Joined at The Hip? Nine Typical Dynamics that Represent Merging

Happy couple bumping hipsFusion is defined as the desire for two people to merge into one another in personal relationships, and refers to an immature connection to the other fueled by a fear of separation. The desire for this type of connection is motivated in part by an unconscious fantasy of bliss through unity. Eric Fromm in The Art of Loving talks about immature love being like the symbiotic relationship between mother and infant. Perhaps it is a desire to retreat into a safe haven from the world that creates such a strong pull in all of us for fusion.

Society encourages this type of unity by popular romantic notions of two halves make a whole, and finding the perfect fit. If we are to assume that society expresses our collective unconscious then we are all struggling with this desire for fusion to escape the ravages of life and the dangers of being alone in separation.

In the beginning of romantic relationships, partners turn a blind eye to the differences between them. It is all about the similarities and connection. This blissful state of being in love is often described in the language of a symbiotic fusion. For example: “I’ve found the perfect fit,” “We are so connected it is almost like he knows what I am thinking,” and “Finally, someone understands me.”

In addition to a desire for a symbiotic fusion we also have a need for independence. As the relationship progresses, the partners’ individuality begins to become more evident and relationship struggles occur as they come to terms with their differences. Relationships continually flow between connection and separation. The desire for fusion is therefore not the only force between partners, but it is the one I am focusing on in this article. There are two main ways in which fusion is expressed in relationships-–the first is by a dominant/submissive dynamic where there is only one person in this relationship and that is ME! The second is a dependent dynamic where you will be the head and I will be the tail and together we will make one body.

So lets talk about examples of both types. The following represent the dominant/submissive dynamic.

1) The need to be Right. I see many couples that struggle with determining who is right and who is wrong. Being right assumes an absolute reality that validates only one person’s perspective. The partner who is proved wrong effectively has no perspective and becomes insignificant. In this way there is a merging of both partners into the perspective that is right.

2) Control. Where one person feels they have a right to determine the other person’s choices. They make judgments that put their partner down because it is not in line with what they would choose. Often this comes up when one person thinks the other should do something different e.g., be more ambitious, or more social, or go for counseling, or be cleaner around the house. Attempts to control their partner can be seen as an attempt to make them more like oneself. Extreme forms of this can result in abuse, where one partner invades the other on emotional and physical levels.

3) Compromising and conforming. Compromising him/herself to avoid conflict. When one person accepts the influence of the other, even though they do not agree. Compromise can occur when he or she feels that their own perspective will never be accepted, or requires too much effort and they don’t want to fight about it, or they believe compromise is part of healthy relationships. They have effectively sacrificed themselves to the will of the other. This does not have to happen as a result of their partner being controlling, either; it happens quite often simply to avoid conflict.

4) You don’t support me. Expectations around how you should support each other are tied to set ideas about how you show love. Not feeling supported is commonly experienced as having to do things on your own and brings up fears of separation. For example, one client was having difficulty with a friend and wanted her partner to be as angry as she was, and if he wasn’t, then she concluded that he didn’t support her. She felt unloved just because her husband did not feel the same way. This intolerance for the times her partner has a different experience, and whatever that means to her, I believe is an intolerance of the separation issues it brings up.

5) Misery loves company. Where couples feel that they are unable to experience different emotional states. This can apply to any emotional state that one or both feel is not allowed in the relationship. Typical examples are if one person is miserable, the other feels guilty for feeling any excitement or happiness and downplays their experience. The person who is feeling miserable may resent others who are feeling happy which puts pressure on those close to minimize their joy. When we are the only one feeling miserable, we have to contend with being alone in our misery.

The second form of fusion is a dependent dynamic where each partner comes to rely on the other. Now in all relationships this is to be expected–but when dependency diminishes the person and experiences of separation are threatening, it becomes a problem. The following are examples:

1) Assigning tasks. In all relationships, there develops a cooperation where partners tend to take care of different areas of their life together. However, what can happen is that they become ‘helpless’ about the area that their partner is in charge of. For example, taking care of finances versus doing the laundry.

