June 10, 2021
Signs Of Enmeshment In Relationships (And what you can do about it)
Dr. Lexx is a phenomenal sex therapist, educator, and media consultant. The #CouplesClinician runs The Institute for Sexuality and Intimacy, LLC and is an Amazon best-selling author! She’s the coolest nerd you’ll ever meet and she’s passionate about helping clients build, maintain, and perpetuate true intimacy with #shamefreesexed.
This week, Dr. Lexx joins us to talk about adipositivity & enmeshment in relationships. She shares insights on how to recognize enmeshed dynamics and strategies for managing enmeshment.
Our wonderful partner Adam & Eve has extended their promo. Use code DRJESS to get 50% off almost any item including shipping PLUS some free goodies. Take this opportunity to save and try something new tonight!
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This is a computer-generated rough transcript, so please excuse any typos. This podcast is an informational conversation and is not a substitute for medical, health or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the services of an appropriate professional should you have individual questions or concerns.
Episode 217: Signs Of Enmeshment In Relationships (And what you can do about it)
You’re listening to the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast. Sex and relationship advice you can use tonight.
Welcome, to the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast. I’m your co host Brandon Ware here with my lovely other half Dr. Jess.
Dr. Jess (00:24):
Hey. We’ve been given away free vibes. So last week, we ran our first podcast contest, which is not as organized as it should have been. I learned my lesson. But we got a whole bunch of entries for these free vibrators from Romp Toys, and we’ve selected our winner. And I’ve got permission to share their name, so congratulations to Rebecca Bassett, who will be receiving in their mailbox a Romp Shine, which is one of those clitoral toys that fits around the head of the clit and uses pleasure air to create that fun suction/kissing/licking sensation. And Rebecca, you’ll also be getting the Romp Jazz, which is a rabbit vibe, also by Romp. And I I love their packaging, love their branding, really cool new brands. So I guess, keep an eye on your mailbox. We have more good vibes and giveaways to come. I’m going to do the next one. On IG because it’s just a little organized, a little bit easier for me to organize, so be sure to follow @sexwithdrjess on IG. And hey babe, should people follow your IG?
Ya, why not? @veritybrandonverity, come and see what I’m up to and what I’m commenting on.
Dr. Jess (01:32):
But it’s not sex toys.
It is definitely not sex toys
Dr. Jess (01:36):
You can do a sex toy giveaway on yours if you want.
Sure. I’m sure that all my clients and friends would be wondering what I’m changing and doing, what I’m up to.
Dr. Jess (01:45):
All right so you’ll give away sex toys on your channel and I’ll give away a condo on mine. You donate the condo. I’ll donate the sex toys. So of course if you are shopping for vibes, http://www.adamandeve.com has extended their promo for fifty percent off almost any item plus free shipping and some free goodies with code DRJESS so do checkout http://www.adamandeve.com. Well I want to dive right in because today, we’re going to be talking about enmeshment in relationships with a brilliant sex therapist. And I think you and I personally need to chat about this because so much has changed since we’ve been spending every day — not every waking hour — but every day and every night together, over the course of the last fifteen months. So let’s talk about it, without further ado joining us now is Dr Lexx. Dr Lexx is a phenomenal sex therapist, educator and media consultant. The #CouplesClinician runs the Institute for Sexuality and Intimacy LLC and is an Amazon bestselling author. She’s the coolest nerd you’ll ever meet and she’s passionate about helping clients build, maintain and perpetuate true intimacy with shame free sex ed. She’s also a licensed marriage and family therapist whose mission is to deliver sex positive, comprehensive, gender expansive, adipositivity positive, culturally diverse career, and trans inclusive, medically accurate, shame free sex education. I love that mouthful. Welcome Dr. Lexx.
Dr. Lexx (03:04):
Thank you for having me. I love being here.
While that is quite the introduction. And I have to jump in, I know that you work from a sex positive, inclusive, shame free perspective but could you please tell me, what adipositivity is?
Dr. Lexx (03:20):
Oh my gosh absolutely. Especially because I identify, I am a fat person, and it really is saying that we can be positive about our body fat. Whatever ways and shapes our bodies show up. They deserve to be loved. They deserve to be comfortable. You want to be able to wear whatever you want to be able to wear. And it doesn’t matter the size of that body you don’t have to be ashamed or feel bad or be unwanted because of the shape and size of that body.
