• Paul Radkowski

Relationship Fusion & the Path to Differentiation

People will get into unhealthy relationships often because similar and familiar dynamics were modeled within the family while growing up, so they consider these dynamics and patterns to be “normal.” They live out the programming that they received so long ago from seeing how one’s family interacted.

Co-dependence on others can feel good in a number of ways. People want to be close and to be connected to someone. Usually when a relationship is just starting people want to be close to that person as much as possible and tend to point out and relish in the belief that they “have so much in common” and “are so similar.”

People who struggle with poor boundaries or are overly dependent on others are often Emotionally Fused, which is processed something like this; “Your anxiety is my anxiety, and the more anxious you are, the more anxious I become” to the point where we no longer remember who was anxious first.

What do you have in your primary relationship, Intimacy, fusion or co-dependence?

Emotional fusion results in the person blaming others for “making” them feel a certain way,

for example, anxious. This gives someone a lot of power, control, and responsibility over us when we are emotionally fused in this way. This polarity and reactivity can often create anxiety which can lead to hostility and unhealthy habits in an attempt to cope with the high anxiety that is caused.

Here are some signs of Fusion:

  • Having one’s self-esteem and mood decreased and negatively affected by other’s anxieties and worries.

  • Measuring self-worth by outside validation.

  • Being controlled by thoughts such as: “What will they think? Am I doing it right? Do they like me?”

  • Reacting unconsciously out of childhood conditioning/teachings/trauma: sudden flashes of intense hurt , anger resentment, shame.

  • Fear that is unequal to current reality. Fear of “hurting the feelings of others” by sharing truth.

  • Seeing the world/people as “doing it me” rather than seeing our part and exercising our power.

  • Defensiveness in the face of criticism, different ideologies, approaches, beliefs.

  • Blaming

  • Needing to be right. One-up, one-down relationships.

  • Needing other people to validate/affirm that you are right: Dependent on others for comfort and self-soothing.

  • Projecting the qualities and traits that you refuse to acknowledge onto others.

  • Over concern, over care, controlling others to alleviate your fears and anxieties: interrupting, giving advice, using platitudes, making fix it statements; “calm down, l don’t cry, it’s okay, don’t worry.”


For a relationship to mature, healthy people find a balance through differentiation, by realizing that there are differences between them in terms of their beliefs, attitude, and values.

Differentiation simply means, not getting caught up or emotionally hi-jacked and reacting to another’s emotional chaos or turmoil. Or course, this is easier said than done.

The process of differentiation involves …

  • Learning not to be flooded/heavily influenced by worries, anxieties and troubles of others.

  • Learning to sort through cultural/parental messages, theories, dogma and rhetoric, release what is not useful and develop one’s own belief system through observation and experimentation. This includes message from abuse and trauma.

  • Learning to feel fascinated by different suggestions, belief systems and points of view. Drawing from and creating different approaches.

  • Learning to remain calm, stable and in touch with your core self even when in close interaction with other people’s anxieties, problems and worries.

  • Developing the ability to witness someone going through a hard time and not feel responsible to fix it smooth it over or give advice. Compassion, not sympathy or drowning in THEIR sorrows.

  • Developing the ability to listen to someone criticize you/differ from you without feeling little, hurt, ashamed or defensive.

  • Believing it’s possible to find win-win solutions. Learning to say what you need, feel, want and think independently of the reactions of others.

  • Learning to have your self-esteem /identity remain constant in the face of winning, losing, success, failure and loss.

  • Recognizing control and manipulation both yours and others.

  • Being able to self-reflect and self-confront. The conflict stays inside.

  • Develop the ability to be able to receive support without feeling weak.

  • Giving without an agenda or feeling as if you are giving away a part of yourself.

  • Learning to comfort and soothe yourself when faced with stress or difficulties.

  • The ability to remember that people don’t “Do it to us,” but in fact, they touch a place that is vulnerable/hurting/not clear within us.

What’s one thing you might do differently to improve your relationship and increase intimacy?