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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Relationships: Resist the Urge to Merge

One of the challenges of being in a relationship is to maintain your sense of autonomy.  So that even though you're part of a couple, you still maintain the sense of being yourself as an individual rather than getting lost in your partner.  But so many individuals, who are in relationships, lose that sense of autonomy as the boundaries between them and their partners gets blurred and they begin to merge into each other.  

A composite vignette, which represents many cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates how individuals in a relationship can lose their sense of autonomy as the boundaries get blurred in the relationship:

Helen and Jack
Helen and Jack were both in their late 20s when they met each other at a mutual friend's wedding.  After dating for a couple of months, Helen moved into Jack's apartment.  Since they had only been dating a short time, Helen's friend  urged her to sublet her apartment in case it didn't work out.  But Helen didn't want Jack to think she had any doubts about their relationship, so she gave up her apartment to be with him.

They really got to know each other a lot better after they moved in together.  They already knew that they had a lot in common, but they also discovered that they had a lot of differences too.

For instance, Helen discovered that Jack had a deep resentment and mistrust for all religions.  Helen was raised with a strong sense of religion and she felt an emotional connection to her church.  She still attended her church every Sunday.  But when she realized that Jack had many negative feelings about the church, she stopped going because she was concerned that it might cause problems in their relationship.

Relationships: Resist the Urge to Merge

Her friends told her that Jack was entitled to his feelings, but so was she, and he should respect her feelings.  But Helen brushed this off and gave up Sunday services so she could spend all of her time with Jack.

After a while, Helen began giving up more and more of what she liked.  She said she was doing this so she could spend more time with Jack.  Her friends felt that Helen was giving up too much of herself and she was really blurring the boundaries between herself and Jack to the point where they seemed as if they were almost fused into one person.

Eventually, Helen stopped seeing her friends.  She only wanted to spend her time with Jack.  Jack also gave up most of his friendships to spend all of his free time with Helen.  After a while, not only were they spending all of their free time together, but they were also wearing clothes that matched each other to be even more "in synch" with each other.

But along the way, instead of being more in synch, they started getting bored with one another.  Since they were always together whenever they had free time, they had little that was new to say to one another.  Within a year, they were irritable with each other and arguing a lot.  A few months later, they broke up.

When Helen called her friends, whom she had not seen in quite a while, they were annoyed that she was contacting them now that Jack was no longer in the picture.  Most of them forgave her. And Helen realized that she had made a big mistake by allowing herself to become almost fused with Jack in this emotionally unhealthy way.

Merger or Fusion in a Relationship is a Common Problem
This vignette shows how individuals in a relationship can blur the boundaries to the point where they lose their sense of autonomy.  Not every couple merges to the degree that Jack and Helen did.  There are degrees of this problem, but it's still not healthy.

Being in a relationship shouldn't mean that you give up things that you really value, as Helen did with her religion.  When two people get together, there needs to be enough that they have in common, but there can also be differences that each person can respect.

Giving up close friendships is a mistake that many people make once they get into a relationship.  But it's important that each person have close relationships outside their relationship with each other.  This puts less pressure on the relationship and also allows each person to be an individual.

Getting Help
Merger or fusion between two people in a relationship is a common problem that many people face.  If you find yourself in this type of relationship and you're unable to work it out on your own, you could benefit from couples counseling with a couples counselor who has expertise in this area.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com


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