I saw on your instagram feed that you were just talking about that the other day and I thought it was great. It was like “wherever you are, it’s warm, it’s hot, get out, wear what you want, feel good and just go with it.” It’s like you know just enjoy it.
Dr. Lexx (04:09):
I’m super flattered you looked at my Instagram. ‘Cause I forget I’m talking to people sometimes, I’m like I’m putting up for me, but also as a fat person I’m thinking of pregnant people, thinking of people who don’t wear shorts. It is ninety plus degrees outside and they won’t wear shorts because they’ve been shamed for having thicker thighs or cellulite or varicose veins, or cankles, whatever it is. And so I actually got so many DMs, from people saying “thank you, I was going to wear jeans with slits in them today, to hope that would give me like some cooling off.” Or “I was gonna wear a jean jacket today because I have to go someplace and my body’s not readily accepted or my body looks different and no. I’m gonna put on a tank-top, I’m gonna put on shorts, I’m much more comfortable.” So absolutely, we have to validate that.
Dr. Jess (04:57):
Yeah there’s so much profit to be made upon making people hate their bodies right? Always feel we’re not good enough. And working in sex is such an interesting thing because as you know if we talk about sex, if we share sex toys, if we promote anything that’s for sexual pleasure, we tend to get censored. And so you know, I’m working with the TSC up here in Canada, we have this show where we’re talking about sex toys and it’s really revolutionary, but also a huge challenge because it’s difficult to promote or advertise or even post on social media, right? Like I post something, and I’m sitting there thinking, “When is this going to get taken down, when is it going to get reported? How does it affect my account?” Of course in my metrics, my responsibilities to advertisers and all that stuff, and then you know I think about the flip side which is that we are constantly selling creams and butters and teas. And all these different products that are rooted in not liking ourselves versus the sex toys, that actually cannot do harm right? Unless you take it and you know, hit yourself with it or something. It’s so sad that we can’t just celebrate our bodies. And I appreciate you speaking about fat bodies because you know fat was a bad word in my household growing up. Like I grew up with so much fat shame and I remember certainly you know, it’s partly cultural. But it’s partly individual, like I remember as a kid, I don’t know if I’ve ever said this on the podcast before you know, there’s certain stories that stand out, you tell them all the all time and people are like “okay, yes yeah Jess, we heard you.” Sorry folks. But I remember being in Jamaica and putting on shorts and I think it was, my dad turned to my mom and said, “oh you can see the fat on Jessica’s body once it’s summertime.” And the interesting thing was that I was a scrawny little toothpick. To my dad, everything is fat. I should be skinnier in his mind. But here’s the other thing. I knew how absurd it was. I was lucky enough to know like my body. And I was a gymnast and I was an athlete, so it didn’t bother me as much, but even like as a six year old kid I was like, “wow, this persons messed, I’m not messed, and I’m going to wear shorts.” And of course I had the advantage of being skinny. Of course when you’re skinny you’re not going to perhaps be affected, you’re not going to be affected in the same way. Glad you’re doing that work. Thanks for defining for that.
Dr. Lexx (07:10):
Thank you for sharing that story. And even the censoring is so big. So around fatness and censoring, did you know that bodies who have on the same outfits, thinner bodies actually get censored on instagram for pornography? ‘Cause they’re showing too much skin, even the exact same parts are covered.
Dr. Jess (07:30):
That does not surprise me. So what can non-fat folks do to be more supportive? I’m even just getting comfortable with the word.
