You met this person and you connected. After a few months or years of knowing each other, you decide to tie the knot. Everything is perfect in your world now.
As you set out to live your life together, you encounter the first signs of discord. Your partner wants to involve their family in all your decisions. Whether asked or not, the family is always breathing down your neck with suggestions, opinions, and advice.
Enmeshed families are hard to manage, especially if you are not used to them. A family is termed enmeshed when the personal boundaries are not clearly defined or respected. For a person who grew up in a free environment where independence and personal freedom are valued and respected, this can be daunting, to say the least.
But is marrying into an enmeshed family all that bad? After all, they do care a lot. In fact, the basic problem of an enmeshed family is that they care too much. When someone cares about you, there is bound to be some good in it.
This article explores the topic of marrying into an enmeshed family and lays out its pluses and minuses. You will find here suggestions on how best to deal with the enmeshed family of your partner.
What is an enmeshed family?
The dynamics between the members of a family have to be just right for it to function normally. We often hear about the conflicts, neglect, and abuse in dysfunctional families. At the other end of the family spectrum is an enmeshed family with its unhealthy family boundaries.
Strong familial bonds are good and vital for a well-functioning family. However, too much of a good thing can also upset the balance.
In any kind of healthy relationship, there have to be well-defined personal boundaries. The boundaries may change from individual to individual and family to family. But there are no two opinions that boundaries should exist.
In an enmeshed family, either the parents are over-reliant on their children for their needs or emotional satisfaction or they are too involved in their children’s lives that they are not allowed to develop their own identity or make their decisions. Enmeshed parenting leads to enmeshed boundaries.
For someone growing up in an enmeshed family, the ramifications are huge. Either they take on the role of a parent in the family, running the home, taking care of their siblings, offering everyone emotional support, and even providing for everyone once they start earning.
In some cases, it will be the other extreme. The parents are controlling and overbearing, not allowing the child to grow up as a well-adjusted individual. Without their parents, they feel unable to make decisions. They tend to run to their parents for advice and feel lost without them.
What are the ramifications of marrying into an enmeshed family?
In case you too come from a similar background, you will not find it too hard to adjust to. However, if you grew up in a healthy family that respected individual freedom and personal boundaries, you may have a hard time understanding the dynamics of your new family. You may even have trouble reconciling to the behavior of your partner.
What makes it all the more difficult is the simple truth that your partner has no clue what is troubling you. All they are used to are enmeshed relationships. They find this normal. In fact, they think that their family has closer and stronger ties. They may even look down upon your family and your upbringing for being too uncaring and disconnected.
This clash of beliefs can be hard to deal with if you are unprepared for it. This is a situation that needs to be handled with kid gloves. Unless managed with delicacy, diplomacy, and tact, what started as a dream can turn into a nightmare in no time.
Accusations, blame-game, heated words – your daily life will get filled up with them all. At the end of the day, you will feel miserable, hurt, discontent, and distressed. This will make you wonder if it is the same person you knew before. And ask yourself why you took the plunge.
Is there a better way to deal with an enmeshed family?
Good boundaries do make good families. But can you make it work by changing your perspective?
The answer to this is not a simple yes or no. You definitely can make an enmeshed relationship work with suitable adjustments. However, it is not everyone’s cup of tea. Not many can make these adjustments. So, ultimately, it is up to you to find the answer to this dilemma.
That said, here are some suggestions on how to handle the problems of enmeshment in marriage and derive some positives from it.
1. Know yourself:
If you are confused about what you want in life, others can mess around with you easily. To avoid this, you need to have a good understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, and goals in life. Maintain your focus on your dreams no matter how overpowering external influences are.
2. Assert your authority and set clear boundaries:
This is the most difficult part of them all. You can control your mind and what you do but expecting understanding and cooperation from others may not work. But don’t give up easily. Push your agenda as it is your life at stake here. Your partner’s enmeshed family may not respect the boundaries you have set. Repeat it as many times as needed without losing your patience.
3. Find someone you can trust to share your emotions:
No doubt, walking the tightrope of an enmeshed relationship can take its toll. Having too many negative emotions cooped up in your mind is not good for you. Unloading some of it on someone you can trust can lighten your mind. They may be able to help you with constructive suggestions.
Seek professional help: If you feel that things are going out of control, don’t hesitate to get professional help. You may start with individual sessions and if it is not working, you may have to move on to couples’ counseling.
Can you expect anything positive from marrying into an enmeshed family?
The answer to this is again not simple. It depends on how well you can handle the enmeshed family of your partner. If you learn how to deal with them without compromising on your individual freedom, you can look forward to some positives in them.
Whenever you want help, your partner’s enmeshed family is right there for you, oftentimes, even without you asking for help. In times of a major or minor crisis, you will find this a blessing.
In case you or your partner lost your jobs and want financial support, they will be right there for you. Medical emergencies, long-term or short-term loans, or emotional support, you can have them all without much prompting.
Whenever your nanny doesn’t turn up, you can always rely on them to fill in. When you are organizing a big party and feel overwhelmed by the effort involved, all you need to do is ask. They will rush over and do anything for you without a murmur.
In times like this, you may even start thinking that your partner’s enmeshed family is way better than your so-called healthy one. However, it all depends on how you handle yourself and your relationships with each member of the family you are married into.
Enmeshment is not restricted to your partner’s family alone. As your partner is raised in that environment, he may turn your relationship into an enmeshed one. You may have trouble defining boundaries with your partner as well.
Enmeshment in romantic relationships is best avoided if you are thinking of it as a life-long arrangement. Again, it entirely depends on what you want and how you want and can handle the situation.