Self, Health And Wellness

What To Do When A Stressful Relationship Triggers Your Emotional Eating

Photo: getty
How To Fix A Broken Relationship & Stop Gaining Weight From Emotional Eating

Food can be comforting, and reaching for it during stressful moments in life is a choice many people make as a way to manage their feelings of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. If you're turning to emotional eating while you struggle to figure out how to fix a broken relationship, you can get this self-soothing habit in check by refocusing on communication as part of a team with your partner.

Ever wonder why in the first few months of a new relationship you feel so good?

You spend the time to assure that you look cute, you spend time taking care of yourself and maybe even lose a little weight without even thinking about it.

A few months go by and it feels like this person is going to be a keeper! You settle into the relationship, and before you know it, a year or more has gone by. You realize the giddy, good feelings of those first few months are long gone, and you're unclear as to how or when you both became so "comfortable".

RELATED: 7 Signs You're An Emotional Eater (And Don't Even Realize It)

You may even be developing some unpleasant feelings toward your partner and you don't spend the same amount of time enjoying one another as you used to. Things you once found attractive about them now drive you crazy.

Initially, you may have found their sense of adventure exciting, now you find it exhausting. You once thought their passion for their work was inspiring, but now you feel neglected. The dirty socks by the bed, or dishes left in the sink cause you to become irrationally angry.

At this stage of your relationship, intimacy and connection may have become less of a focus, and when you're frustrated by these other elements, the romance seems to be all but gone. You probably find that you hold your feelings inside rather than talk about it.

The relationship feels stressful, your increased irritation and decreased intimacy feel uncomfortable.

With these negative emotions, you might begin turning to food for comfort and emotional release.

Turning to food for emotional comfort when struggling within a relationship is extremely common. In turn, emotional eating may lead to weight gain and feelings of being out of control. This further impacts the way you feel about yourself, while also aggravating your negative feelings toward your partner.

If you feel you’re eating to avoid feelings of frustration and discomfort with your relationship, then you know that something must be done. Food is a quick and deceptively satisfying comfort. The release it provides is temporary, and this is where the cycle begins.

Emotional eating can quickly become the primary way you cope with any emotion: sadness, disappointment, anger, frustration, jealousy, or resentment. If your dissatisfaction within your relationship is what is triggering your emotional eating, working on your relationship is absolutely vital in order to heal your relationship with food, since these experiences are intimately interconnected.

If you want to know how to fix a broken relationship and stop using emotional eating as a way to self-soothe your feelings of stress and anxiety, here are 4 steps you can take starting now.

1. Develop healthy communication skills.

This may sound obvious, but communication is deeply at the foundation of a healthy relationship. Not only is it important to be open and honest, you have to feel safe enough to express yourself in order to communicate your thoughts, feelings, and needs. Being able to listen and allow your partner to feel heard is a tremendous skill.

When it comes to sharing your feelings, it’s important for your partner to allow you to do the same. If you feel your partner does not let you vent and they just attempt to fix your relationship problems, this will also take you back into the cycle of frustration, which may lead to you bottling up your feelings, putting you right back in the negative emotional eating cycle.

Healthy communication can be complicated! Communicating about how you will be very healthy for your relationship with your partner.

Setting specific ground rules can be very helpful in order to be able to be open, honest, and heard. When you can communicate honestly and effectively, you will feel less emotionally bogged down and therefore you will not feel the need to emotionally eat.

2. Express your needs.

What are your needs for any relationship? It is important to clarify these for yourself, as well as for your partner. You cannot assume that your partner knows what you need or how to fix your relationship unless you tell them.

A helpful exercise is where each of you create a list of your needs within the relationship. Making note of those that are deal breakers (such as: honesty, speaking kindly, or whatever your non-negotiable needs are) and mark some that are less important. The lesser ones are the needs that you would be OK if your partner could not meet (for example: going to certain movies or activities).

Review your lists together and create a plan for ensuring that yours and your partner's primary needs are getting met.

Also, take some time to begin learning how to talk to your partner about your needs when you feel they aren't being met so that you feel more grounded and respected in your relationship. When you feel respected, you will be more emotionally balanced and confident, and therefore you will not have the need to self-soothe with food.

RELATED: I Eat My Feelings — Nothing Will Ever Make Me Feel As Good As Food

3. Take time to check-in with each other.

This ties the two previous strategies together. Checking-in is extremely important for maintaining your relationship. If you don’t do an occasional check-in, you will end up right where you left off again — when you were burdened and unhappy and eating away your feelings.

Check-ins are great to schedule at least one time per month, but weekly is best to really stay on top of your relationship and make fixing it a priority. Check-ins can have a time limit, and it is a place to air your feelings (communicate!) and to talk about how well they are meeting your needs.

This is no place to become defensive or take anything personally. It must remain a safe place to be open and honest.

At the end, conclude the check-in with one thing you appreciate about your partner. This will leave you with positive feelings toward each other. When you feel heard, supported, and you have been able to openly express yourself, you again reduce your internal stress, which helps you do away with stress and emotional eating.

4. Make regular date nights a priority.

Create more fun, adventure, connection and creativity in your relationship by having regular date nights. The most important thing is to be consistent, because if you don’t have fun together as a couple, you risk losing the romance that once existed.

Planning a date night at least once per month is vital, but making a date night work weekly would be even better. You might plan the date one week, and then your partner plans the date for the following week. You might agree on what you both enjoy doing or try to introduce each other to something new.

Whatever you do, have fun with it. Allow yourself this valuable time to stay connected to why you fell in love in the first place.

This also allows you to share healthy eating experiences together that helps you think of food a thing of pleasure — and not one of emotional avoidance or escape.

If these strategies feel hard to implement, or you are struggling with communication, get help!

There are many talented couples' therapists who can make a big impact on helping you communicate more effectively and give your relationship a lifeline.

Try using these four strategies to improve your relationship with your partner (and by consequence, your relationship with food!), and see how they impact your self-esteem, your body, and your mood in a positive way.

Notice how when you feel good in your relationship, it is a direct reflection of feeling good within yourself.

As a result, you'll lose the need to continue unhealthy emotional eating habits when you're feeling stressed or upset.

RELATED: 8 Things All Couples Can Do To Fix Their 'Broken' Relationships

Sarah Thacker is a licensed professional counselor and EMDR therapy practitioner who helps women overcome emotional attachments to food as well as helping correct their issues with diets, body images, and healthy eating. She is the author of "Wholistic Food Therapy: A Mindful Approach to Making Peace with Food" and is dedicated toward helping create positive lifestyle changes for her clients.

YourTango may earn an affiliate commission if you buy something through links featured in this article.