Dr. Lexx (07:37):
Right, well and so everybody doesn’t identify with fat. I tend to kind of take power out of that word right, just like it’s a descriptive word. I’m also tall, I’m also black, I’m also pan sexual, all of these things. People who are not fat 1) can believe fat people when they say that they’re experiencing some type of discrimination, if they’re experiencing some type of weird looks and then 2) really work to make places accessible. I just saw a posting with a man who was at some gathering and because all of the chairs had arms on them, he had severe bruising across his side’s right? And you don’t think about how many chairs in my house would be accessible for a really fat person, that they’d be comfortable in sitting in for a long time. We don’t think about that at schools, with desks. We don’t think about that in office bases or doctors offices right? And fat people are less likely to be believed when they talk about a chronic condition, “well it’s just because you haven’t lost weight”. Fat women are more likely to be convicted guilty by a jury because people don’t believe them. And then we have to stop equating fat with ugly. I tell people I’m fat all the time and people are like, “oh you’re beautiful.” And I’m like, I never said I was ugly. Now that I’ve grown past that awkward stage of like kid stuff, that people give me the ugly duckling syndrome. I’m like “no, I’m really pretty now.” I haven’t always been pretty my whole life, this is why I still fight and throw hands, but like, I’m really pretty now. So I’ve had to learn that you know with my fatness, and fatness or not fatness, like I’m still pretty. And so fat people can still be beautiful. Fat people can still wear crop tops and high heels and fat people don’t necessarily have bad health. And that assumption, and that argument, is what gets put in the DMS, comment sections. “I’m worried about your health.” Do you know their resting heart rate? No. Are you the medical doctor? No. You don’t know anything about this person’s body, medical healthcare, and history. Stop framing your dislike of seeing their body as a health cause. Because that’s not necessarily a health cause. Go be in medicine if that is your job, if that is what you’re so concerned about. Get your doctor degree. Go help folks who feel like they need other options.
Dr. Jess (09:45):
And be a doctor who actually works at their own fat phobia
Dr. Lexx (09:49):
Dr. Jess (09:50):
Because I mean, what I hear is that you know you go in for like an ankle issue, cause you hurt your ankle, maybe playing a sport or doing whatever you’re doing, and then my friends are saying, they’re saying like “well, you need to lose weight.” Can we attend to my ankle, right?
Dr. Lexx (10:03):
Exactly. And I had that with pregnancy, like I was a fat person who got pregnant, and I had relatively healthy pregnancies. And I was like, “hey, I had a really big baby the first time. I’m pregnant again. Can we do this other test to check size of baby?” Because I did not follow medical advice, and I had kids very close together, and I had very large kids, so they were a little bit worried that my uterus could rupture, if I was having a very large baby, and I tried to push that baby out. And she said, “well you’re a big girl, Lexx, you’re gonna measure bigger.” And I was like, “Yes. I am a big girl. And tell me how the medical literature says my size is to be treated differently than somebody who was thin, based on this measurement?” And my doctor couldn’t do it. So we’ve had to ask people, make sure you ask them to document when they don’t want to give you a test or treatment in your chart. Ask them for that right? And say, like “hey put it in my chart, that you would not treat this issue” or that he would not go for this medical issue and the medical reason is because of obesity, and obesity is just another word to describe fat folks. It’s not a horrible word. It’s a descriptive word, that helps describe things that you might need, but it does trigger the phobia in folks. So absolutely, absolutely medical doctors. And some medical doctors are less likely to treat fat people because they don’t believe they’ll take medical advice.
I remember being a kid and going to my doctor. And I don’t know that I’ve ever shared this with you Jess. But I think I would have been ten or eleven years old and I went to my family doctor. I was on my own. My parents weren’t with me and the doctor put me on the scale. And the first thing he said was “you need to be careful about your weight.” And you know, it was just this phobia, and I guess going to what you’re saying, it was like you know, this is going to be the cause of issues in the future. If you’re not careful right? So even just thinking back to being a kid. It was like this immediate like, veer away from this. It’s like make sure you’re watching what you eat. Make sure you’re exercising and not necessarily paying attention to maybe what the issue was, as to why I was there. So it’s so interesting for me to hear all of these things you’re talking about, and also advocating for yourself when you’re seeing your doctor, seeing a physician. And being the proponent right? Like saying, “hey, please document that.” That would be hard for me, it’d be hard for me to feel comfortable, already being uncomfortable perhaps, and saying, “Can you please put that in my chart that you don’t want to do this?” Because then, how do people interact with you from there? Like, are you being difficult or is there something else that kind of snowballs from that as well?
