Staying on the same page

It is a common problem: parents not on the same page during eating disorder treatment.

Mom gives in too easily or dad forgets the “rules.” Maybe one spouse thinks they should back off and the other is ready to hold a hard line. Mom is super-vigilant and her partner believes in the power of trust.

What I have learned in watching countless couples struggle during eating disorder treatment:

•      It is better to be on the wrong page together than on different pages, so back your partner up. When you disagree, work it out in private. Those struggling feel unsure and even unsafe when the people taking care of them are not sending the same messages. If one direction isn’t working you can both change course together.

•      You may not (yet) be an expert on eating disorders, but you are the best authority on your own child. Learn all you can together about the disorder, and keep sight of what you both know of your loved one.

•      Your relationship to each other is the eating disorder’s worst enemy and it will try to divide you. Married, separated, or divorced: you can make your working relationship a brick wall against arguments and confusion.

•      The parent role is unique: it combines authority with protection. The best interest of the patient is also the best interest of the parents. Partners need to “be parental” even when they may feel over their head.

•      Caregiving can be exhausting and overwhelming, but remember that you are what stands between your loved one and great harm. If not you, who?

•      It is not about us. Myths about parents causing eating disorders are long gone. Parents have the opportunity to step up just as we do for any grave illness or accident, not because we caused it but because of our unique relationship and lifelong commitment.

•      Keep adult stuff among adults. Patients and siblings do not need to know or understand every decision and concern. Comfort and counsel one another.

•      Believe in one another. Each partner has strengths (and weaknesses) and qualities that brought you together. Find time to praise and use those strengths to support your loved one.

•      Eating disorders leave patients feeling anxious and uncertain. Fewer choices can help. If a question is open-ended or multiple choice it is often too challenging, at least early in treatment. Stick with clear, simple rules and few choices. That makes it easier to stay on the same page with one another, too.

•      Horizontal therapy works: head to bed. It doesn’t matter what you do there, but giving gravity a break really helps.


Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh is an award winning American activist and writer living in Virginia. A podcaster and international speaker, Lyster-Mensh’s books, essays, blogs, poems, and public speaking bring her infamy in some circles, praise in others, and an international readership.

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