SOURCE: Leslie Vernick
Question: I would like to have you explain what “enabling” the emotionally abusive person means? The balance of walking the Christian walk, being empathic and caring and submitting to my husband but not enabling is a very difficult line for me to draw. I don’t think I enable, and my husband is not physically or verbally abusive, but he is emotionally abusive without knowing it, even though I have tried to raise his awareness of it. The Christians I confide in say that I am an enabler, but I do not like that term…and I don’t feel I am. Can you clarify?
Answer: It’s difficult to hear people tell us something about ourselves we don’t believe is true. And you’re right, sometimes it is a fine line. It might be helpful for you to ask them what they see in you that makes them think you enable your husband’s emotional abuse. But let me give you four red flags that might indicate enabling behavior.
1. Do you ever lie, cover up, or make excuses for your husband’s emotionally abusive behaviors? You might have a very good reason like you don’t want to embarrass him or disrespect him by calling it what it is, but right now, just be honest with yourself.
Sometimes we think that this is our duty or responsibility as a submissive wife or godly person to cover up sin, but I don’t believe God wants us to exchange the truth for a lie or call evil good.
The apostle Paul says that we are to have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11). When abuse remains hidden and secret, it flourishes.
2. Do you do regularly change your behaviors, stuff your feelings, or guard what you say just to keep the peace, prevent an argument, or make him happy?
Again in any marriage, there is a fair amount of give and take and at certain times for good reasons we might do any of the above. But when we are the one who is doing most of the accommodating or significantly changing who we are or stuffing how we feel then the relationship is unhealthy.
For example, perhaps your husband is insecure and jealous. For those reasons he does not want you to work, or go to bible study, or even go to the mall without him. To accommodate such controlling demands actually enables his insecurity and jealousy to flourish, not to change and heal. That’s where the fine line between submission and enabling starts to blur. Do you submit to your husband’s demands to stay home all the time or is it actually better and healthier for you, for him, and for your marriage to challenge them?
3. Are you doing things for your husband that he should be doing for himself? Again in marriage, there are times spouses do extra favors for one another. But when you are the one doing the most of the work and your spouse is not sharing those responsibilities, you are enabling him to be selfish, lazy, and indifferent.
4. Are you taking the responsibility or blame for things that you are not responsible for? For example, when your husband loses his temper and says “if only you were more organized, or more submissive, or cooked better, or didn’t upset him” do you enable him to blame shift and make you responsible for his bad behaviors?
Now in each of these things, you cannot change your husband. You may be doing all you can and he still may be emotionally abusive. You can’t make him help you, or take responsibility for his own emotional outbursts, or be more secure and less threatened.
I don’t know your particular story or what your spouse is doing that you feel is emotionally abusive, but you can and must look at the part you play to see if you are enabling his behaviors to flourish and grow without protest or consequence.