Dr. Lexx (12:38):
I’m so sorry you went through that. Me and your doctor would have a whole ‘come to Jesus.’ Me and my kid’s doctors have whole, I’m like “so we need have a ‘come to Jesus,’ about what you will not do. So both of my kids are top of the growth chart, so ninety nine percent. They’re just larger than like ninety seven percent and so their BMI’s — and I’m like whatever, it’s supposed to be a metric used for communities not individuals, but okay — and when my baby was six weeks, my doctor said I should cut down on her feeding, because she was so large. And my child was solely nurse. And I said pause, did you just put my baby on a diet? Like you said cut down on a six week olds food source. What sense does that make? Because at six weeks you’re not already able to be a glutton right? You’re not like, “lemme eat myself so much, that I just want more because it tastes good.” But you don’t have that ability at six weeks. And I said, so we will never have a conversation like this ever again, and you will not discuss weight with my children if you want to continue to be their paediatrician. Like you tell me. You do not talk to them about their body size. Do not talk to them about their body weight, and you will either send me an email or we will have a follow up phone call. Because I’m not here for it. Especially ’cause I’m raising little black body kids right, who are measured against white metric standards. I’m not doing it with y’all. And I was like, “you make a decision.” And so now you know, my kids call their paediatrician Doc McStuffin’s Grandpa. But we cut that very early, and I am that difficult parent. I’m like yeah. We’re going to be difficult today because I need you all to do differently and do better, so we don’t raise kids who feel so horrible about their bodies that they starve themselves. People starve babies.
Dr. Jess (14:23):
And you’re an advocate. You’re not being difficult. You’re literally advocating, which is labor on your part. So here you are, just trying to take your kid to the doctor. And you’re having to be an advocate or an activist. You’re having to educate them, which is just more labor on you as a black woman, as a fat person. Saying “here’s the work you can do for the rest of us.” So sorry, that sounds like it sucks. I do wanna talk, move onto enmeshment. But before we do, because I know there are there are many therapists listening. And so you’re talking about working from an adipositive perspective, and as a therapist where can they start, is there a resource or is there courses, is there a place to go where they can compensate people to gain this knowledge? Because this is really just scratching the surface this brief conversation.
Dr. Lexx (15:17):
As therapists, we always gotta do our internal work, right? So what is the yucks that you hold about your own body. Is it your FUPA, your fat upper portion, like is it going to be around your arms? Paying attention to how you’re judging people and their bodies when they come in right? And not just, “well you just need to eat healthier and change your calories and you know just feel good about yourself.” I don’t know, if it’s toxic positively, but solely positively isn’t going to work, because we’re not seeing that there are systems in place right, that contribute to this person’s fatness and bodies. And we have to work on disrupting the systems as well as building confidence. I don’t know if you all know this, this is why I didn’t go into reconstructive surgery right? I wanted to be a reconstructive surgeon back in the days, since I have a degree in physics and pre med and a minor in math. And I was like “ooh. I cannot change people to conform to society standards of beauty. That’s how people like me, who might tell people like you, Dr. Jess, that “you’re not attractive right, because our noses are wider or because of our eyelids, or whatever it is.” I’m like what’s wrong with your nose? It looks like a strong family nose. Can you breathe? And that would be me, and I’m like “hmmmm, I might need to work on people inside out, instead of outside in.” So that’s really what we’re doing, inside out, and then practicing gratitude. So maybe you don’t feel the sexiest in your fat body. Okay fair. What did your body do for you today? You woke up, your heart is beating, you’re able to breathe, able to move around in some way, shape or form. And then figuring out the pleasure that’s associated with that body right? Especially after COVID. People have talked about the COVID-19 pounds and whatever else in weight gain that’s happened for some folks. So it’s like, okay. What can we appreciate about the new skin that we have? Like, is that skin sensitive, and are there new spots to explore that can bring pleasure? What does it look like to go up a size in clothes? Clothes range in sizes, by brand and by store. You might be a ten here and you’re a six here, like clothes are arbitrary right? So fine. What fits your body? And what do you enjoy? And how do you celebrate your body?
