A couple sits on a couch with a red scarf around their necks, representing enmeshed relationships

Do you ever feel like your partner’s moods are contagious, and you can’t have a good time if they’re in a funk? Or, like you’re failing as a partner if you’re not putting their needs ahead of your own? If so, I’m glad you’re reading this, because you my friend may be in an enmeshed relationship. 

Enmeshment is a lack of separation between you and your partner’s moods, thoughts, needs and desires. This problem leads to a lot of conflict and confusion, and a loss of individual identity that’s unhealthy for both of you. 

Enmeshment is pretty common, but it isn’t often recognized. Many of my couples counseling clients who are in enmeshed relationships believe they have an especially close connection (and a few *unrelated* problems with communication and conflict). Often the work of effective couples therapy is helping both partners see that their “close connection” is actually a lack of healthy boundaries, so they can find new ways to be emotionally close without fusing together. 

If you think your relationship might be enmeshed, never fear. Enmeshment can take some time to untangle, but it’s like the final boss of relationship issues — once you get a handle on it, everything else is going to feel much easier. I hope this article gives you some ideas about how you can start to do that.

If you’d prefer to listen, I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. You can find it on this page (player below), or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Definition of Enmeshment

Enmeshment happens when two people are over-involved with each other on an emotional level. One or both partners may feel responsible for the other’s emotions, sometimes to the point of struggling to recognize their own feelings. One partner may prioritize the other’s needs and desires over their own. They might seek a lot of validation from each other, struggle to make decisions independently, and experience a lot of anxiety and frustration any time they’re not in perfect agreement. 

Enmeshed relationships can happen between friends, or between parents and children, and within entire family systems, but emotional enmeshment is especially common in romantic relationships. When someone has a pattern of creating enmeshed relationships as an adult, that’s often because they played some dysfunctional roles in their family of origin, like feeling responsible for taking care of adults as a child, or trying to be the peacemaker between family members. Fortunately, it is possible to learn new ways of being that will help you find balance and create a healthier relationship with your partner.

Signs You’re In an Enmeshed Relationship

Read these sentences and ask yourself if any of them sound true for you:

  • I can’t do XYZ, because if I do, then my partner will be mad / hurt / disappointed. 
  • My partner is upset, so I must be doing something wrong (cue shame and guilt). 
  • I can’t be happy if my partner isn’t happy (cue efforts to change how your partner feels, and resentment when it doesn’t work). 
  • I need my partner to agree with me before I can make any big decisions (cue nasty arguments, more resentment, and a sense of stuckness and stagnation). 

These enmeshed ways of thinking can lead to high levels of conflict and reactivity in your relationship. When you believe you need your partner to agree with you, or to feel a certain way so that you can feel a certain way, it makes sense to feel frustrated when that’s not happening. You may work really hard to convince your partner to adopt your point of view, and you may defend yourself ferociously against any inkling of criticism if you have trouble allowing each other to have different perspectives. This is how enmeshment leads to nasty fights, and why it’s often the root issue when couples are constantly arguing in their relationships

Here are ten signs of an enmeshed relationship:

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  1. Needing to be in touch with each other constantly when you’re apart.
  2. Letting friendships and other relationships wither away.
  3. Losing sight of your own needs vs. your partner’s needs.
  4. Not having any hobbies that you pursue without your partner.
  5. Taking pieces of your partner’s identity on as your own.
  6. Feeling guilty when your partner is upset, even if it’s not about you.
  7. Needing to be on the same page about everything, from politics, to religion, to food preferences.
  8. Experiencing your partner’s emotions as if they were your own.
  9. Feeling responsible for saving or “fixing” your partner.
  10. Experiencing anxiety whenever you’re apart.

Many people in enmeshed relationships feel like they are being controlled or stifled by their partner. What they usually don’t realize is that they’re buying into a false story: that their emotional state depends on whatever their partner feels, says, or does. This creates resentment, because it genuinely feels like your partner is making you feel bad when you’re emotionally enmeshed. And how dare they!

Finally, being in an enmeshed relationship can erode your sense of self. You might have trouble setting goals that are separate from the goals you share as a couple. Spend enough time in an enmeshed relationship and you might feel like you don’t even know who you are anymore, or what you want or need. Over time, this can lead to depression, and even greater dependence on your increasingly unhealthy relationship

How to Stop Enmeshment in Romantic Relationships

Your relationship should not deplete you emotionally, it should be a place of renewal. It should support your personal growth, not stimy it. It should make being the best version of yourself feel easier, not farther out of reach. All of this becomes possible when you begin to shift from enmeshment to healthy interdependence in your relationship.

