In the Merged (or Undefined Roles) Style Relationship

Decisions appear to be made early in the relationship and then stuck to indefinitely, or until one person becomes dissatisfied. At that point it is difficult for this couple to learn new patterns, because first they must learn to be whole, individual adults, then they must learn to be interdependent in healthy ways. Decisions for this couple are made unconsciously by adhering to what the couple feels is typically expected of people when they fall in love and marry. It appears as though the couple is always in agreement, but the agreements are within a narrow range of what is acceptable and expected. In the Merged relationship, the two people are fused rather than separate individuals intimately connecting through communication and interaction. They spend a lot of time together, but do not know how to be apart. This is not developmentally healthy for either of them. It also limits the potential for developing a mature intimacy. Therefore they may think they are emotionally connected, but they are not truly intimate by definition.

Chet and Sue are an example of this style

Chet and Sue first met in their ninth-grade science class as lab partners. Each describes their meeting as love at first sight. They were inseparable throughout high school. They signed up for the same classes and attended the same after-school activities. When Chet made the football team, Sue became a cheerleader. Because they spent the majority of their free time together, neither one of them developed close friendships outside their relationship. Sue loved Chet’s sense of humor and he can still make her laugh. He loves to be around her and thinks she is beautiful.

Chet was able to develop skills as a carpenter while working at his father’s construction company during summer breaks. Sue went to work at a local pharmacy. They married the summer after they graduated from high school, and in the next four years had two children. Sue continues to work part time. They are both loyal and valued workers in their respective jobs. Their life has been fairly uneventful. They both follow the same daily routines, and even go to the same resort for their yearly vacation. They spent ten years in this fashion, and then about  four months ago, a change occurred.

The small construction firm where Chet worked after high school expanded to several surrounding states. As lead carpenter, Chet is now required to oversee a number of these projects. He spends many weekdays at motels near his worksite and comes home on the weekends. As a result, Chet and Sue are both spending time on their own for the first time since they met. Sue feels that she has nothing to do when Chet is away. She has made no significant friendships and has developed no personal interests of her own. She says that she feels as though doing so would be disloyal to Chet. Now Sue finds herself asking, “Is this all there is?” She is growing dissatisfied with what she calls “the same day over and over again,” but she is unable to define what she would like to change. She feels that she is living for the weekends, when Chet is home.

Although Chet and Sue thought it was romantic to be so intertwined when they first got together—believing they are “two against the world”—Sue is finding it difficult to develop her own interests while Chet is away during the week. Like Sue, who functions well at work and around her family, Chet is able to function separately from Sue on the job, but he doesn’t enjoy his time with the guys on the site or even think to make friends. He harbors feelings that the other guys may not like him or want to socialize with him after work, so he turns down their invitations to go for burgers, beer, and pool when the workday is done. He’s not used to socializing without Sue and is uncomfortable on his own. He relies on his weekend time with Sue to recharge his batteries, which is putting great stress on their marriage.

Like Chet and Sue, many Merged couples have not fully developed their individual interests, activities, thoughts, or feelings. Thus they are limited to a narrow range of behaviors and interactions. They have developed few skills to identify their individual feelings, wants, and needs. When they are on their own they are not able to define and verbalize their dissatisfaction and loneliness. When they step outside their merged bounds, they are often feel a bit “lost.” Chet feels lost away from Sue and cannot connect to his co-workers so he focuses on work during the day and watches television in his motel room at night. Sue has only a limited ability to expand her activities and continues to feel unfulfilled on her own during the week. Chet clings to Sue when he is home on the weekends, and she wants more help with the children and to spend romantic time alone together. Neither of them has any idea how to change their pattern.



Reflect on your own relationship.



Dr. Jan Hoistad