How To Be There For A Partner Struggling With Body Dysmorphia

When you love someone, you want to protect them and take away any pain they might have. It's normal to want to shoulder things for your partner or help them carry the burden of different things like trauma or emotional obstacles. But if these obstacles include disorders or mental health issues, it can be a lot harder to tackle because it might feel like a losing battle. You also might just feel lost on how to deal with or talk to your partner about their disorder. This is the case if you have a partner struggling with body dysmorphia, officially known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).


According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, BDD is classified as an obsessive-compulsive-related disorder, but it's not the same as OCD. But one trait they do share is the fact that people suffering from BDD have intrusive thoughts they can't control and that don't reflect reality. Whether that's seeing something different in the mirror or having compulsions to constantly check their appearance, or obsessively restricting food leading to eating disorders. This obsession with their body, again, is involuntary and destroys someone's self-worth. It's an anxiety disorder that leads to or often includes depression because of how much they dislike their appearance.

As stated before, it's hard to see your partner in any amount of pain, emotionally or otherwise. But you, of course, don't want to overstep or misstep when discussing your partner's body dysmorphia. Here are some ways to be there for a partner suffering with BDD.


If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Be accepting and supportive

Just like with any difficulty or hardship your partner might be experiencing, News Medical suggests listening to your partner and outwardly accepting them and their BDD. This includes accepting the fact that their intrusive thoughts are exactly that: intrusive, unprovoked, and involuntary. Your partner isn't choosing to hate their appearance. They can't help the way they think about or see themselves. They're struggling and suffering through this disorder and probably feel bad about bringing it to your attention too. Creating a safe space for your partner to just talk about their disorder or what they're going through will really help your partner feel supported.


In doing that, you'll also help them feel accepted and cared for. "It's helpful to express some empathy if you can," Katharine Phillips, M.D., a psychiatrist, told SELF. "Saying you're sorry they're suffering can go a long way because they are suffering, and they often feel that no one understands them." Again, just listening is vital. Offering solutions might not help like you think it will, so having them lead the conversation and just being there for them is the best you can do sometimes.

No body talk

In the vein of "don't offer suggestions," you also don't want to say the wrong thing. And that can include any type of body talk, even if you mean it in a positive way. The Recovery Village encourages people not to talk about their loved one's appearance in any way and guides them away from talking about "what they see as flaws." Remember that they're seeing things in a different light than you. But even debating with them about how they look could just create more turmoil in their head or make them defensive. If they start diminishing their appearance or body, don't turn the conversation toward what you think are flaws in yourself. The Recovery Villages says that instead of diverting the chat, it will most likely "just spiral into a more negative conversation."


Words matter and have power. Why do you think their brains do such a good job of tricking them into thinking horrible things about themselves? So instead of body talk, verbally supporting your partner can mean so much. On that note, don't diminish what they're feeling or experiencing. And, of course, do not mock them even if you two have a love language of playful teasing. This isn't the time or topic to make fun of them or poke fun at their intrusive thoughts.

Guide them to resources you can look at together

Getting diagnosed with any mental disorder can be a struggle because of time, resources, and just the sheer amount of stigma that follows mental health issues. And for people with body dysmorphia, there are other fears that come along with talking to professionals. For one, it might make the disorder feel too real for them. Or they might have a fear of being institutionalized or not taken seriously. Again, just the overall stigma and shame that comes with a mental health disorder, especially one involving something as personal as their body, can be too overwhelming to get help. But encouraging them to do so can really help them, and it will bolster the support you have for them.  


When they do start to see someone, go with them to appointments and physically support them through every step of treatment. Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation writes that being that ally for them will do so much good, along with "praising improvement, however small." Educating yourself, as you're doing right now, is a great step toward helping you understand and find resources for yourself. Doing some of that work for them, to really kickstart their recovery and treatment (without being pushy), really shows you care and want to help.

Make them feel seen and validated

Intrusive thoughts are not fun. People with BDD can't control the horrible things their brain tells them. And even though the "rational" part of their brain tells them that none of what they're hearing or seeing is real, the compulsions and intrusive thoughts will often win. Understanding that it's not about vanity and that your partner can't control these things is a good way to conceptualize the pain and struggles they're going through. "To say that it's all in their heads ... is a put-down," Dr. Phillips told SELF. "It minimizes the concern in a way that's not helpful." She recommends lightly letting them know that they aren't seeing what others do could help, but saying they're being silly, making things up, or finding things to complain about will not.


Anyone who's going through some type of inner struggle can feel incredibly alone. Even though they might have a loving partner and be immensely happy in their relationship, people with body dysmorphia or any other mental health disorder can feel like they're fighting something impossible all alone. They also might not feel like they can bring it up with you because they don't want to be a burden or don't feel like you'd understand. So just being there and validating their struggles will go such a long way in reminding them in those dark moments that they're not alone and that you will always be there.

Check in with yourself too

At the start of every plane ride, flight attendants remind you that, in the event of a plane malfunction or emergency, you have to put your mask on first before helping others, so you can properly aid them while you've got oxygen. In a similar concept, you want to check in on yourself whenever you're trying to be there for your partner while they're dealing with a mental health issue. The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation recommends finding support and "looking after yourself." Obviously, you're not the one suffering from a disorder, but you want to make sure that you're at your best to fully be there for your partner who is. They recommend taking time for yourself and talking to your own therapist or support system outside of your partner for advice.


There are different support groups you can find for yourself or for couples impacted by BDD. The foundation also recommends reconnecting on things outside of BDD. Even though talking about things that interest them or things that you both fell in love because of won't "cure" them, it'll remind both of you of a world outside of BDD. Even if it's just for a little bit.

Also, make sure you're not pitying yourself. It's hard, and every relationship has tough struggles you have to get through. But you never want to get into the habit of blaming your partner for these issues. You'll just end up resenting them for something they can't control.