One of the biggest problems we see in relationships these days is a lack of independence.
I’m not talking about where someone is financially dependent on a controlling and domineering spouse or anything like that. (That does happen sometimes, and it sucks…)
I’m talking more about what are called fused relationships or enmeshed relationships.
This is a kind of emotional dependence that can be quite damaging to a relationship. It can lead to clinginess, neediness, and resentment that can eventually destroy a relationship.
Maybe this doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense to you. So here are a few diagrams that might explain this better.
A Dangerously Common Scenario
When you first get together with someone, you are (hopefully) a complete and independent person on your own.
You have your own interests and things that you enjoy doing.
Then one day, you meet someone new.
You like how he plays the guitar and kicks a soccer ball around with his friends on the weekend.
He likes how you love to knit and study French in your spare time.
All goes great. You meet, the sparks fly. One date turns into two, then three. And before you know it you’re giving up little bits and pieces of what you used to do for the sake of spending more time with each other.
Your weekly “Francophone meet up” gets put on the sidelines and his jam sessions get put on hold for the sake of movie night and spending time together.
That’s totally normal in moderation, but if this becomes a recurring pattern, then these parts of your life start to disappear and leave an empty void.
Then the obvious thing to fill that void with is the relationship and each other.
Then suddenly, you find yourself in a fused relationship.
And if your partner is off on a business trip or isn’t around for one reason or another, you just don’t feel complete.
I can already hear a few people out there in the back row exclaiming:
“But… Isn’t That Romantic?”
Now, a lot of people will think that this is a good thing. They feel like they can’t live without their partner, that their partner completes them, that their partner is quite literally their other half (replacing the missing half that they surrendered to get into the relationship).
But as romantic as this may seem on the surface, this can actually be a very bad situation to be in.
On one hand, you’ve given up parts of yourself that initially drew the two of you together.
This means that the attraction might start to taper out and that spark… that connection… the chemistry just might not seem to be there anymore.
On the other hand, this creates an environment rife for manipulation, covert contracts, clinginess, and power struggles.
If you are in an enmeshed relationship, and one person decides they want to improve themselves by, say, getting out of their comfort zone and making more friends, it can come across as a threat to the other person.
Instead of seeing that their partner is working at bettering themselves they become worried that they’re trying to cheat on them, that they’re pulling away emotionally, or that they just don’t care about the relationship as much.
This is where the accusations come. The threats. The pouting. The attempts to get them to give up this attempt to make more friends. The “innocent” tries at sabotaging their efforts.
“I can’t believe you’re going out with your friends again! Don’t you care about us anymore?”
“But I already rented the entire third season of True Blood and got us a pint of Rocky Road. Wouldn’t it be so nice to curl up and spend all night catching up?”
“If you really loved me, you’d be here for me more often the way that I’m here for you.”
This is a common response when you’re in a fused relationship and one person tries to un-fuse the relationship.
To the other person, it can literally feel like they are losing the connection and even part of themselves.
That’s why they will often unknowingly sabotage or guilt their partner for trying to change things.
And even if their partner does comply, they’re only left with a sense of resentment and bitterness.
After all, they let friendships, dreams, and goals go for the sake of keeping their partner happy.
How to Be Independent in a Relationship
Okay, so being in a fused relationship isn’t healthy, and it isn’t going to help you or your partner really live fulfilling lives in your own rights.
What do you do to become independent?
The first step is to realize that any sense of clinginess, neediness, or dependence is a symptom of a void in your life that you are trying to fill with a relationship or a person.
No person will ever “complete” you, so don’t try to do that.
Instead, find things that you can use to fill the void yourself.
Take some time for deep introspection and ask yourself what you really want for your life and for yourself.
- What dreams have you put on the sidelines?
- What goals have you never given yourself permission to go after?
- What’s one change that you’d like to see in the world?
For example, I recently joined a men’s group with a few male friends. It’s fun to get together every few weeks to just joke around or to talk about some of the deeper issues that come with being a guy.
I also decided to learn how to cook several months ago. I enjoy picking out recipes for the week, learning new skills, and pairing different spices and foods together (I have a really great recipe for mashed cauliflower seasoned with coconut milk and cashews, if you’re interested!).
And even just taking the occasional evening for myself to read a book or write in my journal has been incredibly rewarding for me.
I’m not saying that these are the answers that will necessarily fit you. You’ll have to find what works best for you and your vision for yourself and the world.
Finding the Answers That Work for You
Being independent in a relationship can be a difficult thing to start with. Especially if you’re overcoming the inertia of being in a fused relationship.
You’ll have to set aside all of those impulses to fill the void with your partner or your relationship.
And you’ll have to look deeper at what you truly want for yourself and your experience of life.
But over time, having a life outside of your relationship will really help nurture your relationship. You’ll be able to have more experiences to connect on and there won’t be an oppressive suffocating feeling that you always need to do everything together.
If you’d like to learn more about how to gain independence in your relationship and do the things I wrote about in this article, the Passion Program would be a great fit for you.
We directly address the issues of fused relationships and independence in module 7. Plus much of the other modules help you get more in touch with yourself and what you really want for yourself so that you can have the healthy and loving relationship you really want.
If this sounds like something you’d like help with, we’d love to work with you in the Passion Program.
Clay drinks way too much coffee, will probably like any beer you can't see through, and loves blogging far too much to ever stop.