Stopping enmeshment in your relationship requires you to set boundaries, both internally and with your partner. It means remaining sensitive to your partner’s feelings and needs, without taking them on as your own. 

Here is how you can begin to do that:

  1. Recognize enmeshment for what it is

You can’t undo the enmeshment in your relationship until you recognize it and acknowledge the ways it is harming you and your partner. If part of you still believes the myth that enmeshment is a sign of emotional intimacy, true love, or being “soul mates,” that will keep you stuck. 

  1. Interrogate guilt and shame

People in enmeshed relationships often feel unhealthy guilt or shame when they set boundaries with their partner, take time for themselves, or when their partner is upset or unhappy. When you notice yourself feeling guilty in your relationship, ask yourself whether that’s really warranted. 

  1. Set healthy boundaries

The boundaries you need will depend on your unique needs and your relationship. Some examples of healthy boundaries include: having privacy and physical space to yourself, saying “no” without guilt, and taking responsibility for your part in relationship issues, while allowing your partner to take responsibility for theirs. Healthy boundaries could also look like learning to listen to your partner without trying to “fix” the problem for them.

  1. Develop your identity

Some people get into enmeshed relationships because they don’t have a strong sense of self. This is especially true for people who grew up in emotionally enmeshed families. When you focus on yourself, your own goals, and other relationships in your life, you strengthen your sense of self, as well as your relationship with your partner. 

  1. Get support

It’s one thing to recognize enmeshment in your relationship, and another thing to change that unhealthy pattern for good. This is deep work that’s operating at the level of your attachment — way below the surface of your conscious mind where you can easily make shifts by “thinking your way through them.” Working with a good online couples counselor who understands enmeshment can be a game changer. The right expert will be able to help you fundamentally the way you relate to your partner, creating healthy separation, greater security, and changes that last.

Support for Enmeshed Relationships

I hope this article helps you begin to untangle the web of enmeshment and move toward interdependence. You deserve to enjoy a healthy relationship where there is space for both people’s needs, wants, and feelings to be honored and respected. That is true intimacy and you deserve nothing less. 

If you would like to do this important work with a couples counselor on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby


P.S. — For more advice on building a more balanced relationship, check out my “healthy relationships” collection of articles and podcasts.


Music in this episode is by Solskin with their song “We Are One.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://solskinmusic.bandcamp.com/.  Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

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Are You In an Enmeshed Relationship?

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. If you’ve been feeling annoyed or irritated or otherwise disappointed with your significant other lately, it may not actually be about your partner but rather a sign that you’ve fallen into enmeshed relationship dynamic. Yea. Identifying that and then fixing it can bring the joy back to your relationship, and that’s what you’ll learn how to do on today’s show.

Today’s mood music is by Sólskin with the song, We Are One — beautiful song, beautiful idea, but actually a great example of what not to do if you want to have a healthy and enjoyable relationship, and not wind up resenting the heck out of your partner. Great song, though. You can learn more about Sólskin on Bandcamp — solskinmusic.bandcamp.com. Beautiful song and fantastic entry point into today’s topic. Because, you know, let’s get real.

We all love the idea of being “one” with our person. We are united, we are together, we’re connected, we share a life, we understand each other — all those things are fantastic. And if you take them too far, they can actually become very problematic and the source of a huge amount of conflict and upsetness in a relationship. Because the goal of a great relationship — a healthy one — is related to interdependence, healthy interdependence, not emotional enmeshment.

Emotional enmeshment is a different thing, and it’s difficult to even see it or understand it when you’re doing it, when you’re experiencing it, for a lot of good reasons that we’ll be talking about today.

So over the course of our time together today, you’re going to learn what emotional enmeshment is; where it comes from; how to recognize the signs of it in yourself, and your partner, and your relationship; and most importantly, some of the new mindsets, ideas, and ways of being that will help you correct this dynamic so that you can create some emotional space in your relationship and be less reactive, more calm, your communication will improve — all the good things. I hope that you get some really actionable takeaways because of this time together today. So I’m so glad you’re here.

