“Perceived closeness that preserves the distinctness of each partner enhances intimate relationship quality, whereas pseudocloseness or enmeshment—reflecting an inability to distinguish one’s own thoughts and emotions from a partner’s—may have more negative outcomes (R. J. Green & P. D. Werner, 1996).
Two studies investigated whether a dispositional inability to differentiate self from other is manifested at the attentional level as reduced capacity to inhibit following the gaze of another (A. Frischen, A. P. Bayliss, & S. P. Tipper, 2007).
Among healthy elderly spouses in Study 1, superior gaze control predicted superior sociocognitive functioning, and those with poorer gaze control abilities were perceived by the partner as constricting the perceiving partner’s autonomy, which in turn predicted lower relationship satisfaction among the latter. Moreover, these links were mediated by enmeshment, as indicated by the percentage of “we”-focused versus “I”- or partner-focused thoughts and emotions in the partners’ independent accounts of the same relationship events.
Extending these findings in a sample of Parkinson’s disease patients and their spouses, Study 2 revealed a biphasic effect of self–other differentiation on relationship dynamics: In the early stages of the disease, increased couple focus promoted superior relationship quality, whereas lack of self–other differentiation predicted poorer relationship quality later. Thus, dispositional variations in fundamental social-perceptual processes predict both close relationship dynamics and long-term relationship quality.”
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011 Volume 100, Issue 6 (Jun).