How to Spot Signs of an Enmeshed Relationship

What is an enmeshed behavior?
on October 13, 2023
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

Everyone wants a close, loving, and nurturing relationship, but how close is too close when it comes to love? 

Enmeshed relationships may seem like a good thing at first, but emotionally bonding yourself to your partner in such an extreme way can breed negative consequences. While relationships should provide you with happiness, they shouldn’t dictate your every emotion. 

If you feel like you might be in an enmeshed relationship, it’s important to know how to spot signs and learn how to untangle yourself before it’s too late! 

What is an enmeshed relationship? 

Not all close relationships are healthy, and without boundaries, it is possible to be too close to your partner.

If your mood is defined by their well-being, or if you consistently disregard your own needs to make them happy, you could be in an enmeshed relationship. Within this dynamic, personal autonomy is lost, with every aspect of your life determined by your partner’s emotional well-being. 

As you strive to meet your romantic partner’s needs, it’s easy to disregard your own sense of self, losing touch with your own needs, wants, and aspirations. In this relationship dynamic, there is no ‘I’, only ‘we’. If your partner doesn’t want to do something, you don’t want to do something — that’s that. 

No matter the dynamic in question, these relationships involve a significant blurring of boundaries, resulting in extreme personal involvement in each other’s lives that could have detrimental consequences on the relationship. 

What is the difference between codependency and enmeshment?

In an enmeshed relationship, your emotional identity is intertwined with your partner — there is no one without the other. In this way, their emotional state is entirely defined by that of their partner, if their partner is unhappy, they’re unhappy. 

While similar in some aspects, codependent relationships involve both partners focusing so intently on their partner that they lose sight of everything else. 

Both of these dynamics lack healthy boundaries, with individuality sacrificed in the process. 

“One way to identify a codependent relationship is when an individual prioritizes their partner's happiness over their own well-being,” says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist and In-House Expert at Paired.

“This is known as enmeshment, where the focus shifts from maintaining one's own sense of self to being excessively involved in every aspect of the partner's life, leading to a loss of personal identity. People express feeling like they have lost themselves within the relationship. They realize that they have solely concentrated on their partner's goals, desires, and requests, neglecting their own needs and resulting in an imbalance.”

It can take a lot of courage to even realize that is happening and that you need support to find yourself again.

What are signs of enmeshment?

No alone time: If you’re in an enmeshed relationship, the inability to set boundaries results in a complete lack of alone time. Without personal or emotional space, it’s very difficult to come to terms with your own emotions, as this type of relationship deprives the person of their emotional autonomy.
Doing everything together: Everyone enjoys companionship, but if you do everything with your partner, it’s very hard to formulate your own identity.
Anxiety when apart: In the rare times that you’re apart from your partner, you feel extreme anxiety or restlessness. This makes it difficult to enjoy yourself while you’re out with your friends, as you’re constantly thinking about your partner.
Constant contact: While you’re apart, your partner constantly stays in touch with you. As you respond to this constant communication, it makes it difficult to form healthy relationships with others as your focus is somewhere else.
Emotional responsibility: Feeling responsible for your partner’s feelings and emotional needs is a huge indicator of an enmeshed relationship. This kind of fixation can hugely impact your mental health, with constantly facilitating your partner’s needs becoming very draining over time.
No individuality or sense of self: Since enmeshed couples spend all their time together, it’s very difficult to hold on to your own individuality. If you only have friends, hobbies, or ambitions that are tied to your relationship — it’s very hard to carve out your own life or identity.
Disregarding own needs/emotions: With a lack of boundaries, it’s easy to forget about your own needs as you prioritize your partner’s well-being. Seeking constant validation from your partner makes it easy to dismiss your own needs — eventually forgetting about them entirely.
Emotional dependence: Without any emotional boundaries in place, enmeshed couples become entirely dependent on each other for their overall happiness. These patterns make for a very unhealthy relationship dynamic — with the relationship dominating every aspect of their lives.

How does enmeshment affect relationships?

When you’re in an enmeshed relationship, without the time or space for self-reflection, it can feel completely normal to prioritize your partner’s emotional needs above your own. 

However, while prioritizing your partner in this way can feel reflexive and normal, pinning your own emotional worth on another person is not a healthy relationship pattern. Without any boundaries in place, this kind of relationship dynamic makes it difficult to recognize toxic behaviors that appear. 

While it’s normal to rely on your partner, to depend so heavily on your romantic partner is a recipe for disaster. If you pin your self-worth on your loved one in this way, this can take an emotional toll over time, as you lose sight of your own individual autonomy. This means if the relationship breaks down, it leaves both you and your partner at a loose end — without any of the emotional support they’ve become accustomed to. 

Enmeshed relationships are not limited to romantic relationships, with this dynamic also seen between parents and children, siblings, or even within an enmeshed family. 

For example, in a parent-child relationship, the parent may insert themselves into their child’s life to an extreme degree. While feeling empathy for your child is normal, this heightened emotional connection is so strong that all boundaries are broken down. 

While the desire to be protective is normal, this can breed dysfunctionality, making it difficult for adolescents to develop their own interests or identities outside of their families. 

Many people might see a close familial relationship as a positive thing, but this enmeshment can have negative consequences on those involved, resulting in a loss of autonomy and warped attachment tendencies. 

How can enmeshment be detrimental?

Enmeshment relationships can be detrimental to your emotional well-being, as linking your own feelings with your partner has a multitude of negative consequences. 

If you’re involved in an enmeshed dynamic, the lack of boundaries makes it difficult to preserve your own autonomy. Spending all your time with your significant other, eliminates the personal space provided by alone time, making it more difficult to see things clearly. 

While synchronicity in a relationship can be beneficial, this emotional sync can leave you untethered if this bond breaks. The repercussions of an enmeshed relationship break-up can have an incredibly lasting impact, as you recalibrate without that person with a diminished sense of self and a complete lack of self-esteem. 

In terms of enmeshed families, this dynamic can have a lasting effect on the individual’s ability to create healthy relationships outside of their family members — as their individuality is lost. 

How to deal with enmeshed relationships 

Even though enmeshed relationships have a negative impact, it doesn’t mean they can’t be remedied or prevented. 

If you feel yourself starting to become emotionally intertwined or enmeshed with your partner, it’s important to put the right kind of boundaries in place to prevent these patterns from emerging. 

Recognize the problem: The first step in any toxic dynamic is recognizing that unhealthy patterns are forming, and doing all you can to remedy that!
Emotional needs: It starts by untangling your emotional needs from your partners and taking the time to recognize and prioritize your own feelings. This doesn’t mean being disrespectful toward your loved one, but separating your happiness from your relationship.
Set boundaries: Learning how to say no in your relationship isn’t always easy, but it's necessary in order to preserve your own emotional well-being. With healthy boundaries in place, it’s easier to retain your own personal autonomy and preserve your own feelings.
Explore individual interests: Even though your partner may be your safe space, it’s important to step out of your comfort zone and pursue your own interests. This could mean starting a new hobby or trying out for a local sports team, with this activity providing you a creative outlet away from your relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between a healthy relationship and an enmeshed relationship?

    There are very clear differences between a healthy relationship and an enmeshed dynamic. In a healthy relationship, both partners retain their individual autonomy while being on the same team — supporting each other as they chase their own ambitions and goals. However, in an enmeshed relationship, couples are so joined at the hip that there is no possibility for individuality — every goal is a joint goal. This breeds an unhealthy dynamic in every aspect of the union, and can quickly lead to toxic or unhealthy behaviors.
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