Navigating an Enmeshed Relationship
Picture this: you’ve finally found the perfect partner. You do everything together. You share all the same friends, do all the same hobbies together, and like all the same things. You two like each other so much, you find it hard to spend any time at all apart. In fact, you even find yourself canceling your plans to stay home with your partner. This must be a fairy tale, right?
Well, maybe. While having affection, shared interests, and a positive social circle with your partner is not a bad thing, partners who fit the above scenario are at danger of becoming enmeshed. An enmeshed relationship is one in which the needs of each individual are so blurred, there’s only the needs of the couple. This means one or both partners may neglect their personal aspirations, thoughts, feelings, friends, hobbies, and desires in an attempt to be identical to their partner.
Some signs of being in an enmeshed relationship are:
- Constantly taking on the emotional state of the other partner (“If they’re upset, I’m upset”)
- Other relationships are suffering due to constant prioritization of time and attention to your partner
- Disregarding your desires and aspirations to play the role of partner
- Your self-concept is based on the quality of your relationship and happiness of your partner
- When there’s “trouble in paradise,” you feel the need to fix it immediately
While sacrifice, communication, and partnership are all qualities of a successful relationship, losing your own identity in the process is not. Just some negative consequences of enmeshed relationships are increased risk of eating disorders, negative self-esteem, poor relationships with others, and mental health disorders.
Do you need help maintaining your identity in your relationship? Here are three tips on how to navigate an enmeshed relationship!
Set Boundaries Now
Boundaries are vital parts of protecting ourselves from taking on the emotions and responsibilities of others. Boundaries are not only for physical means – such as a boundary around touch or use of items – but for emotional means, as well. Ensure you’re setting boundaries around:
- Time: schedule some “me-time” to be apart from your partner. Maybe you have a hobby, like reading, you can do on your own.
- Friends: set a boundary that your partner does not need to come on every outing you go on; have some friends that are just your friends!
- Emotions: be willing to support your partner, but not claim their problems/responsibilities as your own emotionally.
Want three easy boundaries you can set today? Check out our prior blog post to learn more!
Make a Relationship Venn Diagram
While a venn diagram may sound like an assignment you get in school, it can be extremely helpful to visually see enmeshment in a relationship. Make a venn diagram (two circles with some overlap in the middle). On one side put your partner’s name and put your name on the other. Then, as a couple, fill out the venn diagram with hobbies, friends, careers, and whatever else happens in your daily relationship. For things your partner does alone, place it on your partner’s side. For things you do alone, place them on your side. For things you share (such as friends, hobbies, etc.), place them in the overlap.
Healthy couples do have some overlap, but they also have a fair amount of “yours” and “mine” hobbies, friends, and dreams. If you find almost all of your content is placed in the overlap of the venn diagram, make a list of things you two can separate to maintain your individual identities.
Spend Time In Self-Reflection
The key characteristic of an enmeshed relationship is that one or both individuals lose their personal identity and take on the relationship identity. If you’re in an enmeshed relationship, try to answer these questions:
- What were my goals (think: career aspirations, educational goals, health/diet goals, etc.) before I started dating my partner? How have my goals changed since we started our relationship?
- Before I met my partner, what did my friend group look like? What does it look like now?
- Prior to my relationship starting, which of my identities were most important to me? Were they my spiritual identity, sexual/gender identity, cultural identity? Have my identities changed or shifted? Why?
Of course, change is expected over time. You may not be in an enmeshed relationship but have experienced a lot of change since getting in a relationship, especially if your relationship has been a long-term one. However, look for patterns: if each of these questions show a dramatic change somehow related to your relationship, it may be a sign of enmeshment.
We hope this blog post educated you on ways to navigate an enmeshed relationship! If you’d like to talk to someone about setting boundaries and relationships, we’ve got clinicians who can help. We’re here for you! Reach out today to meet a clinician to help you on your healing journey. We look forward to hearing from you!