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How to Stop Being an Enabler in a Relationship

When you care for someone, you want to make them happy. You’re more likely to forgive them in situations where others may not. But where does caring for someone turn into a problem? Do you know how to stop being an enabler in a relationship?

Before you can stop being an enabler, you need to know what enabling looks like in a relationship and how enabling can affect a person with an addiction.

What is Enabling?

At the core, enabling is the act of helping someone maintain behaviors that actively cause them harm. Enabling often comes from a place of love or a real desire to help a loved one. In many cases, enablers don’t realize what they are doing.

Many enablers want to be needed. They may feel that the only way to get someone to like or love them is to be indispensable. Enablers often get their sense of self-worth from their ability to help others.

To enablers, helping others makes them feel important. And it gives them the attention they crave. They get a sense of belonging from being needed and helping. Subconsciously, they may think the only way to maintain relationships is to appease and help others. 

Because many enablers avoid conflict or simple disagreements, they may help people engage in harmful behaviors. They may also assist these people in avoiding the consequences of their actions.

Common Characteristics of an Enabler

While any person with a relationship with someone with sex addiction can be an enabler, there are some common characteristics to look for. Repeatedly exhibiting these codependent characteristics can mean that you are enabling a loved one.

Providing Financial Assistance

If a loved one asks to borrow money, it can seem harmless to help them financially. But, when the behavior of borrowing money becomes a pattern, and they are using that money to fuel their addiction, you are enabling that harmful behavior. You are giving them money to support and continue their addiction.

Making Excuses for Them

It’s OK to want to protect someone you love from the consequences of their actions. If you know someone’s behavior could be judged harshly by others, you may want to make excuses for them. While this may help someone at the moment, it won’t help them in the long run. It creates an environment where they can continue the behavior and they know you’ll cover for them.

No Consequences 

Sometimes an enabler will try to create consequences for their loved one. But, if they don’t follow through on those consequences, their loved one will be even more likely to continue involving them in their harmful behaviors. Following through with consequences is difficult, but it’s also necessary so you can heal.

Not Maintaining Boundaries

All healthy relationships require boundaries. When it comes to setting boundaries with a loved one with sex addiction, that may look like telling them you refuse to cover for them when they cheat on their partner or help them financially when they lose their job because of their addiction. If that loved one crosses that boundary, there must be consequences. If there isn’t, your loved one will keep crossing those boundaries, and you’ll be stuck in a cycle.

Avoiding the Problem

When someone you love needs help, it can be challenging to admit that. And enablers often see the things they do as genuinely helpful. But, if a loved one asks if they have a problem, reassuring them that they don’t will only make it worse. By avoiding the issue altogether, you may be making it worse for your loved one to ask for help, even if they know they need it.

sex addictionHow Enablers Affect a Person with Addiction

People with addiction can live in a world of denial and may not believe they need help. The addiction itself takes over. And the person with the addiction becomes an expert at dodging the consequences of their behavior. If there is an enabler present to take away the consequences, it can fuel their denial and allow them to continue on the path of addiction.

For the enabler, the impact of their behavior can be devastating. They don’t know what to do when they’re not helping others. They only feel loved when they surround themselves with people who take from them, which causes them to become emotionally empty. This feeling leads to resentment because they believe they are being taken advantage of, and they are.

The relationship between an enabler and a person with addiction is not reciprocal. There is no give and take. It is a cycle of codependency that you must break.

How to Stop Being an Enabler in a Relationship

Being an enabler is unhealthy in any relationship, but especially in a relationship with someone with addiction. Check out these tips if you are ready to learn how to stop enabling someone you love.

Recognize Your Role

It’s essential to address your role as the enabler in the relationship. Like addiction, enabling is a problem. Once you see how your actions enable a loved one, you can start to make changes. You can’t stop enabling a person if you don’t admit you’re doing it or see how you’re creating an issue.

State Your Needs

Determine your boundaries, and make sure you communicate them clearly to your loved one. It may mean you have to tell that person you will no longer make excuses for them, or you refuse to cover for them financially. However you decide to address your enabling behavior, communicate it with them, then stick to what you say.

Love the Person, Not the Behavior

When you stop enabling harmful behaviors, you may feel it’s the opposite of showing that person you love them. But that’s not the case. Instead, think of new ways you can show the person you care. If your friend with sex addiction wants to go out to a bar to pick up someone to take home, you can tell them that you aren’t interested. Then, offer alternative activities like staying in to watch a football game.

Give Them Options

If you’ve set boundaries, make it clear that it’s your loved one’s choice to follow them and that there are natural consequences for that choice. For example, if you set the boundary that you no longer want to go out with a friend when they are trying to pick up someone to take home, a consequence might be that they will be going to a bar alone if they choose to go out. Or another natural consequence would be that they don’t get to spend time with you if they decide to go out.

Let Them Experience Consequences

To let someone with addiction experience the consequences of their behavior, you can no longer cover for them. Don’t make excuses for their behavior to others, and don’t financially enable their behavior. By letting them experience the consequences, you no longer shield them from harm. They will become aware of the effect their actions have on their life and yours. It won’t be easy to do at first, but it will get easier each time you enforce a boundary.

Stop Helping Financially

When you give someone with addiction money, it means that you may be funding their habit. Someone with sex addiction may struggle to keep a job because sexual behaviors may take up a large part of their day. If you help them financially, they may continue with those destructive behaviors without seeing the consequences of their addiction to their life.

Be Sure the Other Person Isn’t Enabling You

When two people enable each other, it’s called codependency. If you like having a person with addiction in your life because you like the sense of emotional satisfaction you feel when you cover for them, they may be enabling your behavior too. If you’re a caretaker or more adult person in multiple relationships, or find yourself covering for many of your friends, you may seek out codependent relationships where you get to enable others.

Encourage Them to Seek Help

To truly help your loved one, encourage them to seek professional help. While you may be able to lessen the consequences of their actions in the short term, encouraging them to seek treatment for their addiction will help them in the long run. Treatment will help them discover the root cause of their addiction. Once they get help for the reasons for their addiction, they can begin to truly heal.

Seek Professional Help

It can be difficult to tell if you’re helping or enabling. If you feel you may rely on your relationships to allow you to be an enabler, contact a mental health professional. They’ll be able to help you see patterns in your relationships and help you create healthy relationships with loved ones. Breaking the cycle of enabling isn’t an easy thing to do, even when you know you need to. A mental health professional can help.

End the Cycle of Enabling

Begin Again Institute specializes in helping men heal their sexually addictive behaviors and rebuild their relationships. If you or your loved one are struggling with sex addiction or problematic sexual behavior, contact Begin Again Institute today.

  • Category: Intimacy DisordersMental HealthRecoveryRelationships
  • By Ryan Pryor
  • April 26, 2022

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