Being Responsible To vs. For Your Relationship



Are you feeling tired, resentful, or guilty in your relationship(s)? Do you feel like you are “doing it all”, and feel alone and unsupported? When you feel depleted like this, resentment will start to build. With resentment comes disconnection. And when you are disconnected, it becomes even harder to voice your needs. Do you see the circular pattern here?

Feeling resentment or anger over your situation is a clear sign that an emotional need(s) is not being met. You desire to be recognized and appreciated, but no matter what you have tried, you don’t feel like you are getting what you need. But how did this happen? And more importantly, how can it be fixed?


Why Your Needs Aren’t Being Met


When you are caught up in the emotional intensity of what you are experiencing, it can be difficult to see the whole picture. We may think we have tried different ways to get our partner to understand what we need, or we assume that they should know these things. But too often, we stay in our old patterns and simply do more of the same. We keep swimming in the same circles, and nothing changes.


In order to affect change, a shift in perspective is key. Yet we can lose sight of where we stand vs the other person in our relationship, making it hard to find the perspective we need. While you might feel like you are on the opposite side of the fence from your partner, in reality the boundaries are blurred. You have become emotionally enmeshed.


Emotional Enmeshment


Enmeshment is when two people feel each other’s emotions, and is an emotional reaction to the other person. If your partner’s emotions escalate and you react to their emotions, the boundaries of who is responsible for those emotions become blurred. You are taking on the responsibility for your partner’s emotional state.


For example, your partner is feeling anxious and depressed about work, so you feel anxious and depressed as well. Or perhaps they are angry about something you did or didn’t do, and you react with anger. Your reaction means that you are taking on ownership of the problem and feelings. Now it is a problem between the two of you, rather than theirs.

You have fallen into the trap of taking on the responsibility of others (“doing it all” in the relationship). In order to clarify who the emotion/problem belongs to, boundaries must be set and honored. You can start with yourself, and stop reacting and taking ownership of your partner’s emotions. This is being responsible to yourself and your relationship, rather than for it.


It will be a big relief when you stop taking on more than you need to. And when you respond rather than react, your partner will be able to better take ownership of their own response.


Emotional Boundaries


Boundaries are the lines that define where you begin and where another person begins. These lines represent a limit. Like a fence around a property, it defines your space and lets you know when someone has “crossed the line”. Emotional boundaries keep your emotions separate from those of others. When you are unclear about your boundaries, you are more likely to fall into the trap of taking on other people’s emotions.


If you are trying to fix your partner’s problems or are avoiding conflict with them, you may be over functioning for them. This can turn into a vicious pattern of you doing more for him/her and your partner doing less. You may feel invisible. This hurts, and will lead to further disconnection between the two of you.


Your boundaries are important so you aren’t taking on more than is required, but also so your partner can see who you are. Without boundaries, you are not fully showing up. It’s challenging for others to really experience you if they cannot see you.


Clear boundaries make it easier for others to see you—your existence is defined.

Most of us have not learned healthy emotional boundaries. Your childhood and life experiences may include situations where you received messages that your boundaries did not matter or even exist. As a child, you may not have had the words or the knowledge of your right to set your limits, and carried this with you into later relationships. As an adult, you now have the power to clearly define who you are, and create your boundaries.


Learning what it means to establish healthy boundaries is your starting point. Speaking your truth and asking for what you need with clarity will come as you better understand what your boundaries are. And honoring your partner’s boundaries will further help you move from being responsible to your partner, not for them. It is in this way that we move away from resentment and toward connection, and a loving, supportive partnership.

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