How to stop enabling others

How to Stop Enabling Others

Helping vs. Enabling: The difference between “being there” and helping until it hurts. Recently, I had a patient say to me, “Of course I’m going to help him. I’m his mother!” I understood her sentiment, but I also knew that this woman was practically unraveling her own life for the sake of a grown son who hardly seemed to notice her sacrifices. She’d lost sight of the difference between helping and enabling. It’s important to learn how to stop enabling. In fact, over the past few months, I’ve noticed an increasing number of talks with my patients about the subject of enabling. But the conversations rarely start there. Instead, they start with a parent or spouse or significant other telling me they believe they need to “be there” for the person they love. Then they go on to detail the emotional and physical toll “being there for them” requires. Husbands feel it’s their “duty” to support their wives. Wives can’t “turn my back on him when he’s down.” Parents can’t stand to see their kids struggle and go to great lengths to help, telling me “it’s what a caring parent does” even when their kids are adults. Kids, too, struggle to help their aging parents, even to the great disruption of their own lives, and justify the hardship by asking me, “If I’m not there for them, who will be?!” No wonder we struggle. Relationships can be immensely difficult to navigate. It’s not that people don’t understand the general difference between helping someone and enabling them. As more Husbands feel it’s their “duty” to support their wives. Wives can’t “turn my back on him when he’s down.” psychological concepts make their way into our culture, I find that people are both aware of and can articulate the risks and consequences helping too much. The challenge isn’t about awareness. It’s about applying that knowledge in a healthy manner to our most personal relationships. This is where I come in, in teaching people how to stop enabling. So, back to my recent discussions with patients. After they’ve described their struggles to help a loved one, I ask how they can tell the difference between helping and enabling that person and how to stop enabling. “How do you know you’re not enabling him?” I say. Most often, they answer, “I don’t.” The good news is that the line between helping and enabling is …

Good Advice or Hurtful Advice?

Is Your Advice Helpful or Hurtful? Ask Yourself These Four Questions: It’s a common scenario—one partner offers unsolicited advice to the other, only to find out that his or her partner doesn’t find it good advice at all. In fact, they find it critical and hurtful. Cue the resentment, unhappiness and discontent. If this sounds familiar, or even if you’re just curious about whether you’ve been guilty of offering unhelpful advice in the past, here are four questions to ask yourself before offering up any future guidance.   1. Were you specifically asked for your advice before giving it?   Until you’re asked for your opinion, it’s best to keep your mouth shut. Unsolicited advice is rarely helpful and more often than not, it actually harms a relationship by driving an emotional wedge between partners. There are, of course, appropriate occasions to offer unsolicited advice, but they mainly occur between individuals in a hierarchical relationship like boss to employee or parent to child. In these relationships, one person is specifically responsible for guiding the success of the other. Not so, however, in a relationship of equals. When you give unsolicited advice to your partner, you are really telling that person, “I want you to [look/act/speak] this way.” That’s not love or respect; that’s control.   2. Is your advice honest?   Believe it or not, the topic of exercise comes up in couples counseling more often than you might expect. For example, one partner may offer unsolicited advice to the other about her exercise patterns, but disguise his advice as concern. He says, “I’m just worried for your health” or “I’m just concerned for you.” Truth test, folks: That’s not honest. Yes, the partner may be concerned for the other’s health, but his choice to comment on his partner’s behavior is not a demonstration of concern, it’s a demonstration of control. Again, it’s equivalent to saying, “I want you to do what I believe is best.” In contrast, it would be honest for him to say, “It makes me worry when you don’t exercise because I want us to live a long, healthy life together.” This way, he gets to be honest about his real concern without pointing blame at the other.   3. Are you an expert on the subject?   People like to be problem solvers. The straighter the line to a solution, the better. It’s a terrific …

how to say no to family conversation

Setting Boundaries: How to Say No to Your Family, Friends, and Others

3 Signs You’re Letting Your Boundaries Slide. Learn how to say no to family.   Three warning signs to watch for when examining your boundaries. Sign #1: Seething beneath a calm exterior When it comes to teaching patients about boundaries, the most common warning sign I see is in patients who choose to tolerate the behavior; they are not actually in a healthy position to accept. Examples of this: “My wife is a nag, but I just let it slide.” “My boss is under a lot of stress. I don’t take his comments personally.” “What are you going to do? I can’t change her.” These may be the sentiments my patients want me to hear, but what I really see are men seething beneath the surface of their cool facades. Their emotional distress is palpable, and they genuinely don’t have any idea why. Saying things such as: Let it slide. Don’t take it personally. What are you going to do? It’s just the way she is. This is the language we use to justify not protecting our personal boundaries. We tell ourselves these events aren’t a big deal, but that’s really just a tactic to avoid the guilt of how to say no to family or to confront our loved ones. Under the surface, the issue we try to cast aside actually churn and build. They disrupt our lives, emotional health, and confidence. They hurt our feelings. They chip away and eventually destroy our most important relationships. They are a big deal.   Sign #2: Blaming things instead of people Setting and protecting is difficult. It elicits feelings of guilt and fear because we don’t want to “hurt” the people in our lives. To keep our boundaries intact, we have to learn how to say no to family, even when our loved ones want us to say “yes.” To mitigate guilt, I find that my patients often blame their anger and frustration on objects, rather than people. For example: A husband who dislikes spending every holiday at his in-law’s house will blame the weather or the traffic. He’ll tell me, “Just getting there is a total nightmare!” A man who doesn’t agree politically with his extended family blames his discomfort on a difference in cultures, saying, “Southerners just get me, you know?” A father whose adult son is still on his “payroll” will blame the economy by asking me, “How is anyone …

How to Build Emotional Connection in Your Daily Life

How to Build Emotional Connection: Increase Intimacy  by Looking at the Destructive Patterns in Your Relationship   What increases intimacy in the bedroom? The intimacy outside the bedroom. There can be intimacy in your daily life, and there should be to have a healthy relationship. Most people who come to me with relationship problems have this problem. The intimacy is not there daily, which, in return, causes their sex life to suffer. Let’s focus on the importance of changing your approach, with the result being increasing intimacy. A lot of people are in the weeds of their relationship. They’re very focused on the details and daily life routines, and they’re not stepping back and thinking about the destructive patterns that have developed over the years. Almost everyone who comes to see me has these destructive patterns. The arguments aren’t all separate things. If you look closely at a broader angle, you’ll see that the patterns are similar. If you can get ahold of a pattern, all you need to do is change one part of the pattern, and all of the arguments that fall in the pattern change, often for the better, and this is how to build intimacy in your daily life. Take a look now at the patterns that you contribute to the destructive patterns in your relationship to increase emotional connection.  Think about the arguments you’ve had in the past. Are you the one who backs down, let’s things go, doesn’t want to approach anything because it might get ugly or tense? Are you avoiding confrontation? Or are you the go-getter, “I’m not letting that go, I’m going to tackle this, I’m going to prove my point,”- are you that person? Do your arguments tend to start with you making your point? If you’re that person, this is a pattern that may be destructive in your relationship. The key is, people tend to idealize one of these approaches. Typically, one partner idealizes one, and the other partner idealizes the other. Which one are you? If you’re the one who’s the passive one, you must see that, sometimes, passivity isn’t the best choice. Avoiding confrontation and aggression is not the key to a happy relationship. There are times to be passive, but there are also times to be aggressive, constructively. Constructive Aggression Constructive aggression includes going for a gold medal, asking for a raise, swerving to avoid a …

family issues causing stress

Family Issues: Tension Between Your Parents and Your Spouse

Should You Choose Your Family or Your Relationship? How to Resolve Family Issues Between Your Parents and Your Spouse Let me start with a story about a good guy trying to do right by the people he loved… “Tony” came from a great family and was happily married. Tony loved his parents and his siblings; he loved his wife and his kids. He was a lucky guy. So it drove him nuts that whenever he and his wife spent time with his family, they ended up fighting the entire drive home—she didn’t like their comments about the kids or the gifts they gave or the unhealthy food. Whatever happened during the visit, his wife would find a way to be unhappy about it. Tony felt the pressure of what felt like family issues. He remembers finally yelling at her, overcome with rage. “It’s so unfair— you actually make me dread spending time with them.” He just wanted everyone to be happy. And more often than not, we’re just like Tony. We want the best for the people we love. So why does his dilemma seem so impossible to resolve? The issue wasn’t that Tony didn’t love his parents or his wife enough. The issue wasn’t that his wife was unreasonable. The problem wasn’t even that his parents were at fault. The issue was that Tony wasn’t prioritizing his marriage over his relationship with his family, which in return, was causing the family issues. I see the same conflict play out every week in my practice. Regardless of the specifics of a situation, I tell my patients that to resolve this conflict; we must remember two truths: 1. If we want to keep our marriage, our marriage must always come first. 2. We don’t owe our parents anything. My patients can’t help but argue with me. They say, “But Dr. Dabney … “ … my parents did so much for me. I don’t want to seem ungrateful.” “ … my parents are getting older. They need my help.” “ … I don’t want to be mean.” “ … I don’t want them to think I don’t love them.” “ … they’ll make me feel guilty.” “ … it’s expected of me.” “ … that’s just how things are in our family.” “ … they don’t mean the things they say.” “ … my wife just misinterprets everything.” “ … she just …