Preventing engulfment in a relationship

Preventing engulfment in a relationship

Engulfment and enmeshment

Engulfment refers to an all-encompassing immersion into a relationship; losing yourself in your new partner, or new friendship. It includes the belief that one only exists within, or cannot exist outside of, the relationship. This can cause difficulties including a feeling of dependency on your new partner and a loss of your own identity. Equally, such intense feelings can overwhelm the other person and cause them to withdraw. Such strong feelings can lead to desperate behaviours to keep someone close.

Another, related, concept is that of enmeshment: being overinvolved in one another’s life’s. This can happen in romantic relationships but also in family, for example parent to adult child relationships. Enmeshment can occur when both people are immersed or engulfed in the relationship and both fear a potential separation.

Some people are more likely to experience engulfment in a relationship. If you experience a fear of abandonment, low self-esteem or experienced trauma during early childhood then you are more likely to become immersed in a new relationship.

How to prevent engulfment in a relationship

If you recognise that you are prone to becoming engulfed by relationships, then try the following strategies:

    • Learn about yourself: reflect on your own life experiences and how they have led you to fear abandonment and crave engulfment
    • Name your fears to your partner: instead of behaving in response to your fears, talk about them. Acknowledge what you are scared of and discuss the reality of your relationship
    • Practice balanced thinking: avoid considering any loved one as wholly good or wholly bad. All people have their strengths and flaws
    • Stay healthy: practice mindfulness to keep things in perspective and keep your mind and body healthy. Most things can be viewed more reasonably when your emotional and physical needs are well met
    • Vary your social network: ensure you reduce the likelihood of becoming engulfed in a relationship by ensuring you maintain friendships, relationships with family members and hobbies

If your partner, friend of family member encourages engulfment in a relationship, then try the following strategies:

  • Maintain boundaries: ensure that you stick to any emotional or physical boundaries you have
  • Be compassionate and understanding: often the person who is encouraging engulfment has an underlying sense of fear. Talk to them; acknowledge their fear and invite them to share it with you. If they do, don’t dismiss their fears but validate and empathise with how they feel
  • Vary your social network: as above, ensure that you have access to other relationships outside of this intense one

Seeking relationship support

If you and your partner are experiencing difficulties in your relationship, including engulfment, then professional support may help you to process your difficulties and revive your relationship. If you would like to discuss the issues spoken of in this article or seek couples or individual therapy, then contact Dr Julie Hannan now on 07530 854530.

Relationship issues can also be related to midlife issues. Dr Julie Hannan specialises in midlife concerns; further information can be found at