What Enabling Really Means in Relationships

What Enabling Really Means in Relationships

This topic has come up quite a bit, lately: Enabling.

First, let me define enabling:

Enabling: Providing the tools and resources allowing another to complete a desired task.  Give someone or something the authority or means to do something.

Inherently, enabling someone to do something in their best interest is a kind act! Yes! Enable your child, enable your friend and enable your spouse!

Now, this is where things get confusing: Where do we draw the line between supporting and enabling.

The point of support ends just as soon as we begin contributing more than 50%, whether that is in the form of work or in financial support. In this microscopic grey area, resentment is born.

The second piece of the formula is this:

When you are a child, in order for you to grow into a healthy adult your parents must support you in these four areas:

  1. Healthy food,
  2. Physical shelter,
  3. Emotional support, and
  4. Access to education and growth experiences.

These are a child's basic needs. Cell phones, ipads, toys, gifts, desserts, and vacations to theme parks ARE NOT basic needs. If your child has his or her basic needs met, your child will be fine. I promise.

For adults, assuming we do not have a severe disability, we now become responsible for our own basic needs. No one owes us anything. Anything given to us in the form of money, food, etc. may be considered a gift. Period.

Yes, I understand many couples "divide and conquer." This is one major benefit of being in a partnership! However, at any point, both of you must be ready and able to resume responsibility for ALL of your own basic needs, if the needs arise.  Note, needs while raising young children is another can of worms we will get into another day but, even in that case, it is important to understand that at any given moment we might have to resume responsibility, entirely.

The rest is cake. "Cake" being gifts, flowers, tickets to a ballgame, and diamond rings. Yes, I said diamond rings.

Where this gets fuzzy:

You have an adult child who is not yet financially independent. My response:  Pending they do not have a severe disability, your adult child can do a lot more than you give them credit for. Give them the painfully challenging opportunity to show you just what they can do!  Every time you do for them, when they can do for themselves, you are giving one big kick to their self-esteem.  This lowering of self-esteem may not be obvious, at first, but you will know this is happening because the moment you say you are pulling support/funding, I would bet my car that they will have a mini panic attack.  That panic comes from their lacking confidence in their ability to "make it" without your help.  So, the earlier you give your young-adult child the opportunity to take on more responsibility, the better.

You were taught that if your spouse does not get you gifts, he or she must not love you! Not true. This is what television tells us—if someone loves you, they buy you things. This is a lie. If someone loves you, they show up, to the best of their ability. They say hi. They wish you well, and support you in your passions and endeavors. They listen to you. They laugh with you. They walk with you through the less-than-comfortable times. Do they get you things? Not needed. They give you something more valuable: time, care and concern.

If you get someone gifts, over and over again, and they never get anything for you, they must not care about you. Again, not true. This is a good time to think about why you are getting THEM gifts? Is it out of the kindness of your heart—just to let them know you were thinking about them? Or is it a relationship contract? If you get them something, they will be your friend. No. You are about to be severely disappointed. This goes both ways. How do you feel towards that friend who is always buying you gifts? Are they really supportive or do you feel somewhat tied to them? This goes for romantic relationships, too.

So, are you in a balanced relationship? Friendship? Are you unhealthily enabled? Are you the imbalanced enabler? Food for thought!

Join Catalyst Lindsay Burke to create passionate, vibrant relationships. Check out the Relationship Better Tribe.

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