When you are longing for a fulfilling, adult relationship at eye level, but find yourself over a d over again in ordinary relationship, this could be due to an important aspect: The enmeshment of energies and personal spaces. This might sound weird at first. However it is one of the essential aspects why couples keep being stuck on the ordinary level. Let us therefore take a look at what’s behind it.
With regard to the evolution of relationship, the stage that follows the adolescent flirting stage is usually the relationship stage, which can be described as fusion. In this stage, low drama (the victim- persecutor-rescuer dynamic) and disputes are common. It is an emotional rollercoaster that feels pretty much alive at first, but in the end sucks a lot of energy. In this stage a certain co-dependency exists between the partners. This co-dependency might cause you to think that the partner is “yours” or that you “need them”. However, this kind of relationship is not an adult relationship at eye level, in which each partner owns their power and can take a stand for themselves.
The next step in evolution of relationship would be the step towards adult relationship on eye level. This kind of relationship is based on responsibility, mutual respect and co-creation instead of co-dependency. Each partner is centered in their own power. The relationship is nourishing and fulfilling. However, we don’t learn anything about how the shift from a fusion-like relationship to an adult relationship can happen. That’s why many people keep being stuck in the fusion stage. One of the main reasons for this is the enmeshment of energies and spaces on different levels. Such an enmeshment usually happens unconsciously and you only tell from the results that you create that you are in this stage; e. g. that the relationship seems to be exhausting and that a vapid aftertaste remains or you distance yourself from your partner (or the other way round).
Take into consideration that an enmeshment can take unconsciously on 4 different levels.
- Physical enmeshment
- Intellectual enmeshment
- Emotional enmeshment
- Energetic enmeshment
- The level of physical enmeshment
When physical enmeshment takes place in relationship then you mix your personal space with the space of your partner. Here are some examples for common physical enmeshment:
- You drink from your partner’s glass without asking.
- At the restaurant or even at home you nibble from their plate without asking.
- You put away things belonging to your partner without giving them a hint (e. g. when cleaning the apartment).
- Because you love your partner, you give up your activities/sports/hobbies that nourish you (because they might not share them).
- You agree to what your partner would like to do, in order to please them.
- You use stuff of your partner (smart-phone, bicycle, clothes, etc.) without asking them, following the motto „he/she would certainly agree anyway“.
- You regularly twitch at your partner, e. g. you remove a fluff from their pullover, arrange their shirt collar, etc.
- You keep touching them – independent to twitching – in order to get love
Your experiment: Have you ever experienced this or done it yourself? Check precisely which physical enmeshment might already be „normal“ in your relationship and happens unconscious.
- The level of intellectual enmeshment
Intellectual enmeshment has a different spin than physical enmeshment. Intellectual enmeshment happens for example in the following examples:
- You adapt your opinion to the opinion of your partner and thus float with the tide so that your partner likes you. The tricky thing about it is that you start believing that the adapted opinion is really yours.
- When your partner puts out a clear question for decision you answer „Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t you decide?“ or „Well, what would you prefer?“
- You control your partner e. g. by spying messages on his mobile phone, doing control calls to check where he/she is, etc.
- You often think about what your partner might think right now.
- You think that you have to think for your partner (e. g. because you think that they might forget something)
- You believe that you have to tell your partner what to do.
- When your partner has a problem, you think that it is also your problem. You solve their problems or give solutions without being asked.
- At the restaurant you order for your partner without asking them beforehand.
- When you are at a party and are asked, what you partner would like to drink (supposed they went to the toilet for a minute), you answer with an unexamined assumption and say e. g. “He always drinks beer.” (Instead of answering: “I don’t know what he wants to drink right now. Please ask him directly when he’s back from the toilet.”
- You patronize your partner.
- You keep reprimanding your partner (preferably in front of others). When they e. g. tell a story to friends you correct your partner, take over and the friends how the story really went according to your opinion.
- You apply your beliefs on your partner and assume that they think the same way you do.
- You confuse working together (e. g. working together on a project) with intimacy and forget that there is yet another kind of food and intimacy, which would allow you as a couple to actually be with each other.
Your experiment: Be radically honest: which of the above mentioned examples is familiar to you? Which further aspects of intellectual enmeshment are going on in your relationship?
- The level of emotional enmeshment
The third level is the so called emotional enmeshment. This kind of enmeshment mostly happens when you react emotionally. An emotion derives either from your past (child-emotion), has been taken over from others (parent emotion) or is invented out of the blue by your Gremlin (your own shadow part) in order to destroy intimacy and relationship. Here are some examples for emotional enmeshment:
- You try to suppress or swallow your feelings to keep the harmony. You e. g. don’t use your anger consciously to set clear boundaries.
- Your mood depends on the mood of your partner.
- You feel guilty when your partner feels something (e. g. they are angry, sad, afraid).
- You react emotionally and irresponsibly when your partner pushes one of your red buttons.