Dr. Jess (17:33):
And you mentioned, last time, I will never forget, like the more skin you have, could it be the more pleasure you can derive right? So if I have an extra pound here an extra role here, what can I get out of that? And because we’re just so size obsessed right? Like the bigger penis, the more pleasure, the you know, all these different things in life, bigger, better. It’s interesting and unsurprising and fat phobic that we don’t look at bodies that way. So like, can the bigger penis be better? Well, can the bigger body be better than? Do I have a bigger orgasm, if I have more skin, am I having smaller orgasms because I have less skin? It’s so funny also that you said you’re tall, ’cause I never knew that. Because I only see you on Zoom. And you’re the second person this week to say, “I’m really tall.” And I’m really short, and people always think I’m really tall. But yeah, I know I’ve had the kids outside, the neighbours told me, because they see me flats. So I’m usually in heels but they see me and flats because I’m just out in the garden or in the lane way, we live in a lane way. And they’re like, “no you’re like five eight/five nine Jess.” I’m like, “what are you talking about?” It’s my tall energy. The kids, they’re like “you have tall energy.” I’m like, I also have very good posture. I’m extremely erect, because of piano, when I was a kid. But enough about me. Let’s get to your expertise that you have around another topic. Thank you so much for talking about adipositivity, I learned a lot there. But I wanna talk about enmeshment, because on your instagram you posted about couples becoming enmeshed. So what is enmeshment? Walk us through please.
Dr. Lexx (19:01):
So big fun therapeutic word, I guess more mainstream, where it would probably be looked like codependence, which has also been a word that’s been pooh-poohed. Like, “don’t be codependent.” But enmeshment means you have really porous and super flexible boundaries with someone. Typically a lover, you can also be enmeshed with your families, you can be enmeshed with your friends, or community but it really is basically kind of not having boundaries. You don’t know where one person begins and the other person ends and we’ve seen those lovers right? They have joint Facebook accounts or joint Instagram accounts
Do they share email addresses?
Dr. Jess (19:39):
Except swingers, that’s a different thing. Do you ever notice that, like that’s a different thing.
Dr. Lexx (19:44):
Yeah, on Fetlife. I always see that couple, like “okay, good to know.”
Dr. Jess (19:54):
What about when we start to look alike?
Dr. Lexx (19:56):
Right, so the fun wives tale about that is because you feed each other. They say whoever feeds you, you start to look alike.
Dr. Jess (20:01):
Oh Brandon, because we know you’re not feeding me. There’s no chance of you ever looking like me.
I mean we eat at the same time, but I am always following suit. It’s kind of like, whatever you want to order, I’m down or whatever you want to eat. But what you said about enmeshment though, I immediately gravitated towards, you said flexibility or the blurring boundaries. And I don’t want to cut you off from what what you were continuing to say, but immediately I’m thinking about me personally, and how in this relationship I feel like I’m very flexible and I’m very easy going, and there are certainly things that I don’t wanna deviate from. Like I have my hard you know at least boundaries, but the seemed to be very few, or I think they’re very few. So am I falling into this enmeshment category? Like is this something that I’m a part of? I’m curious. Please continue.
Dr. Lexx (21:01):
So let’s let’s do a little bit of testing here Brandon. I promise you can’t fail. So enmeshment also means that your emotions get blurred right? And tell me if you’ve ever had this instance. So your lover gets really mad at something right? Feels betrayed, is super pissed, and then you get pissed off right? You’re like yeah that is messed up. Like I can’t believe it happened. What the F right? Yeah so like how come you’re more mad than me?
So I would be more upset than Jess is about that particular issue, is that what you’re saying?
Dr. Lexx (21:33):
Okay. Okay am I giving you an answer right now, or am I waiting until all the questions have been asked?
Dr. Lexx (21:40):
Well. I want you to think about that right, if a situation comes up. But also in your relationship, if being an individual feels like a high cost behaviour right? So you can’t go do your own thing, without potential punishment, emotional distance, having different belief systems, those types of things, your lover is going to be like, “What are you doing?” Or you feel really uncomfortable with your lover doing that. Like “I’m looking at you real strange right now. Cause game recognize game, and I don’t know you”
So thinking about the second question. No I do not feel, I do not feel stifled. I feel like I’m encouraged to be my own person.
Dr. Jess (22:22):
Just get out. Just get outta here.
Oh for real, she’s like, “oh, please leave already, hang out with your friends or do something.” No but I absolutely am encouraged to do my own thing, to be independent. And I hope that Jess feels the same. I don’t wanna put words in her mouth, but I certainly feel very, I want to be supportive of what you’re doing. But going back to I guess the first point about getting upset. Like I definitely if, Jess feels that she’s been you know, somebody angers her I definitely when I listen, I oftentimes I agree. I’m like “no, logically I would agree. I’m angry about that too. Angrier, usually I could see Jess maybe question.
