Lessons in Being Supportive: An Interview with My Husband

By Katie, 5:16 am

If you want to tell someone (your partner, your friend, your mom, etc.) about your struggles with food/weight, but you’re scared of what they might think, then this post is for you.

If you have people supporting you, but sometimes they struggle to do so effectively, then this post is for you.

If your loved one is struggling but you’re unsure of how to be supportive, then this post is for you.

I’m very blessed to have married an extremely supportive man.

But, as you will see, it’s been a learning process. When I first opened up to Dave about my food/weight struggles, it was like I was speaking a different language. He wasn’t familiar with the topic, and he had no idea how best to help me.

We’ve progressed a great deal. But instead of me telling you his thoughts, I’m passing the keyboard to him for the day. Without further ado…

Lessons in Being Supportive: An Interview with My Husband

What do you think is the toughest thing about trying to help someone struggling with eating issues?

There are so many moments where I really feel like I have no idea how to be helpful, and that feels awful. As a typical guy, I often struggle to recognize and express emotions. I think this makes it harder to help someone who is in a crisis-type moment and is experiencing strong emotions, which often overshadow any kind of reasoning that their brain or my words might try to offer.

Because I don’t have the same exact personality as the one I’m trying to help (of course…when is that ever the case?), and because I don’t struggle with eating issues myself, I sometimes have a difficult time knowing what sort of words or actions will benefit them the most. I have to remember that the help they want or need might be different than what my first instinct pushes me to offer. Trying to immediately “fix” someone’s problems, even if it’s gently-offered advice, isn’t always very helpful. Many times, the best help is to listen and commiserate.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of approaching a loved one to ask for help/support?

Remember that this family member or friend loves you! Don’t feel ashamed or like you’re a burden to them. If this loved one has any idea that you’re struggling, they’re probably longing to help you but just may not know how!

If you know of something they could be doing to help you, tell them clearly. If they are doing something that is a stumbling block for you, or something that is enabling your actions in bad moments, tell them clearly.

Lastly, remember that while these people love you, they are also human and won’t always offer you perfect support, even when you tell them what that is. Forgive them when they fail, and thank them when they are offering you good support. This is a great encouragement and reinforces their support for you!

What advice would you give to someone whose loved one is struggling with eating/body image issues?

Tell them that you love them and want to help as best you can. Tell them you want to be their partner in their fight. Ask them what you can do, what is helpful, and what’s not! Don’t be afraid that you’ll offer wrong advice or have a bad reaction – you certainly will at some point, but you’ll be forgiven. Doing nothing would be worse.

I know it’s hard for people who are trying to give support because their help can sometimes be interpreted as criticism. Do you have any thoughts on how to show support without coming off as critical?

Try to walk through the types of situations where your support could somehow come off as criticism. Together, the two of you can think of ways for you to say things that are less likely to be interpreted as criticism. (Note: this probably shouldn’t be discussed in a moment of stress or anxiety, but rather when both of you are feeling strong.)

If you can, set some sort of ground rules ahead of time. Establish “permission” for you to say things at certain moments that you both agree might be helpful, even if there’s a chance it sounds critical in the moment, out of context. Maybe come up with a code word to include or some other way of making clear that you are trying to help in a thoughtful way, and that you’re not just talking off the cuff or purposefully being critical.

Before I opened up to you about my food/weight struggles, you were completely unfamiliar with the topic. What advice would you give to someone who wants to be supportive but is completely clueless about these kinds of issues?

Read Health for the Whole Self! Just kidding, although not really. If you’re already talking with this person about how you can help, they most likely have some sort of introductory reading they can share with you. Be open to learning about eating and body image issues and their many facets – don’t lump everyone with an eating issue into the same stereotype.

If they’re open to talking about it, listen to their thought processes when they are having healthy thoughts and when they’re having unhealthy thoughts so that you can start to understand how they struggle and perhaps recognize triggers and difficult situations.

If you feel in over your head, admit that you are pretty clueless about how to help and ask what you can do. Just about everything I have learned about helping Katie has come from Katie, in a variety of ways – everything from her telling me about specific thoughts and experiences to her sharing concepts and reading with me.

What have you learned from your (unexpected!) role as my supporter through these difficult issues?

I have of course learned many things about eating issues, not the least of which is the huge prevalence of disordered eating. While learning about my wife’s struggles, I think I’ve also started becoming more observant of emotions in general and have tried to be able to see experiences through the lens of someone else’s emotions.

I’ve become more aware of how the many little things we each do or say can be so harmful or helpful to someone struggling with eating issues. I think we all recognize this is true in other areas, but for some reason we often lack sensitivity when it comes to eating or body image issues. I’ve learned, and am still learning, to step out of my comfort zone when it comes to helping Katie.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Dave! I love you!

Do you have someone supportive in your life? In what ways has that person helped you?

28 Responses to “Lessons in Being Supportive: An Interview with My Husband”

  1. Becca says:

    What a lovely, supportive man you have!

    I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder a few years ago, and I’ve been really lucky that Patrick has been a great help. He never has all the answers, but just that steadiness and the feeling of safety is so important to me.

    • Katie says:

      Very well-stated. My husband has definitely learned that it’s not about having all of the answers, but more about just BEING THERE.

  2. Karen says:

    You are so lucky to have such a loving and supportive husband to stand by your side through your struggles! I have definitely bookmarked this article to share with others! Thank you!!

  3. Megan says:

    Katie, I’m so happy for you that you have such a wonderful partner. I’m similarly blessed; Thiago has a way of picking me up out of my deepest, darkest holes. One of the best things I’ve done in seeking his support has been showing him my blog. Since I’m much better at expressing myself in writing than I am in speaking, reading my blog has helped him to better understand me and my struggle, and he really appreciates the opportunity.

