How Enabling Your Mate Controls ‘You’

Nip in the budI want to discuss one more way that our mates can sometimes control us … through the ever-tempting avenue of enabling them.

The reason I say this is “tempting” is probably because I feel this draw as a woman and mother perhaps a bit more than men generally do. Enabling actually springs up from a good place—the need to nurture and protect—but it results in emotionally and relationally crippling those we enable. It’s nothing to take lightly or consider as healthy or helpful in any way!

There are 3 common ways that we let our mates control us …
#1 – We decide that our spouses are unable to do something—or at least do it the way “we” would—so we do it for them.
#2 – We fear asking our mates to do something more or “new” because it might cause conflict.
#3 – We fear that our mates are incapable of managing some struggle or we just don’t want to see them suffer, so we shield them from that pain.

Here’s an even uglier way to interpret how enabling controls me

[Tweet “When I’m enabling my husband, I don’t see how arrogant I’m being.”]


[Tweet “When I enable my spouse, I’m being a coward that’s afraid to confront.”]


[Tweet “When I’m enabling my mate, I don’t see how little I trust my spouse to manage his own pain. “]

In my own marriage, I have mostly enabled my “children” (poor guys!) rather than my spouse over the years. But there have been some ways that I’ve enabled my husband as well. I used to be a huge control freak and couldn’t stand the way my husband loaded the dishwasher, folded laundry, or cleaned an area of our house.

I wanted to tell him how to do those things—“my way” of course—which he wasn’t always crazy about doing (#1). Go figure! At some point I decided that I’d rather just do it for him than to fight about it (#2).

Over time this created something of a burden on me as well as making me resentful, until I woke up to the fact that it was unhealthy for both of us and our marriage. So one day, I sat down with my hubby and talked about new ways that he could help me out around the house. Thankfully, he was receptive to this new change. Many spouse’s are not—at least not at first. #yayGary!

Before this could work, I had to learn two challenging things …

I had to communicate more of what I needed in a gentle but clear way, rather than being so self-sufficient or afraid of conflict.


I had to let my perfectionistic preferences for how something should be done go. #letitgo (Is the song playing in your head now? 😉 )

If I were enabling out of fear of the pain my spouse would suffer, then I would have to learn to trust God more. After all, God’s got my hubby covered a whole lot more than I could ever manage!

I have to say that I feel so much more satisfaction in my marriage because of these small shifts. It feels like we are more of a team and I don’t get snagged on any building resentments because I’ve learned to do, as “relationship guru” Barney Fife 😉 would say …

“You’ve got to nip it! Nip it! Nip it in the bud!”

What are some ways you’ve tried to enable your mate or your kids?


What are some ways that you’ve “nipped” that bad habit in the bud?

Linking up with – Mommy Moments, Weekend Whispers, Making Your Home SingMondays @ Soul Survival, Faith ‘n Friends, Word of God Speak,  Sharing His Beauty, Spiritual Sundays, Words with Winter, Sitting Among Friends, Family, Friendship and Faith, DanceWithJesusFriday and Playdates with God


19 responses to “How Enabling Your Mate Controls ‘You’”

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    What a great – and brave – post, Beth. I suspect that many people don’t see this at work in their likes…or they justify it.

    One additional enabling mechanism (perhaps) is accepting the blame for something one’s spouse did wrong, to spare his or her self-esteem (which may indeed be fragile), or to avoid a conflict with someone who can NEVER be in error.

    There is some ‘enabling’, though, which may not be quite what it seems, and I’d love to hear what you think, as my knowledge base is limited. I have severe combat-induced PTSD, and when I could still go out and about I would do a mirror scan while driving (or riding in a car). check roadsides for IEDs and rooftops for shooters…and always be sensitive to combat indicators (such as a suddenly empty street).

    It was clearly no fun for anyone with me, and in the beginning Barbara would call my attention to the current year, and tell me to ‘stop the behaviour’.