Dr. Jess (23:00):
Sure you’re angrier, but you get more angry right? Your vein comes out.
Yeah, my veins go off more. Yeah I get it set off. Yeah but I do think that I try to think logically or maybe just bring a different perspective. I’m trying to think like, “Is this valid, like the way you’re feeling do I, should I, maybe question did that person, first of all, I would agree with Jess, but then second of all, it’s like okay, let’s just look back on it. And is it warranted, is it just and I always feel like I’m trying to be very supportive of Jess. And I want to agree, listen I am her advocate, I am her confidante, I am the person who’s going to support her no matter what, above all else. She’s going to unilaterally have my support. It doesn’t mean that I won’t always maybe question, challenge. But I’m going to support her.
Dr. Lexx (23:51):
That sounds like validation right? Enmeshment is when you take that anger that you’d have, maybe more than Jess’ and then you’d wanna go problem solve it and superman it for her. You’re like, “I’m gonna figure out this conflict. I’m gonna fix it for you. I’m going to take care of it. You don’t have to worry about anything.” Same thing goes if there was conflict between you two. You’re going to like “well fine, I’m going to be the one that acquiesces. I’m gonna fix it. I’m gonna make sure everything is okay.” And your emotional state would depend on the stability of your relationship. You all aren’t doing really well. It is all kind of consuming. Everything has gone to trash. Everything else is just shit, like oh well me and Jess had a conflict, work sucks, my life sucks, family sucks, like everything is horrible. That’s enmeshment. It’s the same emotional just glob onto one another.
And I mean it must be a sliding scale, the enmeshment?
Dr. Lexx (24:42):
So what’s interesting, is the enmeshment that you hold, typically comes from your family, your family of origin. So if you think about your family of origin. I always say like my family, we didn’t know what privacy was, so we didn’t have secrets that was the rule. But also we had no privacy, so we were super open, information freely flowing both ways and so when I met somebody with a boundary, I read rejection. Because I’m like, everything’s supposed to be freely flowing, I’m supposed to know you intrinsically inside out. What do you mean privacy? That means you don’t want me to know something. And you’re trying to sneak around and I had to learn like, “ooh, nope, this is me trying to emotionally cater to somebody and be able to like take care of them emotionally because I need to know all the things about them because I’m not trusting them to do it themselves.” Because I wasn’t taught that you’re able to do it yourself. So you carry it from family of origin.
Dr. Jess (25:29):
That makes sense. And I think it’s an interesting word as opposed to codependence because codependence, I feel like is this label that people slap on other people and kind of diagnose from the sidelines, from their armchair. What you’re asking Brandon about sliding scale. I mean it makes sense to me that there’s some sort of a continuum, where it’s like, “Okay I feel a little bit of that,” and it’s okay to feel some of this maybe, but when does it become problematic, right? Differentiating between feeling for your partner and perhaps taking on some of those feelings versus using those feelings to kind of outdo them, to take control of the situation. One exercise that I often do with couples, and me and Brandon have had these conversations ourselves, is “when I feel blank, I want you to blank. And I don’t want you to blank.” So when I feel angry about work, I want you to, what I would say is shut up and listen, and I don’t want you to offer solutions right? And Brandon knows that about me, because I would say in the beginning, Brandon if we go back when we first started. You’d be like “well just do this or do that or do this.” Or “what you need to do you need to do is step up and do this.” When I just want you to listen, whereas we’ve talked about this babe, and when you’re frustrated about work, you’re often prefer looking to me for solutions. So I do think this is such an interesting experience, and it’s not all good and all bad right? Like same thing with codependence, like anybody who thinks their independent, unless you live off the grid in the woods, there’s always some codependence. And I like the language of enmeshment because I think about being practically enmeshed during COVID, being as you described emotionally or psychologically enmeshed. So emotionally meaning taking on their feelings. Psychologically meaning if this is not okay, the world is garbage. Value based meaning if they value something, therefore I must value it. And all these conversations are so nuanced, because then I’m thinking about like politics, and how there are rights and justice and liberation. And how for some of us, there actually is no grey area on that. Versus, “oh I value money this much, or I value time this way,” and having to align in every way. And finally, not that this list is exhaustive, but sexual enmeshment. Like my partners really into this, therefore I must fulfil that need, and I am the only source to fulfil that need. I could see you writing a book on this. But what I have to ask is, what are the costs of enmeshment, quickly. And what can we do about it, if we’re feeling enmeshed, because it doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you. It doesn’t mean that you know, you’re a screw up, it doesn’t mean that the relationship is doomed. What should we be aware of in terms of costs, and how can we move to be less enmeshed or more positively enmeshed, however you like to frame it?