2) Joined at the hip. This represents the inability of partners to do different things. A couple has a huge argument that nearly resulted in them divorcing over being separated when they were on holiday together. One wanted to go to a quiet part of the beach and the other wanted to go where there were lots of other people. They used all sorts of manipulations to get their partner to go where they wanted to go. It never occurred to them to go off by themselves and then come back later to share their experiences. Having different experiences is threatening, especially if you feel incomplete in yourself.

3) Responsibility for the other. Here each partner can take responsibility for personal functions that the other has somehow become incapable of performing. Picture the man who turns to his partner and says “what was the name of that movie we went to see?” his partner has become his memory. Or needing the other to determine what clothes you should wear, or what you should eat or do.

4) Mind reading. “If you really understood me and knew me (if you loved me), then I wouldn’t have to explain; you should know this!” Feelings of not wanting to explain and wanting someone to just “know” are common. Another version of this is when the person has expressed something once and they feel misunderstood or not heard and they refuse to continue to explain because the other “should get it by now.”

These lists are not complete but will give you some ideas about how fusion works in relationships, and perhaps you can see some of these processes in your relationship. The more relationships are built on this desire for fusion, unresolved conflict is likely to occur. Simply put, fusion encourages a lack of self-definition. As a result, both partners will experience deprivation as they struggle to be their own person and at the same time feel pulled in the relationship to be less than whole. All relationships struggle with these tendencies but as we can be aware of how we create these dynamics then we can continue to become whole. In the words of Rilke:

“Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?). It is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in herself, to become world, to become world in herself for the sake of the other person.”

© Copyright 2008 by By Delyse Ledgard, MA, therapist in Vancouver, British Columbia. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 10 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • Margo

    Margo

    June 12th, 2008 at 4:12 PM

    I honestly do not think that there can be a healthy relationship when any of the above factors are allowed to come into play. A healthy realtionship is about loving the person that you are with but also being able to grow and learn and love while you are away from him or her as well. There needs to be no manipulation when you have truly found the right person for you.

  • Christopher Diggins

    Christopher Diggins

    June 15th, 2008 at 7:48 AM

    A post fromhttps://www.goodtherapy.org touched on another of my favorite topics- the balance between intimacy with another and intimacy or connection within oneself. We must be able to connect internally or innerpersonally and externally or interpersonally. The post eloquently addresses what is problematic in relationships, merging and dependency, and it is common for these to occur since growing and connecting in relationships can only occur in relationships. We cannot do it alone. We must find that balance between inner and outer connection. How do we do that?

    https://www.goodtherapy.org/custom/blog/category/articles-relationships/

    My experience as a therapist and as a relationship partner tells me that we have to be able to use this “problematic” behavior as the catalyst or as the pathway to develop a solidity in ourselves and from this place be able to be present in our own experience and then be present for our partner as they go through their emotional healing experiences.

    The reason for dependency and merging is our emotional past stored in “implicit” memory. We must be able to identify and separate our unhealthy dependency from early life relationships and not “act it out” in current adult situations since the relationship partner cannot fix this dependency. The other can help us heal this dependency from our past by helping us be with and heal the pain. This is a slippery road.

    Hedy Schleifer’s online presentation a few weeks ago on goodtherapy.org was extremely helpful in this endeavor. She spoke of “crossing the bridge” where one person crosses into the others world to be with their experience and to set ones own experience aside temporarily. This is not supporting depency or merging and it is extremely helpful for both partners to be in one’s world and get to know this experience. Most people have never had the benfit of this connection.

    In Interpersonal Neurobiology this connection is seen as having an impact on the limbic brain of both participants where new neural pathways are created as well as oxytocin being generated. The more oxytocin the more potential for connection and the more connection the more oxytocin. This process of healing is based on these neurological changes which can bring about permanent changes not only to neurons but also to genetic makeup as well. (See Daniel Siegel)

  • Donna

    Donna

    June 16th, 2008 at 6:15 AM

    I have been in irresponsible relationships like this before where I have found myself thinking that if he loved me more he could read my mind, etc. There is such a neediness in these types of scenarios that it can wear you down to nothing. It really helps me to read articles like this to know where I never want to be again.

