.  She still needs to get the help she needs and to do the work to get better -- with your support, of course.  I really sense your sincerity and desire to help your wife get well so I know you have the best of intentions and I hope you don't take my comment as critical.  I guess I'm speaking from the perspective of someone who believed for a long time that if I were a really great or perfect person/girlfriend/daughter/etc. that people around me would respond the way I wanted them to and I would get from them what I wanted and needed.  The truth is, I am a good person/girlfriend/daughter/etc. and I can't make people feel or do anything that they don't have in them already.

I'll check back here.  Hope things are going well.
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Avatar_n_tn
You make a good point.  In a way, I probably do try to make myself think that if I can be the husband I need to be, then my wife will feel better.  But, of course, I know this is not possible.  I do believe, however, that she can feel secure and cherished and not judged or "wrong" if I am the husband I should be.  This, in itself, may help her some.  But to feel better, truly better, she needs help beyond what I can give.

My wife is a vegetarian, so she has been getting soy, but unfortunately that has not helped.  In fact, she is allergic to soy, all beans, wheat, oats, dairy products, etc.  She probably needs to eat meat and is now considering eating chicken.  She has a variety of digestive/nutritional defincencies, but no treatment has helped yet.  It is frustrating.  And, of course, every time a new supplement or dietary change does not help her, she tends to feel like a failure.  Other people get better on these things, why doesn't she?  She gets into such negative, destructive thought patterns that likely get in the way of her getting better, too.

We may have a food test done again to see if the food allergies are different now than when she had the test two years ago.  Also, she is going to be tested for h pylori.  There are numerous tests that she hasn't had that may explain things.  I have checked the gastro page of this site, too, and she could have gastroparesis, based on the sounds of that.  She gets nausea and bloating very quickly nearly every time she eats.  She often has nausea even when she doesn't eat.  I don't know.  Some of it could be psychological, but the tests showed enough physiological problems that it makes me believe there is something wrong physically that just hasn't been caught.  I don't think she has Lyme Disease.  The symptoms of that don't seem to match her very well, but I suppose one never knows.  The thing that always strikes me is that in November 1991 she got a stomach flu and was never the same again after that.  Prior to that, she did not get sick too much on things she ate, she was not chronically fatigued as she is now, etc.  So, that flu seemed to set off a chain reaction in her that is still going on today.  In fact, it is getting worse.  Her nausea and getting sick on food is worsening.  Anyway, I better end here.  Thanks again for continuing to write.  I look forward to hearing from you again and I always welcome your suggestions and insights.
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Avatar_n_tn
It's good you're trying to find or eliminate the physical causes of your wife's illness.  H. Pylori is an easy test and if that's the problem, a very easy treatment.  These are the tests that I've had done, or know it is common to do for mystery GI trouble: thyroid, diabetes, endocrinology check, iron/anemia -- these are all blood tests, parasite screen, ultrasound of the abdomen, endoscopy, HIDA scan (if gallbladder function is in question), barium swallow test (for obstructions and some motility checking), barium enema test, colonoscopy, and another motility test that I don't know the name of but they have the patient eat something that has been charged and watch it as it goes through the system.  I'm sure there are other tests but these are the basics.

Have you two tried any holisitc treatments?  I've tried chiropractic, accupuncture, and an herbalist.  Each of these things helped somewhat so I found it worth my time and money.  I am currently seeing a naturopath and she has been the most successful thus far.

I know you probably don't want to hear this from me-again-but I really think some couples (or individual) therapy would be helpful, even if it turns out that your wife has strictly medical conditions that can be treated medically.  Therapy is a very freeing experince and the benefits of it are really overarching in their scope.  Working on personal and emotional issues makes all aspects of your life easier and better.  It also has a tendency to make you feel better physically because you are letting go of stress and other things that can manifest or worsen physical conditions.

Please hang in there.  I hope you didn't take my last post as saying that you couldn't be a great, supportive, loving husband because that was not at all my intent.  I just wouldn't want you to think that if you did your best to be good husband and your wife did not respond to that in the way you hoped that you had somehow failed her.  It seems to me that you are doing what you can and that's all that can be expected of anyone.

I'll check back.
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Avatar_n_tn
I will be losing internet access as of 13 May.  I will be back on-line eventually but I'm not sure how long the down time will be.  So, I wanted to leave a note here wishing you and your wife all the best.  I hope you're both doing well and continue to be well.
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Avatar_n_tn
Thanks so much for all your encouragement and support.  If you get access again before this sequence of messages goes away into oblivion, please let me know.  I know I haven't written for awhile, but I value your opinions and views.  I will miss asking you questions and such.  There are new challenges all the time, and I sometimes want to ask you more questions.  But, I don't want to keep hounding you either.  It helps to talk to you, though, since you are a woman and you can give me a perspective on my wife and her struggles that I am not able to acquire on my own.

Actually, if you see this before you lose access, I have a quick question for you regarding my wife's continuing struggles with her body.  If I touch her and she cringes, what should I do?  She is still not comfortable with me in regards to intimacy.  Should I try to calm her fears and continue to touch her even after she makes it clear that she isn't comfortable?  Should I pull away and stop touching her?  I know I shouldn't do what I have done and that is to pull away, get angry and sulk.  Any advice you have will be greatly appreciated.

Thanks again so much for all your help.  Please let me know on this post if you have access again before these messages leave.  Take care.
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Avatar_n_tn
Glad you got my message.  I think that if your wife cringes when you touch her and asks you not to do it, then you shouldn't touch her.  Trying to calm her by touching her when she is already upset and knowing that she doesn't want to be touched will only make her more upset.  I'm sure you know this.  Here's my question: why does she cringe when she is touched?  And is the touch that bothers her a non-sexual touch, a touch to initiate sex, or either?  Have you two discussed why she doesn't want to be touched?  I hope that you're not talking about continuuing to touch her in a sexual way even after she pulls away because that's getting into a whole other realm of issues.  I'm assuming that's not what you're asking but you mentioned "intinmacy" in between describing your wife pulling away and asking about continuing to touch her in spite of her objections, so I had to ask.

Another question:  Was your wife abused as a child -- physically or sexually?  I ask because an aversion to being touched and food/body image issues are both very often associated with assault or abuse and even more so when both are present.  Women who have been abused are also more likely to have physical/medical symptoms and problems.

Try not to take it personally if she doesn't want to be touched.  I know it's hard to do that, but I'm sure it's not about you.  It seems to me that you are both dealing with so much stuff that it's too much to handle between the two of you.  I wish you all the best.

I'm not sure if going from "talking" on a board like this to exchanging email is appropriate or desirable in your mind, but  when I get internet access again my email address will be ***@****.

Good luck to you both.
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