So let’s just dive into this today. I really wanted to make a podcast for you on this topic, because recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from you guys through Facebook, Instagram, through our website growingself.com  around communication. Communication can be complex. I think, you know, “we have problems with communication” can be a global term, and yes, communication is problematic.

We need to slow down and be less reactive, work on emotional intelligence skills, maybe even practicing things in a different way. I mean, there’s a lot of communication skills that can be learned.

But what I know from many, many years of experience as a marriage and family therapist is that communication itself can be strained for different core reasons. So, 10 couples might come in the door saying “we would like to improve our communication,” but there may be 10 different reasons why communication is feeling difficult and fraught.

What I often see in my practice, as a marriage counselor and couples therapist, is that the reason why communication can feel so difficult in many relationships is less about the communication skills but more about this underlying emotional dynamic around emotional enmeshment.

In order for communication to improve and for the relationship to feel easier, we need to spend some time diving into that enmeshed relational dynamic and correcting it and just even developing awareness around it and skills for managing that. Once that is in a better place, then the communication skills part are much, much easier because people are feeling less emotionally reactive. They’re less triggered and upset than they used to be in communication because the emotional enmeshment piece has been managed differently. 

I always want to make these podcasts just like my counseling work — to be truly meaningful for you. So I don’t want to waste your time with some communication podcast about “say please and thank you” and “use your ‘I’ statements.” I mean, those things are all important, but for you to really walk away with a more developed self understanding of why communication can feel so hard. Now, again, this is not a dynamic that is true for every relationship. I think we all can fall into this if we’re not careful, but some people are more vulnerable to creating an enmeshed relational dynamic than others.

For example, if you grew up in a family of origin, where you as a child really needed to manage the emotions of others — maybe you had a super reactive parent or a parent that would fall apart or get upset in an angry way, you were kind of struggling with problems or if you were in a more parentified role as a child, if you had to manage things in your family — you are probably very good at even subconsciously, like automatically, sensing how other people feel, or feeling apprehensive about how other people could feel and then modifying your own behavior or communication or way of being.

As a result, you’re reflexively, proactively managing an emotional dynamic, whether or not you’re fully aware that you’re even doing that. But if you can relate to anything about what I just said in terms of your family of origin experience, you may have a tendency to do enmeshed emotional relationships. 

Let me tell you a little bit more about what this means. So we’ll define our terms here. So to be emotionally enmeshed with somebody is to be consciously or subconsciously, taking a lot of responsibility for the way that someone else feels or what they do. And vice versa, that you probably feel strongly influenced on the inside how other people feel or how they are being.

So for example, if you ever feel like your partner’s moods are kind of contagious, if your partner is upset, then it brings you down; you can’t have a good time if they’re not okay. Or if it’s hard for you to make unilateral decisions if you’re worried that your partner might be upset about something — you become very cautious about making sure that there’s this alliance before you do anything.

To some degree, that is very helpful, that we’re not just going off and making unilateral decisions about all kinds of things if we, especially, if we think that they might upset our partner. But where it becomes problematic is if you’re doing this to the degree where you feel like you don’t have autonomy over your own life. Like, “I’d really prefer to just stay at home and watch TV tonight, but I can’t say that because I think my partner would feel upset. They’d be disappointed. So I’ll just go ahead and get ready and go out and just not say anything.” So it’s very subconscious. It’s very subtle

And again, to be generous, to be kind, to flex in your partner’s direction once in a while, that’s fantastic. That’s a sign of being a good and loving partner. But where this begins to come problematic in enmeshed relationships, is where it is habitual, it’s automatic, and where it happens so often that you are really prioritizing your partner’s needs, rights, feelings over your own to the point where your own needs, rights, and feelings get obscured.

You’re not talking about how you feel, you don’t feel that you have the ability to assert yourself in appropriate ways, you’re kind of going along with a flow, or you’re taking responsibility for things that your partner could do.

If you’re like most people, that works for a while, probably feels nice for your partner; it creates a stable relationship. But over time, it will lead to this resentment, this annoyance, this weight, like feeling like you have to do everything, feeling like the weight of the world is all on you, you do everything, they don’t do anything, and that it feels out of balance. Because you have been consciously or unconsciously taking on all this responsibility upon yourself because of the subconscious impulse to manage your partner’s feelings for them.

An additional piece of emotional enmeshment can be two different ends of the extreme. On the one hand, conflict avoidance can be a big part of this, and it makes sense. Listen, if you grew up in a family of origin context, where you had a parent who was, not an emotionally safe person, and it wasn’t okay for you to say, “I don’t want to do that. I’m not okay, I don’t like this,” you learned very quickly to not do that.