- You don’t have clarity about the difference between feelings and emotions and think that each emotion triggered by your partner has really something to do with him or her.
- You feel fear of loss when your partner would like to do something on their own.
- You are jealous when your partner talks to other people or goes out at night with others.
- You take revenge when you can prove that your partner seemingly did you wrong.
- You often play victim.
- You blame your partner, make them wrong and complain about things.
- You have unexpressed expectations and keep being disappointed that your partner does not fulfill them.
- You react in a defiant way when your partner does the things not the way you want them.
Your experiment: Look back at your relationship(s). In which way are/were your emotionally enmeshed? How does it show? What is typical for your relationship at this level of enmeshment?
- The level of energetic enmeshment
The fourth level – the level of energetic enmeshment – is probably the most difficult one to grab. At the same time it is the level that is almost automatically involved when enmeshment happens on the first three levels. Here are some examples for energetic enmeshment:
- You are energetically in the personal space of your partner. This means e. g. that you seem to sit normally next to your partner, but absorb them with your energy. For others it then becomes a sensible, sticky connection.
- You are consuming space.
- Due to unconscious patterns (e. g. experiences and decisions from your childhood) you are energetically cramping (i. e. you don’t even have to do or say something and it is already sensible).
- You are needy and behave like a little boy or girl.
- You are the source of scarcity instead of abundance; i. e. there is not enough love, not enough appreciation, etc.
- You are looking for love in the outside.
- You unconsciously project your father/your mother onto your partner. The mean thing about it is that it happens unconsciously so that you don’t realize it yourself at first. Only the results afterwards show what happened (e. g. in the form of misunderstandings, disputes, being pissed off, etc.).
- You “consider” the other person energetically (i. e. from the distance) and keep sensing towards them, because you probably worry about them and keep projecting your own fears onto them.
- You keep calling your partner or sending them short sms or whatsapp messages to superficially be in contact instead of being with each other on a deeper level. It is as if you would constantly say: “Cheep…here I am“…“Cheep…are you there, too?“
- You don’t know who you are when your partner is not around and experience kind of loss of identity (to a smaller or bigger extent). This happens e. g. when you are focused on your partner and regard them as your anchor in life.
- You partner is your all and everything, i. e. they ideally fulfill all roles at the same time: lover, friend, man/woman, companion, etc.
Your experiment: Again be radically honest. In which form are your energetically enmeshed with your partner? What is going on unconsciously at this level in your relationship?
It is very often not easy to clearly separate the levels of enmeshment. If you have developed a certain pattern because of a childhood experience, it is very likely that this pattern shows at all enmeshment levels at the same time: physically, intellectually, emotionally and energetically. The levels of enmeshment interact. If you have for example at the physical level the habit to twitch at your partner, this automatically involves the energetic level, because by twitching and touching him you invade the personal, energetic space of your partner. That means the boundaries are fluent and the enmeshment levels overlay each other.
To be able to create a fulfilling, adult relationship at eye level, it is absolutely necessary, that you become aware of the different levels of enmeshment and start to dissolve it. However, dissolving does not only take place intellectually (just by knowing about the 4 levels). It also takes place in 4 areas: physically, intellectually, emotionally and energetically. That means that you will feel something and might even be confused or tired in between. A part of you might not consider it to be very funny to do a detachment. It can even be painful to do this, because it means that you will have to give up a lot of habits. Depending on the degree of enmeshment it might even feel as if someone ripped your identity off your body. That’s just how it feels. Consider that you have unconsciously practiced the enmeshment probably over years or even decades, so that it has become like a second skin. So who will you be, when this enmeshment is gone? What will your relationship be like without enmeshment? You cannot know.
However, take also into consideration that you enter a great space full of possibilities. The only question that is relevant in this very moment therefore is: Are you willing to detach from your partner so that a fulfilling, adult relationship on eye level becomes possible?
Dissolving enmeshment in 4 steps
If your answer to the previous question is YES, you can go through the following 4 steps on your way of dissolving enmeshment.
Step 1: Dissolving the enmeshment starts with self-observation and radical honesty. Write down exactly which levels and which specific kinds of enmeshment you recognize in your relationship. Also ask your partner and friends for feedback when, where and how you cause enmeshment.
Step 2: Keep searching for the why. Why are you doing this? Where do you know enmeshment from? What have you experienced in the past? When did it start?
Step 3: Find a safe space, where you can probably do necessary feelings processes or something similar with a trained person in order to dissolve your old patterns and decisions that have so far caused enmeshment.
Step 4: Discover yourself, your partner and your relationship in a completely new way. Don’t know how it goes. Stay in not knowing. Try something new, ask for feedback, shift, and learn.
Subsequent to this article you will find an overview of the 4 levels of enmeshment in relationship that I have created for you. You can for example print it out and put it as a reminding factor at your mirror in the bathroom or another central spot at home, where you can see it several times a day.
Have fun experimenting.