Bonding of two separate items—wood, metal or people—increases the strength, usually. Sometimes two independent forces work against each other, creating new vulnerabilities, magnifying weak spots and eroding composition of one or both bonding elements. Two partners, connecting through love and trust, become stronger, combining resources, protecting and supporting against the damaging winds of outside forces. Our narcissistic self-promoting culture scoffs at social needs, claiming freedom from burdensome ties is the ultimate strength. This is not so. We are social animals. Millions of years of evolution have formed minds and emotions to bond with others, not to roam the planes free of connection.
Entangled Relationships: When the involvement of two people limits each others resources. The relationship holds each partner back instead of contributing to their growth.
Some avoid complex relationships and forge their own way. This works for some—requiring trade-offs. They still have a parasitic relationship with society, drawing from inventions, investments, economies and laws. Too many parasites feeding from a host without contributing and the gracious supporting life dies. This is true for large political systems and intimate connections.
“A co-dependent unhealthy relationship is fostered when two people agree to be partner’s in each other’s dramas.” ~ Gay and Kathleen Hendricks
Intimate relationships require dual sacrifice, vulnerabilities (interdependence) to survive with abundance. An interdependent relationship is healthy, encouraging liveliness—not bondage. Interdependence doesn’t unnecessarily infringe on the individual, destroying independence. Neither partner abandons their precious individuality; they maintain distinct and interrelated lives. Within the healthy partnership, a third entity is created—the relationship; no longer two people but two people become three (the individuals and the relationship).
A solid bond between living partners strengthens and lifts the individuals through their weaknesses. The relationship victoriously faces difficulties that might overwhelm the individual. The strength of the commitment invites the partners willingness for give-and-take trade-offs when the benefit isn’t immediately clear; but we sacrifice knowing the connection is worth more than immediate pleasures. The long-term stability or chaos of the relationship hints whether the relationship is bonded through co-dependent or interdependent connections.
Healthy connection lifts the participants higher, achieving more than they could individuality. The connection expands and enhances their lives. Conversely, the connection is worrisome and diseased when it contracts and debilitates life. Healthy connections encourage creativity and kindness; unhealthy connections isolate and spur meanness.
Subjective evaluations of the strength of our relationship may miss the accumulating corrosion disconnecting the power. Although our relationship may be massaged in our mind to be something it is not, the blasting of self-worth is real and dampening. The co-dependence snags willpower to grow on the unmovable nails of fear—terror of change, horror of abandonment.
What is a Entangled Relationship?
An entangled relationship is co-dependent. Gay and Kathleen Hicks refer to co-dependent relationships as entanglements (1992). An entanglement limits freedom. Each part impaired instead of enlarged. Imagine two power cords twisted and ensnared; the two cords chaotically wrapped with multiple knots and catches are shorter than the length of either individual cord when fully extended. Now picture two power cords straitened and connected, together the length is extended, exceeding the length of either independent cord.
"The same dramas, the same destructive habits, the same hurtful interactions all become part of the co-dependent entanglement."
Co-dependence is this unconscious agreement limiting each other’s potential. In the Hendricks’ words again, the basic contract is: “If I don’t insist you change your bad habits, you won’t leave me or make me challenge my bad habits.” (1992).
Daniel Siegel describes entanglements as instead of two separate people enjoying a connection, the partners become entangled, unable to differentiate the line between each other (2010, location 3146). They become entangled in each others emotions, behaviors, and preferences. Any act by one partner is only seen from the personal impact of that behavior.
The unconscious agreement written out in words shocks; but we hide these implicit agreements, beneath the nagging need to change, we hope for the security of sameness. When haunted by past partners who carelessly wounded and abandoned, we seek stability in the present—growth frightens, rocking the boat terrifies. The novel experience of being loved is not received with excitement but with fear.
Security and Entanglements
In a co-dependent relationship partners limit potential to create security. The fear of losing the relationship smothers the present moment benefits of the relationship. Instead of addressing the fears, they blame external elements that triggered the emotions. When one partner attempts to transcend the insanity, the other partner desperately pulls them back into the comfortable drama, undermining positive change. Around and around they go; holding hands, running together, pulling in opposite directions, expending energy chained to harmful cycles, never moving forward—entangled.
The same dramas, the same destructive habits, the same hurtful interactions all become part of the co-dependent entanglement. To escape the dreadful sameness, we must create boundaries enforced with ultimatums; but when fear of aloneness is the master, ultimatums are empty. The fear of loss outshines the desire to improve. Without boundaries (enforceable lines defining what is and isn’t acceptable), our hopes of change can’t be fulfilled. The individuals can escape the confining chains of co-dependent interactions; but not without the finality of boundaries; only then can we prevail over the inertia of sameness.
In the end, the security of the entanglement, limiting growth, denying novelty, and embracing of destructive habits usually wins the battle, “You keep your bad habit, I keep mine, and we live unhappily together forever.”
Common Elements of Entanglements
1. Lack of Emotional Intelligence
Emotions overwhelm one or both partners. Partners lacking in emotional regulation skills are unable to navigate the occasional choppy waters of intimacy.
See Emotional Boxing Match for more on this topic.
2. Dysfunctional Relationship Patterns
See Relationship Drama for more on this topic
3. Loss of Autonomy
Suppressing individual dreams, hopes and desires to maintain peace. Loss of autonomy in a relationship creates a fractured self. We lose confidence, fearing independent decisions.
The Hendricks state that "entanglement begins the moment you step out of an equal relationship with your partner and become an advocate for your victimhood" (1992, location 893). Entanglements forfeit self determined action for our personal wellness. Sorrows and joy become the responsibility of the partner to fulfill.
See Autonomy in Romantic Relationships for more on this topic.
4. A Power Struggle
The entanglement resist shared leadership. Individuals constantly clamor for power, manipulating with impunity.
See Contemplating Compromise for more on this topic.
Since the co-dependent relationship fails to provide basic needs of belonging, it magnifies insecurities. The healing benefits of emotional intimacy are missing. Instead couples must contend with unbridled jealousies and constant guessing about levels of commitment.
See Emotional Intimacy for more on this topic.
6. No Validation
Entangled relationships limit each other, pulling the other down. Validation builds confidence through joyful recognition of growth. When entangled, couples fear growth leads to moving on. Instead of lifting through validation, entangled partners limit with fear. "No one could love you like me," and "You don't need to go back to school, let me take care of you."
We can do better. We can enjoy the greatest source of meaning and happiness by learning to connect, successfully achieving interdependence, embracing the vulnerability, and finding security in trust.
The path is clear; but the journey excruciating. Extinguishing unproductive learning that interferes with basic functioning of a flourishing life requires expert guidance, incorporating new learning; but this is possible. New discoveries in brain science and psychotherapy have emerged over the last decade that give new hope.
We can bond with healthy connections even when our pasts engender devastating fears. We can enjoy a healthy, intimate relationship. We can find love that enhances our possibilities, nurtures our growth, and strengthens with security. We no longer need to be entangled in the mess of co-dependency.
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Hendricks, G; Hendricks, K. (1992) Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment. Bataam Publishing.
Siegel, D. (2010). Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. Bantam; Illustrated edition