So there can be this subconscious expectation that if you say, no, if you say, “I don’t like that,” if you assert yourself and say, “I would prefer to do this instead,” it’s associated with this almost instinctive expectation of something bad happening. Like, “I can’t do that. I need to stay quiet. I need to just do this thing. They’re gonna get upset, it’s not worth the fight. It won’t change anyway.” That could turn into all kinds of different mindsets. But again, it’s that mindset that’s part of what keeps this dynamic stable in a relationship.

Again, it’s very easy for us to be projecting our own feelings and ideas and expectations onto our partner, that are, you know, just a direct line from what we learned to be true in our family of origin, we assume those things to be true about the partners that we connect with and may or may not be true.

But if you have a tendency to create enmeshed relational dynamics, you won’t find out because you’re not going to operate in a way that would foster that kind of “conflict,” that productive assertiveness that would help your partner grow and show you whether or not they actually can’t handle it if you don’t want to go out on a Friday night, you’d rather stay home, right? You’re not even going there. So that is one thing that will create enmeshed relationships. 

Interestingly, the converse of that, is that a very, very common relational dynamic is that when people tend to give and give and give and overgive and deny themselves and manage somebody else’s emotions at the expense of their own habitually over time, they begin to feel resentful, and they begin to feel like really irritated and angry. Like nobody can do that indefinitely, right? So what you’ll see is actually more emotional reactivity in relationships. After a certain point, five years in, everything your partner does is annoying, and you feel irritated. You may feel contempt for them because of the mindset that you’ve been engaging them with. You may have developed this narrative that they never do anything, they put everything on me, there’s no space for me in this relationship, they’re so selfish — all these different things — as an outgrowth of how you’ve trained them to be with you in a lot of ways.

But when you get to that point in a relationship, the communication often becomes very tense. There’s a lot of criticism, there’s a lot of contempt, there’s a lot of frustration that gets expressed in overt or subtle ways. Short term, stabilizes a relationship. Long term, destabilizes the heck out of it because all of us have our breaking points, like we can only handle so much. So that’s one manifestation of an emotionally enmeshed relational dynamic.

Another manifestation of this is a kind of… What we were first talking about, that’s kind of like a caretaking emotional investment. But another one is around this emotional enmeshment. So that it’s like a contagious reactivity that shows up like, if your partner is not okay, you can’t feel okay. Or if you don’t feel good, your partner can’t feel good.

Like there has to be this unity, this union, this emotional fusion. The reason why this is really problematic is because when any of us feel something, it is 100% our own responsibility to be developing emotional intelligence and emotional regulation skills so that we are able to manage our feelings.

So, quick recap of emotional intelligence skills that we’ve talked about in past podcasts, but there are four parts. One is being able to recognize how you are feeling on the inside. Two is being able to understand why you’re feeling the way that you’re feeling and then be able to manage that. So “I’m thinking about catastrophic thoughts right now, and that’s not really helping me.

So I am going to shift this into a more hopeful perspective.” Or maybe “I’m feeling stressed because of this thing that I’m doing, or this way that I’m operating. So here’s what I’m going to do differently in order to calm back down, feel more in control.” So these are all emotional management micro skills that emotionally healthy people develop over their lifetimes. So that’s steps one and two of emotional intelligence.

But steps three and four are being able to do the same thing for others. It is being able to understand how another person feels accurately and also why they may feel the way that they do. And then step four is to be able to interact with that other person in a way that strengthens the relationship, that is positive for the relationship. So it’s relationship management skills.

So “I understand how I feel. I understand why that makes sense and what I need to do to be okay emotionally,” and “I can notice how this other person is feeling, why that might be. And then from that, I understand how I can communicate or respond to that person in a way that fits the situation and is likely to have a positive outcome as opposed to a negative outcome.”

So when emotional enmeshment happens in relationships, that sequence of things gets disrupted to a degree. Often, when we’re in an emotionally enmeshed relational dynamic, sometimes, it’s because we have not developed our own ability to recognize and manage our own feelings.

And therefore, we outsource it. We feel dependent on somebody else to help us change the way we feel. We require our partners to say certain things to us, respond to us in certain ways, show up for us in certain ways. When they don’t give us what we feel like we need to feel okay on the inside, we can feel worse.

