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Marriage 911

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Dr. David Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center and has been helping couples in crisis restore and revitalize their relationships for more than 30 years.

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Are You Enabling Weakness?

Codependence. We’ve heard about it, but it often takes forms we don’t quickly recognize.

It can take the form of settling for something we know in our hearts is wrong. It can take the form of saying ‘yes’ when we want to say ‘no'. It can take the form of overlooking some troubling behavior, when inside our resentment grows.

What if your mate is engaged in some behavior that perpetuates a destructive pattern in your relationship? Perhaps you’ve said something, but then drop it because your words seem to fall on deaf ears. You confront a weakness, but then become discouraged when you meet with defensiveness.

All of us have some situation in our lives we don’t like, but because of our codependency—our desire to please and keep the peace— we don’t say anything or we don’t say enough. We settle for something we’d rather not settle for, but we do it anyway, enabling and reinforcing the destructive process.

There are many different definitions for codependency. One of them is seeing a weakness in another, ignoring it , and thereby reinforcing it. Any time we “wink” at something destructive, we reinforce it. Let me offer a few examples:

  • Your mate is consistently dishonest, but you’re tired of fighting about it, so you shut up and live with it—codependency;
  • Your mate has an annoying habit, but when confronted they deny or minimize it and you decide to ignore it—codependency;
  • Your mate manipulates you into doing things you’d rather not do. You give in and feel angry—codependency;
  • Your mate has an anger problem. You’ve tried to convince him or her that they need help, but they disregard your advice. You decide to tiptoe and hope the problem gets better—codependency.

Do you see the pattern? It is so easy to slip into settling for things being the way they are, especially since your mate is in denial about their problem. To persist in naming a problem and insisting on change is to invite trouble. What do you do?

Most of us shift into an uneasy alliance. We decide to try to live with things the way they are, but inside we die a little more every day.

A recent writer, separated from her husband, wonders when to demand change.

Dear Dr. David,

I’ve been separated from my husband for the past year. He left because he was tired of our fighting. Even though I was angry at the time, I’ve since seen his point and have worked on my anger. I’m learning more effective ways of sharing my feelings. In the meantime, he hasn’t had any counseling and hasn’t worked on his part of the problem. 

The problem now is that he has no intention of coming back, at least not now. When I talk to him about coming home, he says he’s not ready. He won’t go to counseling, but doesn’t want a divorce either. He doesn’t want to see me very often, and says he’s not ready to work on our marriage. If I pressure him to go to counseling, he gets angry and then I don’t hear from him for weeks. Please help me decide what to do.

— Abandoned

Dear Abandoned,

Your situation is quite complicated and there are several things to consider. It will require wisdom to determine if your husband is using his time legitimately to recover from past hurts and wounds or his separation has become something else.

First, you suggest that it was your fighting that led to the separation. Assuming that to be the case, and that you played a major role in it, you must be wise about giving your husband enough time to learn to trust you again. Thus, patience is important. However, patience can also lead to enabling a destructive process.

Second, you’ve worked on your anger and have made progress with it, but he is unwilling to do his part. It has been a year and your husband seems stuck—he is not willing to go to counseling or work on your relationship. This suggests something else is at play here, like resistance to working on himself. I wonder what is happening in his heart.

Third, you cannot work on your marriage if he refuses to see you. Your marriage is clearly suffering from his absence. He must be confronted with his defended position. If you are to remain married, you need him to put his feet back into the marriage circle by working on the marriage. This is a time to “speak the truth in love".

Fourth, invite him to share about his reservations and arrive at an agreement that works for both of you. While he is entitled to have reservations, the marriage simply cannot survive if this distance and abandonment were to continue. Additionally, your separation, and how you handle it, is something you both should be discussing. There must be a mutual agreement.

Fifth, be careful about enabling a destructive process. If, after careful consideration, you decide your husband is avoiding looking closely at the issues, you must be firm with him. He must enter back into the marriage and the responsibilities that go with it.

Finally, be sure to seek Godly counsel about this matter. There is such a fine balance between giving your husband space to work out his issues, and enabling an unhealthy process to continue. As you seek counsel and courage, you will know when it is time to set a firm limit with him.

What counsel would you give this woman? What challenges have you experienced in finding the line between patience and enabling? What decisions have you made? We’d love to hear from you.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my Web site, and You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency, rejection by your mate, and affair-proofing your marriage.


Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Tuesday, February 02, 2010 3:28 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: Are You Enabling Weakness?

Thank you for your blog on this subject. My husband and I have been married over a year now, and he has held a job, maybe 5 months of our marriage. I am very much in love with my husband, but when I try to talk to him about it, hesays I am putting him down because he's he's looking as hard as he can. I need to feel like I am being listened to. He thinks I am "nagging". What am I to do?
Left by brandy1046 on Feb 04, 2010 4:44 PM

# RE: Are You Enabling Weakness?

I read your story and this commment reminds me of my ex. I could almost say that this husband is my ex. We were married for exactly 1 yr. He brought 2 teenagers to the marriage. He did not have a full time job. Worked part-time driving school buses. When I tried to talk to him about them helping around the house they threatened me. I finally left the house and stayed away for a whole year. He never called me once to try to get back together again. I finally had to divorce him. He took off to Pennsylvania to live off another poor woman.
Left by Eve on Feb 23, 2010 3:56 PM