Enmeshment, Money and Relationships?

Enmeshment is a term used in psychology and psychotherapy to describe a family system with diffused, undifferentiated, or non-existent personal boundaries between family members.

An enmeshed parent-child dyad involves a role reversal such that the child becomes the parent, and the parent is emotionally dependent on the child. Enmeshment creates a cascade of developmental, emotional, and psychological issues, including a child’s inability to individuate and mature into independence.

Children who grow up in enmeshed family systems often recreate enmeshment dynamics in their adult relationships, unaware of the cycle they are perpetuating.

A healthy family environment allows children to make mistakes, learn from their mistakes while testing the limits of their autonomy. A healthy parent-child dynamic is top-down. It nurtures and fortifies children with emotional tools and psychological strengths to handle life’s stressors. Enmeshment creates an unhealthy child-parent (bottom-up) inversion of that relationship. An enmeshed or neglected child tend to struggle as an adult because they often lack emotional confidence and fortitude to handle life’s psychological stressors; in particular they tend to live with crippling anxiety and fear.

Romantic relationships become particularly challenging for an enmeshed adult.  The intensity of the romance is tolerable for a short while; perhaps even welcomed, before the intensity triggers unresolved emotional suffocation by the parent. The relationship becomes a psychological albatross by which they are trapped. As a result, they become overwhelmed, withdraw, and exit the relationship.

Enmeshment, Money and Relationships are related in several ways.

  • Enmeshment impacts financial independence: An enmeshed child learns helplessness in childhood. As an adult they may depend on their partner for financial support, which can create patterns of financial dependence versus financial responsibility. This is often a recreation of an unhealthy child-parent relationship. In romantic relationships adults can create a power imbalance between partners.
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  • Enmeshment impacts healthy financial decision-making: Unhealthy enmeshment in relationships can cause individuals to falsely disempower themselves and overvalue their partner’s financial needs, thus making unhealthy financial decisions. For example, a person may stay in a job they dislike because they are—consciously or unconsciously, emotionally indebted to their partner. Or they may take on actual financial debt to please the partner and avoid the pain of abandonment or rejection by them.
  • Enmeshment creates patterns of controlling, or non-existent boundaries: Disagreements over spending habits, debt, and financial responsibilities strain even the best relationships. Adults who were enmeshed as children often lack boundaries in relationships, ignore or avoid others’ boundaries for fear they won’t get their needs met. Those enmeshed as children often seek safety as adults. Money is often used as a means to establish emotional safety. Due to emotional overwhelm, enmeshed adults may try to control money, their own or their partner’s, to establish emotional safety. As such, money becomes a tool or weapon for control. In some cases, one partner may use money as a way to control the other. This can take many forms, such as withholding money, monitoring spending habits or using money as a way to guilt or manipulate their partner.

You can learn more about enmeshment, money and relationships, by reading:

Coupleship Inc: From Financial Conflict to Financial Intimacy and

Battle of The Titans: Mastering the Forces of Sex, Money and Power in Relationships.

Contact Debra today to create healthy relationships!