So there’s this emotional dependence on another human to regulate your own inner feelings that, of course, as you can understand just hearing this, becomes very problematic very quickly, because first of all, it’s not their responsibility to manage your feelings for you, that is your job. But also, nobody can, I mean, nobody can be this perfectly perfect human who always knows what to say and what to do and doesn’t have their own feelings or their own reactions.

No person is going to be able to respond to you just right in order to help you feel the way that you want to feel in that moment. So it will always be frustrating and disappointing ,and that’s where you have lots of fights about “how you’re talking to me” or “what I really need from you right now is XYZ.” So that is one manifestation of an emotional enmeshment in that kind of relational way. 

But another piece of it also relates to this feeling of apprehension about your partner’s feelings. It’s a little bit different from what we first started talking about, which is more of the caretaking behaviors or communication styles.

But you’ll notice if you worry a lot about how your partner is feeling — they’re irritated, they’re upset, they’re stressed, they’re exhausted, they’re whatever — but feeling that it is your responsibility to make them feel better, that’s your job, so you have to show up in a certain way, communicate in a certain way, maybe not say things that are on your mind, kind of like that walking on eggshells sort of feeling around someone. But the thing is, is that in an emotionally enmeshed relationship, you guys are doing that together.

So maybe you’re co-creating this narrative, maybe you believe that you’re responsible for your partner’s feelings, and that you can’t say XYZ because they’ll have feelings about that. And there’s this mindset that them having feelings about something is bad, and we need to prevent that from happening. That’s not true, actually.

A different mindset would be: “My partner might have feelings about that, and that is okay. They are a different person than I am, we are allowed to have differences of opinions, we are allowed have different feelings. And just because they feel upset about something doesn’t mean that I do. We’re two whole humans, and our goal here is to understand each other and be empathetic and responsive, but also hang on to ourselves within that, so that we’re each showing up in authentic ways where we’re appreciating our differences and making space for each other, but not at the expense of our own emotional well being.”

So there has to be that balance there. But it’s very, very easy to get into the subconscious kind of collusion where one person feels responsible for the other person’s feelings. And the other person may feel legitimately needy, right? Like, “I don’t know how to manage this if you aren’t what I want you to be right now.” So it’s a real growth opportunity for both people in this situation.

The person who takes more responsibility than they should needs to be, first of all, aware of that tendency and practice. Think, “How how do I feel right now? How do I like actually really feel about this? And what do I want to do with that? How can I communicate this appropriately and find a positive solution here with my partner? But also, how can I be okay with them maybe not feeling 100% okay because I’m not being as gratifying as they would like me to be right now?” And that is okay.

Because the person on the other side of this then gets to experience their own growth moment. “My partner is not being perfectly gratifying right now, and I’m having feelings. So this is an opportunity for me to practice my own emotional intelligence skills. How do I feel right now? Why is that, and what are the skills and strategies that I need to be practicing and doing and managing so that I am okay, no matter what my partner does or doesn’t do? Because my ability to manage myself and not being reactive all over the place is part of the prerequisite for having an emotionally healthy relationship with another person.”

You can have your feelings, you can be upset, that’s fine. It’s not gonna hurt you. And there are okay ways to communicate this, but if your answer to managing your own feelings is controlling your partner, like “you need to do this in order for me to feel okay,” that’s not a realistic expectation. So lots of growth opportunities for everybody in this enmeshed, dynamic situation.

And I know that you’re hearing from this all of the ways that this shows up in communication and how it can impact it negatively and create these weird dynamics that truly are unsustainable for people in the long term.

By now I’d like to shift and talk about how to stop enmeshment in romantic relationships. If you are about to do premarital counseling, we can prevent enmeshment in real romantic relationships. That’s always the first choice.

But you know, if you are in a long term relationship and listening to the sound of my voice and feeling seen right now, there is a path forward and your relationship shouldn’t deplete you emotionally, and you shouldn’t feel dependent on another person to feel okay about yourself. That’s not fair for either of you.

In a great relationship where two people are on a path of growth, this is the work. So the fact that this is happening doesn’t mean that there’s something catastrophic. I mean, most people blunder into these kinds of dynamics unknowingly, just, that’s what we do.

