What is it about being alone that frightens women so? I often hear them—married or partnered friends or clients—expressing great angst about being on their own. Their fear may keep them with people they don’t love and even actively dislike and could propel them to eat for comfort or pleasure. If you share this fear, it’s important to know exactly what you mean by it—to overcome it and stand on your own two feet.

There are a few aspects of fearing being/living alone. One is the practical issue of financial security and earning a living. Many women, particularly those who’ve not been trained to support themselves or who’ve long been dependent on a spouse/partner, are afraid they won’t find work that will provide them with the lifestyle they’re accustomed to. They don’t want to give up their creature comforts, even for freedom from someone who is hurtful to and destructive of them. Women often become paralyzed thinking about the trade offs of leaving or staying and, rather than problem solve about training or jobs to move them forward, remain trapped in doubt and insecurity.

Then there are the concrete things that partners often take care of: bills, house repairs, outdoor work. I’m not stereotyping here. This dichotomy happens even in same-sex relationships: as partners, we tend to have one set of strengths while our partner has another. Rarely are chores and responsibilities equally split. Of course, partners can learn the skills they lack, but the fear that they won’t be able to keeps them stuck.

Another aspect of women fearing being on their own is psychological and emotional, more vague and less concrete. Many women whose parents raised them to be dependent on others, especially those in authority, believe they can’t think well for themselves and don’t trust themselves. They may not take good care of themselves—for example, around food—wrongly believing they need someone else to make decisions for them or hold them accountable—and can’t imagine how they would survive without a partner. Plus they may be terrified they’ll remain alone forever. A real or perceived inability to value and take care of themselves is at the root of this fear.

If your eating problems are caused by unhappiness in your primary relationship and you stay because you fear being alone, it’s time to face your fears and overcome them. Be realistic about what will and won’t change if you’re alone. Look around at what other women have done and use them as role models. By freeing yourself from partner or spousal unhappiness, you may be freeing yourself from your eating problems as well.