A Definition of Isolating Relationships

In the “Isolating Relationship” type, one or both partners deliberately or subconsciously distance themselves from friends, family, and other external social connections. This isolation can stem from various motivations, including a partner’s desire to exert control, mutual co-dependence, or even out of a misguided belief that such insularity will protect and strengthen their bond.

Over time, this withdrawal from the outside world can lead to an unhealthy dependence on each other. It may lead to stifling personal growth and reducing opportunities for external perspectives and support. Additionally, when the relationship faces challenges, the absence of external support networks can exacerbate feelings of entrapment, loneliness, or despair. A balanced relationship generally acknowledges the importance of both shared and individual social connections, ensuring that neither partner becomes unduly isolated.

(This article is part of the series: Unhealthy Relationship Patterns: Categorizing the 21 types)

Perspective of Partners in Isolating Relationships

The Initiator:

  • Perception: Views the relationship as a sanctuary from the outside world, believing that external influences can be harmful or distracting. May see their partner as the primary or sole source of emotional support and connection, minimizing the value of other relationships.
  • Emotions: Feels a sense of security and control when the partner is isolated from others. Experiences anxiety or jealousy when the partner seeks external connections, fearing a potential threat to their bond.
  • Behaviors: Actively discourages or undermines the partner’s attempts to maintain or establish external relationships. May use manipulation, guilt, or emotional appeals to keep the partner close and dependent.
  • Rationalizations: Believes that true love means prioritizing the relationship above all else. Thinks that external relationships or social connections can dilute or threaten the intimacy and strength of their bond.

The Responder:

  • Perception: Initially may view the isolation as a sign of their partner’s deep commitment or love. Over time, may feel trapped or suffocated, missing the broader social connections and support they once had.
  • Emotions: Feels a mix of comfort in the closeness with their partner and a growing sense of loneliness or isolation from the wider world. Experiences guilt or anxiety when considering reaching out to old friends or family, fearing the partner’s reaction.
  • Behaviors: Gradually withdraws from external relationships, either due to their partner’s influence or out of a desire to avoid conflict. May secretly maintain some connections or yearn for the social interactions they once enjoyed.
  • Rationalizations: Believes that sacrificing external relationships is a testament to their commitment to their partner and the relationship. May convince themselves that they don’t need other relationships or that their bond with the partner is sufficient for emotional fulfillment.

Is it an Isolating Relationship or something else?

The “Isolating” Relationship type shares commonalities with other relationship types. Here’s an exploration of its similarities with other types and the unique themes that distinguish the Isolating Relationship type:

  1. Coercive and Controlling Relationships: Both types may involve attempts to limit contact with friends, family, and broader social opportunities. However, in coercive relationships, control is the primary driving force behind these actions, and it manifests in various ways, including isolating the partner. What sets the Isolation from Others type apart is its scope and motive. The isolating relationship is motivated by fears rather than an overt desire to control and is limited to efforts to restrict contact with friends, family, and peers.
  2. Emotionally Abusive Relationships: Emotional abuse can involve a myriad of behaviors designed to undermine and control the partner. Isolation from others can be a tactic in emotionally abusive relationships. Yet, the Isolation from Others type is characterized by the isolation tactic as its predominant and defining feature.
  3. Dependent Relationship: Dependency can create an environment where both partners become overly reliant on each other and naturally distance themselves from others. However, in the Isolation from Others type, the distancing is not mutual or natural but is rather enforced by one partner onto the other.

Unique Indicators for Isolation from Others Type

The hallmark of isolating relationships is the deliberate and targeted effort by one partner to sever the other’s external connections. This behavior is not a by-product of another unhealthy dynamic but is the main strategy employed. The aim is to make the isolated partner completely dependent on the one enforcing the isolation, diminishing their autonomy, self-confidence, and external support.