Dr. Lexx (28:12):
Right, so to answer Brandon’s question, because it goes with this question. There are levels to enmeshment, my grandma lived in Hawi, for a number of years, so that first initial stage when you first get to know your lover, and you kind of just like watch TV and eat food and gain weight, and they call it your “happy weight” on the island, because you’re just recycling each other, you’re like “I just wanna spend all my time with you.” That’s enmeshment, “I’m happy because you’re happy, and this is wonderful, and when you’re sad, I’m sad” right? And that’s the getting to know that person. When it becomes a more stable and stabilized relationship, I know you, you know me, we know each others boundaries, we’re building intimacy. We want that to start to be like, “Oh we are two separate people” right? So that the big word is differentiation or individuation. So you are an individual person, and we’d like you to be able to stay close to one another, whatever closeness feels safe for you all. Some people feel close at one step apart, some people feel close at five steps apart, and that’s what feels safe. Some people don’t feel close at all and need twenty feet right? They have to figure out what that safety, in your relationship and lover-ship dance looks like. And if it’s, we’re one step apart, that feels really good to us. Wait we had an argument. Now we’re four steps apart. And I feel really, really, distant from you. How do we get back together? These are my individual values, belief systems desires, likes. What are your individual values, likes? And then we try to accommodate. So that compromise, is accommodation. So it’s not one person acquiescing to make the other person happy, and self sacrificing to be good. “I’m gonna self sacrifice my own belief system to be a good wife.” “I’m gonna self sacrifice my own job to be a good husband.” Like no, that leads to resentment and bitterness, and nobody wants that. What you do is say “how can I accommodate you? I’m willing to bend this much, can you meet me? And what are you willing to bend on?” Because that conflict is opportunity and so is that enmeshment, of saying like “well my lover just left me to go play volleyball.” Great for them. They really enjoy the game. What can you do by yourself, like have you explored a new porn category? Do you just want to watch a show by yourself? What do you get to do on your own? And enjoying that individuation.
Dr. Jess (30:27):
I like those examples. One plays volleyball. The other explores new porn category. Which one do you want babe, volleyball or new porn?
Depends on the day.
Dr. Jess (30:39):
That’s so helpful. Your language is so helpful. I saw another post on your instagram and folk should make sure they follow along with Dr. Lexx but you said something along the lines of, some people see conflict as, I forget and some people see it as an opportunity.
Dr. Lexx (30:53):
Threat. So it’s either a threat or an opportunity right?
Dr. Jess (30:56):
I struggle with this. If I didn’t know you have a bag, you’d be my therapist. Because I definitely see conflict as a threat, but it’s not in all relationships. I don’t see conflict with Brandon as a threat. I definitely an opportunity. I also really appreciate the language. My mom always hated the word sacrifice and she wasn’t so keen on compromise. Because I think it aligned too much with sacrifice for her. It seemed like something that would build to resentment. It seemed like it had to be a loss vs a shared gain or movement. And so you use the words, I heard you say something around flexibility.
Dr. Lexx (31:35):
Dr. Jess (31:37):
Accommodate. I’ve never thought of it that way. Like “what can I do to accommodate,”’cause it’s nice to be accommodating. Not like a doormat accommodating, right? But that’s so helpful and so how would you suggest folks start this conversation as we move out of lock down, COVID? We’re all in different places with different opportunities for movement. Brandon and I are still in lockdown, but I know that you’re obviously in a space where you can move around. And so we have more opportunities to spend time with other people, to take up a new hobby, to spend time apart. How do we start that conversation?
