Have you ever come across a couple where one partner was completely obnoxious and the other, though not half as bad, is usually in support of what the not so great partner might be doing? If you have, what you witnessed is one partner enabling another.
What Is Enabling Exactly?
Simply put, enabling is when you make room for someone else’s bad behavior. In doing so, you in a sense support what they are doing wrong and add to the problem. Remember, enabling is not the same as empowering!
Where empowering applies to support of more positive behaviors and actions, enabling supports the opposite. Further, even if the enabler comes off as a victim in the dynamic, the payoff associated with enabling may be the feeling of being ideal and irreplaceable for the other. This brings us to the question; what do we do that enables our partner’s bad behavior?
Neglecting Your Own Needs
Now we all know how healthy relationships are about balance or compromise which is why when one partner seems to always be putting their own needs last, it is a cause for concern. If you find that you are always accommodating your partner but your partner isn’t really doing the same for you this could be a problem.
It is important to look after yourself just as much, if not a little more than you look after your significant other. If you feel your priorities, obligations and commitments are always sacrificed for your partner, you’ve got a problem. Further, if you feel your partner’s emotional wellbeing takes precedent to yours, this too is problematic.
If you’re putting yourself second all the time and your life is more about your partner than it is about you, you’re probably enabling your partner’s selfish or self centered behavior!
Making Excuses and Allowances
Another thing that if done in excess could be a red flag is making excuses and allowances for your partner. If you have a partner who is behaving in a manner that is undesirable but you have trouble calling it what it is, this may be a problem.
If you find yourself constantly justifying your partner’s bad behavior to yourself or to others, chances are you’re doing your bit to enable them.
It is natural for us to want to protect and defend those we love and those we are close to. At the same time, doing this even when the partner in question is acting in a manner that is toxic, negative or harmful is extremely unhealthy and can be classed as enabling behavior.
Constantly Avoiding Confrontation
Many of us prefer to avoid confrontation and why not. Confrontation can be unpleasant, emotionally exhausting and on occasion, completely unproductive. At the same time, confrontation can also facilitate growth; help with conflict resolution and help place boundaries where they may be lacking.
If you are walking on eggshells more often than not or allowing your partner to behave in a negative manner and not calling them out for it, you might just be enabling their bad behavior.
Seeing Your Support as Essential
This one is a little trickier than those stated above, however, if you constantly perceive your partner as incapable, helpless or in need of your devotion and support at all times, you’re enabling them. Acting as a buffer for each of your partner’s action is not healthy and in doing so, you aren’t doing them any favor.
There are times when to help people grow, we need to step back and stop shielding and supporting them. Even with infants, letting go of their hands is an important step in the process of teaching them to walk! At times, it is healthy to let your partner falter and learn. If you’re not letting them, chances are they won’t change. In other words, you’re enabling!
You’re having a Hard Time
The irony about enabling is that though there is a payoff, it does not overtly seem great. Often enablers see themselves as victims in situations. If you feel your relationship is difficult, exhausting and unfulfilling yet, there you are, working at it; maybe you’re not being completely honest with yourself.
In a healthy relationship, there would be enough care going around for you to not feel like that. If you are, either the relationship is lopsided or you’re being an enabler without even realizing it!
What’s the Problem?
The problem here is that eventually, we all burn out and if you’re the enabler in a relationship, so will you! Another problem is that maybe the partner in question is not all bad but due to the relational dynamic is operating at their worst!
In any case, the sooner you move out of the enabler position and start taking stock and ownership of your space within the relationship, the better! It can sometimes be hard to navigate such relational complexities. This is where couples therapy or marriage counseling may be helpful.
If you’re located in Palo Alto and are looking for a therapist offering couple therapy or marriage counseling, feel free to connect with us. Remember, what you get served is what you ordered so make sure you’re not adding to your stresses by being an enabler!