So the goal here is to be the kind of person who can look around and be like, “What is going on right now?” And then use this as a growth opportunity that benefits both of you and becomes just another beautiful stepping stone on the path towards emotional maturity, emotional intelligence, and keeping your own side of the street clean, being being a healthy person, the kind of person who can have a great relationship.

None of us know these things about ourselves until we get into relationships, and then understand what we’re doing and have a chance to correct them. And that’s where the growth moment lies. So no shame if this is happening. This is what it is, this is what we do. Okay.

But so the steps to correcting this, the steps to correcting this, first of all, is really learning how to first identify the fact that enmeshment is even happening, and you can’t undo it until you acknowledge that it is happening.

This can be the hardest part for a lot of people because this stuff is often so old, like we’re trained to do this from either a very, very early age. Or from a very early age, we were not exposed to the kinds of life experiences that would help us develop emotional intelligence skills. So the hardest part, I think, is just understanding how you show up and what your patterns are.

This is actually one of the biggest advantages of getting involved with couples counseling or relationship coaching with somebody insightful. You might show up saying, “We would like to improve our communication.”

But then as you dig down into it, and this might be six sessions later, okay, your couples counselor might say, “Okay, I see what’s going on here.” And that’s when you get this mirror held up to you, where you have the opportunity to say, “oh, yeah, I think that is what I’m doing. I didn’t even realize it. Because it’s so automatic.” So I just wanted to say that because that first step can truly be be the challenge. But it’s important, it’s important. 

Another way of understanding if that dynamic is there would be how you answer questions like, “Do you believe the myth that you guys should be in unity, that you should feel the same way about different things, that you should be an agreement about all things, that you should be partners in all things?”

And if that is not true, there is a problem. If you ever tell yourself, “I can’t do XYZ, because if I do, then my partner will be upset. So I just can’t because then being upset is a really bad thing.” Like if you’re not consciously saying that you feel like upsetting your partner would be really bad, so you avoid it.

Or if your partner feels upset, sad, disappointed, whatever, you are taking responsibility for that. “Must be something I did,” you’re personalizing it. Or you feel like it is your responsibility to fix that somehow, like their distress feels intolerable to you. So you’re either trying to manage it or fix it, or feeling upset with them for having feelings, because when they’re upset, you’re upset. So if you don’t want to feel upset, they can’t feel upset. And if they do, now you’re mad at them. So that would be another sign.

And if you really need agreement. If it feels like if you want to do something, and they don’t want to do that thing, then you can’t do it either. That would be a sign of enmeshment in your relationship.

So just be thinking about those because that can be a sign or, again, going back to the beginning, if you’re feeling resentful of your partner or even controlled by them — and I’m not talking about like control control, like domestic violence, intimate partner violence takes control to a whole new level. Those are highly enmeshed relationships in the most toxic way. We’re not talking about that.

In garden-variety normal range of relationships, people can still experience themselves as being controlled by partners, who are not actually trying to control them, because of these enmeshed relational dynamics.

So just because you experience being controlled doesn’t necessarily mean that you are being controlled. It could be this old stuff that we’re talking about today. But, again, if you resonated with the control thing, that would be something you might want to get checked out by an MFT, particularly if you’re worried like, “is this a toxic dynamic?” because that can certainly get pretty ugly. Okay.

So once you have identified the fact that it’s there, the next most important thing to do is get very clear about your mindset. So if you have a mental narrative that involves guilt or shame for your partner’s feelings — feels like you can’t set boundaries because XYZ — do everything that you can to make that narrative very, very explicit.

When you do that, then you can kind of talk back to it. Like, “yeah, you know, that might have been true with my mom, and this person is not my mother. And it’s actually okay for me to do XYZ because I’m allowed to have some space for myself in this relationship. I can go out and see my friends, even if they’d rather that I stayed home, once in a while, because I also need space here,” right.

Just being able to kind of have that conversation with yourself, but also having it in a productive and authentic way with your partner. We’ve talked a lot on past podcasts about communication strategies, but being sensitive to your partner’s feelings and needs, having empathy for that, communicating your understanding of that, and also finding productive and constructive ways to talk about your own feelings, thoughts, preferences too so that you’re able to come into this as authentic equals, where each of you are bending in each other’s direction sometimes and creating space for each other, rather than prioritizing one person’s preferences over the other person’s preferences.

