couples

"There's no privacy": 6 signs you're in an 'enmeshed relationship', and what this means.

How close are you with your partner? Like close, close?

For example, do you share the same group of friends? Do you have this weird thing where you can 'feel' each other's emotions as if they're your own? Do you feel uncomfortable making a decision without them there? Or hate spending time apart?

While there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a loving, supportive partner, experts say that there's a line between being caring or loyal, and being part of an unhealthy 'enmeshed' relationship.

Watch: Here are some of the biggest relationship red flags you need to look out for. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

Because when this line is crossed, things can get... tricky. There can end up being a lot of frustration, resentment, and dissatisfaction. 

So how do you know if the love you have for your partner is 'normal', or a sign of co-dependency? And what can you do about it? We spoke to Lysn psychologist Bethany Howsley to understand more.

What does an enmeshed relationship mean?

First off, let's break down exactly what the term 'enmeshment' means, shall we? 

According to Howsley, it describes a relationship between two or more people where there is a lack of, or unclear, personal boundaries. So, basically we're talking about codependency. 

And it doesn't strictly relate to romantic relationships, either. Enmeshment can occur between parents and children, siblings, or several family members together. 

"There can often be spoken or unspoken expectations whereby individuals are expected to think, feel, and behave in certain unified ways," she explains.

"When enmeshment exists, individuals are emotionally ‘fused’ together in an unhealthy way. There is a lack of clear separation from where one person starts and the other person ends."

When this happens, Howsley said it becomes really difficult for people to experience true independence and permission to form their own ideas, opinions, and beliefs and to act from their authentic self.

What are some of the signs you're in an enmeshed relationship?

The thing is, it's really easy to mistake enmeshment for love and support. So, there are a few important red flags you have to look out for.

"There are several behaviours which may indicate that you are in an enmeshed relationship or grew up in an enmeshed family environment," adds Howsley.

Some of these signs may include:

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1. You're responsible for someone else's emotions.

When you love someone, you don't like to see them sad or hurt - and that's totally normal.

But when your partner's pain becomes your own pain, and you start to take on their own personal burdens like they're your own, this may be a sign of enmeshment. 

"You feel responsible for others’ moods, emotions, reactions, as well as their wellbeing and happiness. You may also find that your own emotional state is dependent on other people around you," said Howsley.

While it's important to support and be there for your partner, taking on their emotional state can often mean that you'll both struggle to move forward and out of a bad place.

2. There's no privacy.

While honestly and communication is really important in any relationship - whether it's a romantic relationship, friends or family - if you're constantly dishing out every little private detail and decision of your life, this is a major red flag. 

The blurring of boundaries and over-protectiveness can result in an unhealthy dependency. 

For example, "Your parents want all the intimate details of your life and/or you find it difficult to ask for privacy and live your own life," said Howsley. 

Sound familiar? 

3. You never know what you want.

When you become really emotionally invested in a relationship, there can come a point where you feel like you can't do anything yourself - and you become heavily reliant on the other person.

"You find it difficult to know how you really feel and what you want," said Howsley. "On the contrary, if you do know, you may find it difficult to express your needs, thoughts, feelings, and opinions to your loved ones."

4. You have the strong need to 'fix' or 'rescue' people.

If you consistently feel like you need to 'fix' those around you, this could be setting you up for a co-dependant relationship.

On the flip side, Howsley said you might have a strong desire for someone to save or rescue you.

"This can often be the case when we have grown up in an enmeshed environment where we are constantly focused on the other person, whether that be making sure that the other person is okay, or otherwise always needing another person to be okay."

5. You feel guilty setting boundaries.

If you're struggling to communicate boundaries and stick to them, it's important to think of why you feel this way. 

Is it because you're scared of hurting someone's feelings or making them upset? Or maybe they're already angry and now you wish you never brought it up? 

"You can struggle to set boundaries with the people in your life because you feel bad or guilty for doing so. This difficulty can be linked to childhood where we may have been shamed or made to feel guilty for behaving in a way that our caregivers did not approve of." 

Interesting.

"If our caregivers made us responsible for their emotions, then it is likely in adulthood that we will feel overly responsible for other people’s feelings and struggle with setting healthy boundaries."   

6. You let your needs fall by the wayside.

Because you're always focusing on other people's problems and putting everyone else first, you might often end up neglecting your own needs. 

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According to Howlsey, this is another common behaviour that can stem from our childhood. 

"You find yourself self-abandoning and betraying your needs in order to focus on the needs and wants of others. This is often a behaviour that we learned in early childhood to stay ‘connected’ to our caregiver, which ultimately allowed us to feel safe."

"We may have learned how to please our caregivers and perform to receive love, affection, and approval. These behaviours then become reinforced and form unconscious habits that we re-enact in our adult relationships, which ultimately leave us neglecting ourselves."

Are there any ways to fix an enmeshed relationship?

So, what happens if you've checked off A LOT of the above points? 

First off, don't stress. This is actually really common. And there are a few things that can help, no matter what stage you're at in your relationship.

According to Howsley, there are no quick fixes to healing enmeshment. However, there are certain practices and behaviours that can help to begin connecting you back to yourself and moving you into healthier relationship dynamics.

Here are three of the most important steps you can take to gaining back your independence and being responsible for your own emotions:

1. Spending time alone. 

How much time do you usually spend alone? 

While it might sound simple, finding some breathing room and doing something just for you - whether it be cooking, meditating, going for a walk - can have a bigger impact than you might think.

"While it isn’t healthy for us to be alone all the time, having time on our own is essential to connect with and truly know ourselves," said Howsley. 

"Try scheduling some regular time for you to be alone, to check in with yourself, and engage in any practices which help you to connect with yourself, such as journaling, meditating, going on a hike or walk in nature or doing something you love."

2. Practice exploring and setting your own boundaries. 

"If you are unsure of what this would look like, there are many amazing books and online resources that can help you to start getting in touch with boundary setting and know when [your] boundaries are being crossed." 

"Seeing a therapist can be very beneficial in the process of exploring our boundaries."

3. Start dedicating time to connect with your own hobbies, passions, and interests. 

Remember how good you were at painting? Or how you always wanted to run a marathon? You should totally do it!

"This may be challenging, particularly if you have often made decisions based on what your family/partner/friends want you to do," said Howsley.

"If you do find it difficult to think of hobbies or things that interest you, spend some time reflecting on what you enjoyed as a young child. This can help to reconnect us back with our natural talents and interests."

Have you ever experienced being in an enmeshed relationship? What are your thoughts? Share with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: Getty