How to Deal With Enmeshment in Marriage?

The relationship between spouses is one of the most amazing relationships that can exist between two people, it must be nurtured and cared for.

Though it is expected that a husband and a wife would become attached to one another both physically and emotionally, sometimes that attachment becomes so excessive that it actually causes emotional or psychological harm.

Enmeshment describes a dysfunctional relationship between people in which emotional boundaries are so unclear that people have difficulty functioning or developing independently.

This article will examine how couples who find themselves in an enmeshed relationship can begin to restore balance to their marriages and ultimately allow for more growth and development in their relationship with each other and use it as a means to get closer to Allah.


One of the hardest parts about restoring balance to an enmeshed relationship is simply recognizing that enmeshment exists—in fact, spouses in such a relationship are often the last ones to realize it.

This is because they have often become so accustomed to their extreme attachment to one another that they think this is the way a marriage should be, the way that should bring them happiness.

Furthermore, couples in enmeshed relationships are sometimes so afraid of being along that they would do anything to convince themselves that their extreme attachment to their spouse is normal and healthy.

In many cases, one spouse is more excessively attached to the marriage than the other; For example, a wife might recognize she is in an enmeshed relationship, while her husband sees this type of relationship as the definition of love.

Consequently, any effort on the part of the wife to find some space and become less enmeshed is seen by her husband as not loving him. This is extremely problematic. The wife might constantly be made to feel guilty for trying to do her own thing or trying to have relationships with other family members and friends; She might often be told by her husband “you’re the only one I can trust or talk to, the only one I can count on,” and this becomes a very heavy load to bear.

Recognizing that one is in an enmeshed relationship thus, often requires one to step outside the relationship and examine it critically and objectively, inspecting its dynamics and assessing whether they are healthy or not.

By doing so, one can begin to recognize some of the following signs of enmeshment:

1- Not being able to tell the difference between one’s own emotions and the emotions of the other spouse.

2- Feeling that one is required to rescue the other spouse from his or her own emotions.

3- Feeling a need to be rescued from one’s own emotions by his or her spouse.

4- Not having any personal emotional time and space from one’s spouse.

5- Not having any substantial relationships with anyone other than one’s own spouse.



The second, very vital step couples should take towards restoring balance to their marriage is communicating their observations about their relationship to one another and expressing their needs for change.

This communication can occur in many contexts and should describe the specific needs each spouse has; For example, expressing the need for space is not nearly as effective as describing the type of space that is needed: creative space, functional space, spiritual space, social space, reflective space.

The more spouses communicate and allow each other to develop such space for themselves, the more energy can be brought back into the marriage to improve it for the better. When communicating their need for change, spouses should keep in mind several important guidelines.

The first is that they should try to clearly define the problem and be honest with their spouses. This tactic is much more effective than one spouse avoiding the other or giving ambiguous clues to the other that may be misunderstood.

Secondly, spouses should avoid waiting until they are feeling totally suffocated by the marriage to ask for space. Doing so often results in explosive communication because of the stress that feeling trapped in a marriage can bring.

Thirdly, spouses must accept that the desire to bring balance to an enmeshed marriage does not mean that the marriage is in trouble or that the spouses love each other any less. On the contrary, it indicates that spouses care deeply about one another and want to promote each other’s emotional development in a healthy way.

Thus, if one finds that his or her spouse is asking for more space, one shouldn’t take it personally but should see it as a chance for positive growth.

Self Development, Love and Support Along the same lines as communicating the need for one’s space is the idea of self ­development. However, in the context of marriage, self­ development should not be at the expense of one’s spouse;­­ it should be within the love and support that exist between a husband and a wife.

An example of this can be seen from the hadith of ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al­’As who was married but spent his days fasting and his nights in prayer. Fasting and praying are legitimate ways in which a person can grow closer to Allah and develop himself.

However, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) reprimanded him saying

“O ‘Abdullah! Have I not been formed that you fast all the day and stand in prayer all night?” he said, “Yes, O Allah’s Apostle!” The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Do not do that! Observe the fast sometimes and also leave them (the fast) at other times; stand up for the prayer at night and also sleep at night. Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” Sahih Bukhari, 7:127.

Thus a husband should not, as in this example, develop more spiritual and reflective space while neglecting his wife’s basic needs and emotions. Husbands and wives must strive toward their own self improvement and encourage each other’s development with love and support, but must remember that balance is vital to success.


Strengthening the Couple’s Relationship with Allah

The last and possibly most important step toward restoring balance to an enmeshed relationship is for spouses to understand that their true happiness can come only from Allah, and that their marriage is a tool through which they can strengthen their relationship with their Creator.

The Prophet (PBUH) said in a well­ known hadith that:

“When one marries, they have fulfilled half of their religion, so let them fear Allah regarding the remaining half.”

Thus, spouses must recognize that their marriages are indeed an integral part of their faith and must not allow the marriage itself to distract them from their attachment and love for Allah. Actions done for the spouse should first be seen in the context of being part of one’s worship to Allah and ultimately being rewarded by Him.

This redirection of attachment to Allah instead of marriage not only strengthens the couple’s relationship with Allah, but also lessens the strain on the marriage as being the only source of happiness and fulfillment.

Marriage, like everything in Islam, should be balanced, easy, and beneficial to those involved. In one hadith narrated by Abu Huraira, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gives an important reminder to “… do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately…and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach your target (Paradise) Bukhari, Book 76, Hadith 469.

Applying such advice to marriage is essential to creating the harmony that should exist between husband and wife and allowing each other to grow emotionally and spiritually in the contexts of a healthy marriage.

It should be noted that no article can take the place of professional marital counseling if a need for that exists, and one would pray that couples who find themselves in need of counseling would seek it out insha’Allah.

First published: April 2013

About Marwa Abdalla
Marwa Abdalla received her B.A. in political science from Southwestern University, in Georgetown, Texas, and is currently working toward a degree in Islamic Studies with the American Open University. She is interested in writing about Islam, marriage and family. Her writing has been published in a book entitled Toward the Well Being of Humanity as well as on numerous websites. She lives with her husband and three daughters in San Diego, CA.