Dr. Lexx (32:11):
So I think 1) we reassure lovers that “I value you so much, and I value us so much, I have enjoyed or I have struggled and we are at this place now and surviving COVID, that I think it’s time for us to like start to bring in new energy.” And that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a new lover or anything like that. It means I really miss being able to be with my community in these ways. I really miss being able to enjoy whatever it was, and then come home and tell you about it right? So you’re still bringing that energy back home to that lover-ship, but it is renewed energy that is not self generated from both of you.
Dr. Jess (32:51):
I love that. So reassure them. Let them know what it is you want, and talk about kind of how it’s shared. That’s just a really helpful framework for me personally and this conversation is really interesting to me. Because I do think, Brandon you and I have become more practically enmeshed over the last however many months it’s been. Okay, who’s counting?
Dr. Jess (33:15):
It’s been six hundred and sixteen hours. I’m thinking about how we’re going to transition back to regular life, because I’m gonna miss you a lot. Like those nights and nights, and weeks sometimes weeks apart when I was on the road before, were really energizing to me. But I don’t remember what it feels like because I just really love having you by my side, so I think this will be an important conversation for you and I to have as well. Dr. Lexx, anything to leave folks with anything they can try tonight, a conversation, reflection, any suggestions for us at all?
Dr. Lexx (33:45):
So that reflection, and I’m gonna give this to you and Brandon right, is to remember that during times when things are shifting, people often feel like “oh my god, we need help, this is a big change” but it really is your system starting to adjust to something different. It doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the world, that doesn’t mean that it’s doomsday. It can be really hard and it also doesn’t mean that anything is drastically wrong. You’re just learning something new. You’re learning a new skill. And so you’re going to burn a pot of rice before you have the perfect rice right? You’re going to fall on your skates before you do the three sixty turn. And so, that’s what you’re doing in your relationship. You’re learning something new and it’s going to feel really weird, it’s gonna feel uncomfortable, and your lover is still saying, “How can I accommodate you? I’m gonna stand over here, I’m not uncomfortable, but I see that you’re uncomfortable and willing to support you.” So always remember, stand on your own feet, sit on your own bottom, whatever’s comfortable and accessible for your body. And then how do you reach out to your lover to support while you’re standing in your own? And that’s going to be really important for you all to figure out.
Dr. Jess (34:47):
Thank you so much. That’s such a great visualization too. Because I think when something’s wrong in a relationship, we tend to turn to our partner instead of looking kind of to our own feet, or our own butt, in the first place. So I’m gonna work on my butt Brandon. You can work on your feet. Because they’re bigger and sturdier.
Are you sure you don’t want me to work on rubbing your feet and your butt at the same time?
Dr. Jess (35:05):
Yeah, if you can that’s fine, you’ve got the wingspan. Dr. Lexx. Thank you so much for joining us. Really appreciate your perspective. We’re always learning from you. I know you’re one of Brandon’s favourites. Obviously you’re one of mine, so anytime you care to join us or if there’s anything we can promote. Is there anything you’d like to mention coming up in your world, that ways people can learn from you and support you.
Dr. Lexx (35:35):
I’m doing a really interesting thing. It’s still feels very big to me, MusiCares, for the Grammy’s. So I’m doing a panel for them. It’s my first time moderating. So I get to like not put on like all of the mental health things on the 16th. So you can go to my website http://lexxsexdoc.com and check out that event. And it’s about being queer and black and how music is healing.
Wow, that’s amazing.
Dr. Jess (35:54):
Congrats! I will be tuning in or getting a ticket or I’ll look into it on your website, and we’ll be sharing that in the show notes. Thank you so much again for being with us.
Dr. Lexx (36:03):
Thank you so much for having may have a great rest of your day y’all.
Dr. Jess (36:06):
Thank you for listening. I always feel so validated and supported when I talk with Dr. Lexx and I hope you do too just listening in. So don’t forget to follow along with Dr. Lexx and check out our partner http://www.adamandeve.com for all of your pleasure needs, fifty percent off almost any item plus free shipping and some free goodies with code DRJESS. And yeah, it’s a good opportunity to save and try something new tonight. We will be back next week with a new episode to continue our celebration of pride month. I personally celebrate pride 365 partly because I have to constantly come out, but this is a good reminder to really think back about what pride means, and where it began, and how none of us is free until all of us are free. All right, thank you.
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