If you don’t want to feel resentful in your relationship, that’s the price of admission, is having these courageous conversations where you say, “actually, this is how I’m feeling, I’m worried that it might upset you for me to say that. The alternative here is that if I don’t, and if we’re not talking about this, I start feeling resentful. I love you so much, I want to have a good relationship with you. So it’s important for us to be acknowledging this and figuring out what we can do together that feels good for both of us.”

Additionally, working on setting healthy boundaries with yourself and with others is a big part of this. So self boundaries would include monitoring and limiting your caretaking or emotional management tendencies that you give towards other people. If you’re like, “Oh, I am over-serving right now,” you set a boundary with yourself, pulling back.

But also setting boundaries with others, if you’re aware of a dynamic where there’s this unconscious expectation that you are responsible for somebody else’s feelings, you could say that out loud. “I understand that you’re upset right now. I care about you so much, and I am totally willing to sit here with you and be an emotionally safe person. And we both know that it is not my responsibility to help you manage your emotions. I am totally here to create a collaborative life with you that feels good for both of us. I know that it’s important for you and I to be united about important things, and I want to be a good partner for you. And that also doesn’t mean that it’s the you show and that we’re doing all of your rules and your preferences and your things. I need a little bit here too. And I know that you love me as much as I love you, and I’m confident that we can find a path to the center.”

So having boundaries is being emotionally available, vulnerable, authentic, but also clear on what your own limits are, and that requires some self reflection. We’ve done other podcast episodes on the subject of boundaries, and it might be helpful to go back and check some of those out.

The first step in having healthy boundaries is knowing what it is that your boundaries are. And if you have a lifetime of managing others and paying more attention to how other people feel than you have with yourself, you might not even have clarity about what your boundaries need to be. So there’s a lot of work that can be done there.

Then certainly, for both of you on this path of healthy interdependence is developing your own identity and working on yourselves. It’s really the central idea that in order for you to have a healthy, satisfying relationship, you need to be an emotionally healthy whole person. That doesn’t mean that you have to be alone, it doesn’t mean that you have to be perfectly perfect. But like all of us that you are actively proactively working on yourself. What are my patterns? What are my ways of being? How do I show up in relationships? What is it about my way of being that could possibly be contributing to the experiences that I am having in this relationship? 

That can be an uncomfortable idea to sit with, but it can also be so empowering. Because if, in fact, the way that you’re showing up is impacting your relationship in less than ideal ways, it also means that through your own growth work, you can change that relational dynamic.

When you start showing up differently, when you stop accepting responsibility for things that are not your job, it then creates spaciousness for the person that you’re in a relationship with to grow, which is very good for them, and is also really good for you too. Doing this can be hard work, but it’s so worth it because not only will you grow, but your relationship will start to feel more fun. It will finally be able to change in really positive ways that feel better for you.

So this is a big topic, and I always feel weird about some of these, because I’m talking about all of this deep personal growth work, like you could just flip a switch into it. It’s, for most people, this is a complex process. Most people need support in this process, honestly, even to identify the patterns, again, because they’re so automatic, we don’t even see them.

But also to understand how to communicate differently, how to lean into a situation that might feel like conflict. If you’re used to being enmeshed and doing that emotional caretaking, it can feel anxiety-provoking to start using your voice. So that can be one piece that could really be worth support.

On the other side, too, if you’re in an emotionally enmeshed relationship with somebody who has been taking care of you, when they start not doing that, it’s going to feel stressful for you. It’s going to feel difficult, and you’ll probably need some support and like, “Oh, okay, what do I do with this now because I haven’t had to?” So to have somebody who can be coaching you through the emotional intelligence process on your own will help strengthen you, help you stand on your own two feet so that you can be a whole person in this relationship too.

Well, thank you so much for joining me for this important topic. I hope you learned some things during our time together today that were helpful for you. If you would like to talk about how this is showing up in your relationship, we are here. You can schedule a free consultation meeting with me or any of the counselors or coaches on my team here at Growing Self.

They are marriage and family therapists, which means they have specialized education, training experience in these kinds of systemic dynamics that we’ve been talking about today, and a very, very different orientation than what you’ll find with a counselor that has a clinical mental health background. This is not part of their repertoire. Typically, this is the purview of marriage and family therapists.

So if you want to do this work, find an MFT. If you want to do it with us, come to Growing Self and schedule a free consultation. And in the meantime, I hope you enjoy more Sólskin and think about the illusion of the fallacy of craving “we are oneness” and think about how you can cultivate healthy interdependence in your own relationship. Talk to you later.


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