    • Katie says:

      Very interesting! I think my husband would say the same – that my blog has helped him to understand on a level that I would never be able to explain through conversation.

  4. jessica says:

    Excellent interview! Support is certainly key, I thank God for my husband every single day!

    You have a great guy there Katie : )

  5. Lisa says:

    I’m so proud of both of you! You’re understanding of self and communication with and support of one another is so far beyond what we had learned that early in our marriage. Keep it up, keep it open, keep it real, keep it love centered. Love you both!

  6. Lisa says:

    oops – “Your”

    • Katie says:

      Good catch! ;)

      I do think that one of our greatest strengths is how proactive we are in strengthening our relationship…something that I’m hoping will serve us well for years to come. I’m so incredibly blessed to be married to your son!!!


  7. i’m so thankful to have an incredibly supportive hubby as well, but it’s the same thing that Dave faced – he didn’t know what I was talking about at all when it came to food struggles. thankfully he just supports and loves me regardless!

  8. I, too, have an amazingly supportive and loving husband (who, like Dave, never struggled with food/body issues). I often say that he provided me a safe place/space in which to heal and that he loved me before I knew how to love myself. He showed me what it looked like! And like Megan’s Thiago, I’d have to say that Tim gets a lot out of reading my blog…

  9. Katie thanks for sharing, and thank your husband too. You’re one lucky gal to have such a supportive husband.

  10. Cammy says:

    Really glad your husband has been such a great support for you, sounds like he’s tried very hard. (You two make an amazingly cute couple, by the way…)

    My boyfriend has handled my ED issues way better than I ever expected/hoped. He studies psychology in grad school, so he’s good at listening and trying to understand, but he didn’t really have any knowledge of EDs previously, beyond the paragraph or two found in a general textbook. He is supportive but knows that I neither want nor need him to be my policeman. He knows that when I mention I’m having a hard time, I’m not asking him to fix it. That’s what always holds me back from opening up in the first place: not wanting to be seen as a burden, some unfixable thing that’s not worth someone’s time. He makes sure I know he loves me for all of the other aspects of my personality and life. His basic approach is that everyone has some issue, and this is one he can learn about and we can deal with. I think it has even functioned to make us closer, in some ways.

    Anyway, I just wrote a book here, GREAT post!

    • Katie says:

      I always welcome long comments, and I thank you for sharing! :)

      And this line – “I neither want nor need him to be my policeman” – says so much. Your relationship with your boyfriend is obviously very strong and mature. Getting to that point, where the emphasis isn’t on trying to monitor someone or “fix” them, but rather just support them, is huge.

  11. Sarah says:

    I do have people who are very supportive in my life. Most people who I have opened up to do not judge me, and there are a few people who “get it.” Talking to them when I really struggle (and even blogging about it sometimes!) is really helpful in working out my issues…because when I want to eat, eat, eat, that desire is always an indicator of something much deeper going on.

  12. I feel very lucky to have a husband who just “gets” my struggles. Not all of them, of course, but when he doesn’t understand something I’m going through, he makes the effort to learn, and he’s never judgemental towards me. I think that’s probably the #1 reason I married him!

  13. Katie, such a great idea for a post! I’m also really happy that you have such a supportive hubby, and it’s nice to have his perspective, too. I think it’s helpful for anyone to read this interview, because even if we’ve gone through similar experiences, it can still be tough to reach out and know exactly how to help.

    I actually tend to be the type of person who wants to focus on the fixing, even though I might need my boyfriend to listen and just hug me. But my first reaction is to fix and then deal with the feelings. And I’m sure if my boyfriend were to give an interview, he’d say that’s not always so helpful. :)

  14. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by marzipan, Katie McLaughlin. Katie McLaughlin said: Lessons in Being Supportive: An Interview with My Husband http://goo.gl/fb/kYeT5 [...]

  15. Aww Katie this was such a sweet post., Dave seems great! My husband, John, is very supportive of me at all times.. but he’s my rock for when I have bad body image days too. :)

  16. How great that you have such a wonderful support system at home with your husband. It makes all the difference in the world. I’m a lucky lady too and have a supportive hubby I can count on.

  17. This is so sweet, so glad you have such great support. :)

    My boyfriend is so supportive of all of my struggles, more than I could ever imagine. I think the best thing is that he NEVER judges me or acts in any way like I am a burden or that he is tired of having to support me. He makes me feel so loved and helps me love myself.

  18. What a creative idea! I don’t often see posts geared toward those in a supporting role, and it’s fantastic that this is written from a man’s perspective. I will keep this in mind and pass along to clients and others who would surely learn some helpful tips.

  19. Thank you Dave!

    I forwarded this link on to my hubby. I love the man, and he tries his best to be supportive but sometimes it is like we are speaking two different languages.

    • Dave says:

      You’re welcome, Kate. I hope it’s helpful for both of you! None of us know all the answers, but I think the more we talk about it with each other, the better we can understand.

  20. Christina says:

    What an amazing guy you have there. He sounds amazingly supportive.

  21. How great to have such a loving and supportive husband! I really loved reading his side of things.

  22. Katie and Dave, this is so great. I know my husband always wants to be there for me but he doesn’t always know how to react or what to do. It’s definitely tough for both people involved. So glad Dave got it down ;)

  23. [...] I’ve been totally open with Dave about my struggles with food/weight. Sometimes that’s made me feel like a burden to him, and [...]

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