The Danger of Enmeshed Relationships

Posted by on 12 20 13 in Love Addiction News | Comments Off on The Danger of Enmeshed Relationships

Avery was certain she loved Jack within days of meeting him; he was handsome and funny and knew how to treat a lady, something Avery had been taught to look for by her father. After only two weeks of dating, the pair elected to move in together. Two years into the relationship,  the couple still almost never spent time apart.

When Jack had a bad day at work, coming home aggravated and moody, Avery was just as affected. She felt irritable and helpless, unable to change Jack’s state of mind or ease her own. Likewise, if Avery grew sad or depressed, Jack’s mood took a plunge; they seemed to fulfill the notion of two coming together as one, except not in the idyllic, romanticized way. When Jack was forced to take extended trips out of town for work, Avery grew despondent and intensely lonely. She worried about what Jack was doing every moment of the day, and at times, thoughts of him meeting someone new flooded her thoughts, causing her to bombard his cell with calls, texts and emails. Jack was equally as anxious and jealous when it came to his girlfriend of two years, which in large part contributed to their selected isolation from friends and family.

As much as Avery loved Jack, and as deeply as she identified with their relationship to him—she thought of herself as “Jack’s girl” rather than simply as the young woman she was—her self-esteem had suffered as a result of her relationship. She used to feel brave and independent, outspoken and funny, but in her seclusion with this boyfriend, she’d lost touch with everyone who’d known that side of her, and as a result, could no longer see those aspects for herself. Now, although she felt deeply—even desperately—in love, she was a woman who was less secure, more intimidated by the world and certain only that she’d “die without” the man she now believed she lived for. Even her father could no longer identify the high spirited girl he’d raised; she seemed swallowed up into a relationship that meant more to her than even herself.

Bottom Line: No Boundaries

People engaged in enmeshed relationships are nearly always the last to know. While everyone else around them can see it, the ones involved remain blind to the potentially damaging nature of their intense relationships. While Avery and Jack represent a romantic, love-addicted couple, anyone can experience enmeshed relationships. Therapists work with parents who may be enmeshing their children in relationship to them, as well as adult children who are recovering from the pain and confusion caused by enmeshed relationships with parents.

If you ask someone you suspect is involved in an enmeshed relationship whether she has good boundaries, she’s likely to tell you that she does. And maybe she would never stay with someone she suspected might physically harm her, for example, or who would spend all the money or never pick up his underwear from the bathroom floor. But chances are the boundaries enmeshed people feel they are good at defending may not be the ones actually impacting them. Avery and Jack, for example, are not so skilled at setting and protecting boundaries around having alone time, independent time with friends or acceptable behavior when jealousy arises. Because there are no boundaries in place, when intense emotions occur, they are allowed to breed and devolve the tone of the relationship.

Symptoms of Enmeshed Romantic Relationships

Because love addiction can often exhibit itself in the form of enmeshed relationships, and because enmeshed relationships can be so potentially unhealthy for people in recovery, it’s good to know the signs. In his 2013 book, The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us, Ross Rosenberg listed six symptoms of enmeshed relationships:

  • Neglecting other relationships because of obsession or concern about one relationship.
  • Happiness is contingent upon the relationship.
  • Self-esteem is contingent upon the relationship.
  • You feel excessive anxiety, fear or a compulsion to fix the problem whenever there is a disagreement in the relationship.
  • A “feeling of loneliness pervades [your] psyche” when you are unable to be with the other person. This loneliness can “increase to the point of creating irrational desires to reconnect.”
  • You feel a “symbiotic emotional connection.” In other words, if your partner is angry, upset or depressed, you become angry, upset or depressed. You feel the overwhelming need to fix his or her situation and change his/her state of mind.

Willing to Change

If you and your loved one lack autonomy from each other, fail to allow space and time apart, feel the need to rescue one another or be rescued by one another, your relationship has become enmeshed. Like two plants potted together whose roots have become bound and entangled, after a time, the relationship will no longer be able to grow. All people, and all relationships, require the freedom that is only possible when boundaries are maintained and healthy respect for autonomous choices is pre-given. Learning to disentangle can be painful; sometimes it takes a shock to the system to disengage and begin again. A willingness to endure disentanglement in order to protect yourself and the potential future health of your relationship is a big step, but one that indicates you are ready to begin healing problematic patterns that may have been with you a long time. Healing old wounds and participating in clearer, healthier relationships are the promises of recovery—promises you commit to keeping to yourself should you choose to begin.