  • david

    david

    June 16th, 2008 at 7:10 AM

    christopher,

    there is a really interesting conversation between Siegel and Daniel Goleman that deals with precisely your point in interesting ways. you can find it on the publisher’s website morethansound.net, best, david

  • Christopher Diggins

    Christopher Diggins

    June 16th, 2008 at 5:56 PM

    david,
    I listened to the dialogue between these two creative scientists and I liked the part about the 90 year old woman who never learned to talk or learned the language of the mind. I was moved by the event where she was sad that she did not get the part in the play and was punished for being sad. I was reminded of being in my own family and being punished or humiliated for having feelings. I did not learn the language of the mind either and what this really comes down to is not learning the language of the heart.

    The pain of the loneliness for the child in these situations is much worse than the disappointment of not getting the acting part. This lack of connection, the pain from this, the rise of cortisol levels cause damage to the brain, the limbic brain and creates neural pathways which lead one to certain, unhealthy behaviors like what John Gottman calls the four horseman- withdrawal, stonewalling, contempt, and blaming.

    And the healing process occurs when the individual learns to create new neural pathways as the plasticity of the brain allows this to occur. This new science, Interpersonal Neurobiology, is a wondrous discovery. There are also suggestions that we can not only change neurons but genes as well. All of this happens as a result of connecting with core emotions and establishing the emotional connection with others.

    relationalcounselingseattle.com

    Christopher Diggins

  • Lisa Kift

    Lisa Kift

    June 28th, 2008 at 5:52 AM

    I saw Daniel Siegel speak a few yeas ago and it was fascinating. It was the first time that I learned that new neural pathways can be forged which can recondition people’s reactions – either individually or in a relationship.

    We as therapists have such a unique opportunity to help facilitate this process with our clients – particularly individuals who have never been modeled validation, empathy, concern, etc. It’s a testament to the potential power of the therapuetic relationship.

    It’s very exciting and I look forward to learning more about Interpersonal Neurobiology. I didn’t realize changes can occur on a genetic level as well. Wow!

    lisakifttherapy.com

    Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

  • Nikki

    Nikki

    June 29th, 2008 at 11:00 AM

    I think that merging with someone on such an emotional, intellectual, and physical level takes a great deal of time along with trial and error. There are so few people who are willing to put in that kind of time and make their relationships a success.

  • amyhop

    amyhop

    June 30th, 2008 at 9:58 AM

    Why is it that the element of independence completely disappers for some people when they get involved in new relationships? That is not a concept that we need to lose and yet so mnay of us do.

  • Lisa Kift

    Lisa Kift

    July 2nd, 2008 at 4:51 AM

    If we’re strictly talking about “new” relationships, I believe some of this is a natural response to the honeymoon phase of a relationship. Many people will likely move back towards some independence at some point.

    In other cases, where there’s a tendency for a person to lose their independence in relationships as a whole – clues to this can lie in emotional attachment (or lack of) to our primary caregivers. A lot of people in my couples practice who have a tendency to lose themself in another had emotionally unavailable parents. These unmet needs can be carried into adult attachment relationships (intimate partners).

    Poor self concept can be a result of not feeling loved – or rejected by a parent (particularly the opposite sex if they are heterosexual). If the person carries the belief “I’m not lovable,” they may attempt to gain their self worth in another.

  • runninfast

    runninfast

    July 20th, 2008 at 11:11 AM

    Thanks Lisa I totally agree with your comments. There is a time where you do merge completely with the person in your relationship, and that is typically in the beginning. But in the long run those in healthy situations find a way to regain themselves again without losing the specialness of their relationship. That is what we should all strive for rather than being those who just competely give up who they are for the sake of keeping a relationship going. That can be dangerous.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

 

 

* Indicates required field.

Therapist   Treatment Center

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog

Title   Content   Author