    The trouble is…that doesn’t work. All it does is marginalize the already difficult position of living in simultaneous realities. Some things (such as self-esteem issues arising from childhood trauma or abuse, as well as PTSD) need a counselor…and behaviour that may be seen as enabling, in these cases, is simply the recognition that one is dealing with something one cannot, as a spouse, fully address.

    What do you think?


    1. I would say that based upon the PTSD alone or any host of wounds and disabilities any of us might have in life, being sensitive and patient with these would not be “enabling” the behavior. If counseling was part of the mix in your marriage, Andrew, it could be dealt with sensitively and with greater insight there and not through the abrasive “stop that behavior.” To me, that was more about Barbara bringing calmness to her feelings of embarrassment over your continued struggles perhaps. She is trying to control you in those situations, which may not be the same as “enabling” but is equally as destructive to a marriage and sense of self-worth. Does that answer your question?


      1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

        Perfectly, and definitively, Beth. Thank you.


      2. So glad that it helped! Hope you are doing well today, Andrew!


  2. This hits close to home and convicts me of my enabling patterns. I probably enable both my kids and spouse every day and most times don’t even know it! How I need God to give me courage to be more open with my needs and see how good that is for our marriage. Thanks so much for sharing your struggles and the conversation with your husband. So helpful for me!


    1. Yes, Jessica, it is very subtle and as I said before, comes from a good place in many cases. But I love your prayer–that God would give you more courage to be open with your needs–always considering what is good for the “marriage.” You’re quite welcome, my friend. I’m glad it was helpful!


  3. Thanks for this hard-hitting call to set our kids and our husbands free — free to fail, free to carry their own load, free to accept responsibility! Blessings, Beth!


    1. I love the way you’ve put that, Michele! “Free to fail, free to carry their own load, free to accept responsibility!” Just perfect! Thanks for coming by and encouraging, my friend!


  4. Hey Beth,
    I came over on Sitting Among Friends to find your post. And, I’m always glad when I am “parked” next to you!
    What an honest and thought-provoking post! I’m afraid I tend to enable my family members as well! I’m convicted! Thanks for making us think!
    And, I hope you have a blessed week~


    1. Are you my neighbor over there, Melanie? I’ve gotten distracted today. I’ll have to give you a visit as well. Thanks for your kind words! It’s greatly appreciated! I hope your week is abundantly blessed as well, my friend!


  5. This is such a good post, Beth. God bless you, my friend. 😉


    1. Thank you, Cheryl! I appreciate the kind words and I pray God blesses you too!


  6. Hi Beth! I appreciate that you say that enabling actually comes from a good place … not that it lets us off the hook, but at least we can stop beating ourselves up over it! Thanks for helping us look behind the scenes on this one, friend. I always get an education when I come visit.

    Do you hand out CEUs?



    1. Yes, it’s never my intention to condemn but “liberate” us from those pesky human tendencies, Linda. I know that recognizing them has made all the difference in my own marriage. And “CEU’s”–you flatter me, girl! Now stop that! But I will say, you certainly know how to make me feel loved! Love you right back!


  7. Oh, you step on my toes, Beth. Your examples of enabling hit home with me too. For weeks my husband has been telling me to wake him up if I’m in pain in the middle of the night, but I have not done it…because what can he do? No point in both of us being awake! But last night I did it anyway, just because he had repeatedly asked me to. And of course he couldn’t do anything for my pain and went back to sleep in about 5 minutes. ha. But it made him feel better that I had let him know anyway. 🙂


    1. Oh, Lisa, I hope it’s the best kind of “stepping” though–like teaching you how to dance with your hubby in more interdependence and intimacy. Sounds like that’s what you did by waking him up. Funny how our guys just simply want to be let into our worlds, even if they can’t do anything for us. Thanks, sweet friend, for coming by and always encouraging me!


  8. Oh yes that was me – so much so that “yes, dear” was heard often. I don’t hear that much, thank the Lord. It still rears its ugly head – then I smash it down like wack a mole (the game). Great post. Thanks. I am going to feature you tomorrow on Word of God Speak.


  9. This made me evaluate some of what I do!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: