Being an enabler (or engaging in codependent behavior) is an easy relational trap to fall into. We love the people in our relationships and we want the best for them. Sometimes we want good things for them even more than they want them for themselves. That’s when things can become unhealthy. When we enable others, we assume an unhealthy amount of responsibility for their life, which allows them to become more and more irresponsible. It is a broken way to relate to people, and often ends in pain for both parties. Here are some signs that could indicate that you are becoming an enabler:
You Are Doing Things That They Could Do Themselves
This doesn’t include cleaning the bathroom for your spouse once in a while, or doing the dishes when it’s not your night. Unexpectedly doing things for others is a great way to show them that we care for them. When we consistently do the chores and tasks of others, we have begun to act in codependent ways. People need to carry their share of the responsibility in a relationship, if they don’t, they will become unhealthy. When you refuse to allow others to carry their load, you are not making the relationship stronger, you are damaging it. If your child has a paper due tomorrow, let them do it! It’s better for them to get a “D” on their own, or with some help from you, than it is to get an “A” because you wrote it for them.
You Are Only Happy If They Are Happy
We all want the people we love to be happy, but no one is happy all of the time. Some days are tough. Sometimes we get sad or angry. It’s all part of being human, and its ok. Wanting others to be happy and needing them to be happy are two very different things. If you can’t be happy when your child is angry at you, or if your friend is not talking to you, then you are in an unhealthy place. When you depend on the positive reactions of others to feel good about yourself, you will very rarely feel good about yourself. Each person in a relationship has to be responsible for their own choices and emotions.
Once you see some of these traits sneaking in to your relationships, you need to take action to set things right. Take a second to remind yourself that you don’t have the power to change other people. They alone own the key to their change. You can help people and you can love people, but you can’t make them successful, and you can’t make them love you back. The fact that you love the people in your life through their ups and downs is more important than trying to protect them from having any downs at all. Hang in there, healthy relationships aren't always easy, but they are always worth the effort!