When you love someone, it's natural to want to help them and make them happy. But sometimes helping is actually the worst thing you can do. There's a fine line between supporting and enabling, and if you don't know the difference, you could be laying the groundwork for resentments and unhealthy behaviors that ultimately destroy your relationship. Yeah, in some ways, being too nice can be just as bad as not being nice at all. It's a strange world we live in.
Enabling is usually a term used in drug addiction recovery because it's common for those who love drug addicts to literally love them to death. They give them money, ignore dangerous behaviors, and provide food and shelter because it's hard to watch someone you love suffer and struggle. But on a smaller scale, it's just as easy to enable a partner in a relationship. The problems might not be as serious as drug addiction but the consequences can be just as impactful on your partnership.
As a former Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Certified Planned Parenthood Responsible Sexuality Educator, I've seen the ways enabling can go from minor to life-threatening in no time. Here are some classic situations in which couples may enable each other instead of support each other.
1. Love With Food
It's a cultural tradition in a lot of families to show their love with food. It's how we celebrate and socialize. If you have a partner with health conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, that require healthy eating habits, you might be tempted to cook unhealthy meals that will make them happy. In reality, you're helping to further complicate those health conditions and reinforce healthy habits. What you should do instead is support your partner by finding ways to make healthier meals and discouraging those unhealthy eating habits.
2. Cleaning Everything
Part of being a grown up is learning how to take care of your home. If you live with a messy partner and you're constantly cleaning up after them, you're setting up a situation in which they never learn those skills. On top of that, you're also setting yourself up for some serious resentments and arguments. You can't expect your partner to do the work of sharing your household if you never give them the opportunity.
3. Solving Problems
If you always solve your partner's problems, you are actually doing a huge disservice. When a person doesn't have to deal with their own problems, they become needy and powerless. Eventually they feel useless and worthless because they lack the ability to deal with even minor situations. You might feel like you're being a protector and giving your partner the gift of an easier life, but you're just making life that much more difficult.
4. Paying Bills
Do you pay all the bills and totally support your partner? I'm not talking about relationships where both partners contribute, such as when one partner stays home to raise the children. Or situations where one partner is between jobs or in school. I'm talking about one partner paying all the bills so the other partner can coast through life, never having to challenge themselves to work. While you may feel like you're helping your partner follow their dreams or live a carefree life, what you're actually doing is shielding your partner from important growth and life lessons about independence.
5. Playing Into Fears
If your partner wants to do something scary, like go back to school, you can react sportively by encouraging your partner to follow their dreams, or you can enable his or her fears by asking things like "are you sure you'll have time for that?" or saying things like "I don't blame you for not going, it's so much work." Enabling fears keeps your partner stuck and never lets them reach their full potential, which is not healthy.
6. Allowing Bad Behavior
All people need to learn that their behaviors have consequences. If you ignore your partner's bad behavior, which could mean anything from breaking the law to overspending, you're helping to alleviate those consequences. You can't make excuses, try to smooth things over for your partner, or continually bail your partner out of jams. Eventually, if you love your partner, you have to let them face the music. You have to stop covering their tracks. Even if it means letting them feel serious pain or even facing criminal charges.
7. Encouraging Irresponsibility
Goals are hard. In order to achieve them, you need people in your corner who are willing to push you when you're down, not enable you into failure. For example, if your partner is down about poor test grades and really needs to study, but just wants to give up, are you right there ready to go out, watch movies, or party your brains out? Or are you there to encourage you partner not to give up and to help them study? If you're helping find reasons to justify giving up and going out, you're enabling behavior that isn't in the best interest of your partner's goals.
Now that you know, you can shift your behaviors from enabling to supporting and nip those pesky resentments in the bud.