Throughout history, marital relationships’ strength and desirability has been based upon social, economic, religious and survival factors that were modulated by philosophical, cultural, societal and emotional views. Traditionally, the man had the power and authority to make most major decisions within the union.
Today’s modern relationships are based upon equality between mates in most aspects of their lives. Has this new formula that was intended to promote a stronger, safer connection between partners actually given way to a new version of emotional-interdependence that compromises some individuals’ autonomy and wellbeing?
The focused emphasis on a bonded relationship has created for some a dilemma about how to best maintain their individual autonomy while respectfully embracing the mate’s different concerns, fears, worries or preferences.
Salvador Minuchin, the creator of Structural Family Therapy, introduced the concept of partners’ “Enmeshment” as “The blending of two individuals’ realities as though they were one person.” His studies found that “when enmeshment occurs between a parent and a child it hinders the youngster’s ability to become independent, autonomous and self-sufficient.” It has the same outcome between mates.
The difference between being in a close and intimate relationship with one’s partner or being “enmeshed” is that in the latter both partners are expected to always be of one mind and matched emotions. Some pairs erroneously believe that their “enmeshment” is actually the ideal version of couple’s efficacy and unity.
Healthily bonded pairs welcome the individual differences in their thoughts, feelings and attitudes and regard them as enriching their individual perspectives, stimulating their intellectual discourse and enhancing their emotional intimacy in their forever evolving life views.
Those individuals who insist that their mate match their views to achieve unified thoughts, feelings and attitudes as evidence of their compatibility and strong union, are often unaware that this may be a form of demanded subservience in service to the initiator’s control of the relationship. Some mates who are expected to always be of one mind on all issues may not be aware that this is not a necessary aspect of a loving relationship and that this “rule” may actually hinder their autonomy and wellbeing.
In “Family System Theory, Attachment Theory and Culture” Fred Rothbaum and Associates reported their research findings. “In Western culture marital relationships are seen as secure when they are based on romance, verbal intimacy, and sexuality.” The absence of research findings about a need for uniformed opinions, feelings or attitudes as essential prerequisites for healthy and successful couple relationships speaks for itself.
Is your relationship bonded or enmeshed?
- Realize that a need for consistent matching of thoughts, feelings, opinions or choices between mates is NOT evidence of a healthy relationship. Compromise is!
- Be respectful of your mate’s attitudes, opinions and emotions even when they greatly vary from yours.
- Resist being seduced into the notion that differences harm your union.
- Trust that attentive consideration for each other’s thoughts, feelings and actions can lead to mutual loving solutions and heightened love connection.