By: Tamara Wilhelm MA, LMHC, LCAC
It is common for relationships to begin with an intense start, where you spend endless hours talking, texting an emailing back and forth. You want to spend every waking moment with your loved one getting to know them and enjoying that newness of the relationship. However, after this intense time, things slow down and you don’t spend as much time with your new beau or belle as you were before. This intense time together can be a phase, because it’s generally hard to sustain such an amount of time together, and this is normal. It is ok to develop space and see your significant other on a more regular time basis. Many people don’t recognize that this is a natural process to move out of this intense time and think there is something wrong with their relationship, but this is far from the truth.
Some relationships however, continue to spend this intense time together, have very little outside time apart, and have very few friends outside the main relationship. We would call this an enmeshed relationship. An enmeshed relationship can apply to a family, significant other relationship, friendship, siblings, etc… There are many different ways to describe enmeshment. It can mean being entangled within another person whereas you become dependent upon them for your emotional needs. It is when you are so close to someone you don’t know where you end and where another person begins. If you find yourself unable to make decisions without knowing what another thinks before you decide, then you might be enmeshed. Getting someone’s input is one thing, an inability to make decisions without knowing how they believe and feel and basing your decision upon that is another story.
Families can be enmeshed as well. This can occur when parents are dependent upon one another or when they are dependent upon their children to make them feel whole or happy and loved. In enmeshed families and relationships, individuals are discouraged from having outside relationships & from expressing individuality, but no one would ever admit this. Parents generally need to be needed and love to be loved and therefore keep their children too close emotionally, therefore not encouraging the child to develop their own individuality.
Generally in enmeshed relationships, one would feel guilty, or make their loved one feel guilty if they aren’t at all family gatherings & events. They also hear guilt, or put guilt trips on loved ones if they don’t call/write/come around enough. At the same time, enmeshed relationships rely very little on outside sources for guidance or help, they rely solely on the family unit or couple unit. A great TV example of an enmeshed family is Everybody Loves Raymond. The in-laws live across the street, walk in without knocking/ knows everything that’s going on with the entire family (lack of boundaries), lays guilt trips if things don’t go Marie’s way, and everyone often feels suffocated (except Marie!).
These families or couples seem very healthy because they are always together and seem very supportive and close, but the opposite is generally true. They are generally (not always) the most dysfunctional. Growing up or functioning in an enmeshed relationship fosters a dependence that gives many “messages”. Some of these messages are:
- Don’t trust anyone outside the family/relationship
- You need the family/relationship in order to feel whole or loved
- You cannot function on your own, you need someone in your life
- Being suffocated or suffocating another individual is “normal”
- You can’t make good decisions-you need others to tell you what to do
Along with these messages, being enmeshed with someone doesn’t allow for the proper emotional “spacing” that is needed between you and the person with whom you’re enmeshed. We all need to have privacy and individuality. Privacy and individuality is not to be confused with secrets however. Having privacy means you have relationships & activities outside the family/marriage/relationship and then you share what your separate experiences were together, without having secrets. Enmeshment also can create abandonment issues within an individual. It creates the inability for an individual to be alone & comfortable in their own skin because they’re so used to being attached & entangled to someone else. At the same time, enmeshment teaches poor boundaries. There is not a clear separation between the two individuals which teaches inappropriate use of boundaries and can also lead to another issue of codependency.
If you identify yourself having grown up in an enmeshed family, or find yourself currently struggling in an enmeshed relationship, we can help you heal and get more balance in your relationships. Call us at (317) 569-0046, or visit our website at www.imaginehopecounseling.com. We provide individual, couples, family, child and adolescent counseling for Indianapolis, and the surrounding areas including Fishers, Carmel, Zionsville, Noblesville and Westfield.
Related Categories: Relationships, Healthy Living, Marriage Counseling