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Answer From a Former Enabler

April 22, 2019

OK, I have a question. How should a wife handle the husband if he blames her for all discomfort he feels? If she tries to point out that it is his own issue, he gets angrier and verbally and emotionally abusive. Also, how does she handle it when she gets to the point where she sees how his attitude is getting on the kids no matter how hard she tries to be joyful and train them? Please don’t say go the church, because the answer is always that the wife must be being disrespectful, selfish, etc.

What if he has never attempted to parent on his own and turns away from outright wrong behaviors? When confronted, the wife gets blamed for having too high expectations. Please don’t assume it is the wife’s fault. This overlooking of behavior just confuses the kids. The wife wants to honor the Lord and respect and love her husband but is honestly tired. The answer is always that when a wife asks for help, her attitude is wrong.

I’m really seeking answers because I have been in this for 21 years. Only in the last few years have I even considered that maybe, just maybe, it is not OK for the wife to be treated this way.


Answer from a Former Enabler

Dear Wife,

I will not tell you the situation is all your fault. I can’t tell you your attitude is wrong, because I don’t know, never having met you or observed your attitude in action. I believe you when you say your husband gets angry and verbally and emotionally abusive. I don’t deny that you are in a difficult and exhausting situation, or that your desire is to honor your husband, but you feel hamstrung.

I wish I had read Mike’s article Mistaken Identity: Serving vs. Enabling 35 years ago before I got married. It would have made me a much better help meet. Let’s review a few points from Mike's article.

Quote: Their [the enabler’s] support does not make room for the other to see his or her behavior with discerning eyes; to the contrary, it totally normalizes the broken or selfish state.

I thought honoring my husband meant letting him do whatever he wanted, no matter how it affected me or the children, so I kept my mouth shut. I see now that my keeping quiet did two things: (1) it made me feel like I was not allowed to tell him how I really felt; and (2) it made him think his actions were not having long-term effects on those around him. Both were wrong. After 30-some years, we have discussed this issue in depth, and we can both see how my being an enabler did not serve him, or me, or the family unit well. In fact, it was detrimental to all of us. It would have been better for us all for me to speak up and (with honor) describe how his actions were affecting me and the children and all of our relationships. It would have saved us years of hurt feelings.

Quote: If you walk around on pins and needles, trying to clean up emotionally behind his destructive behavior, not allowing him to feel the consequences of his misdeeds and miswords, you are not being a good help meet; you are being a poor, helpless enabler.

When you see he is overreacting, tell him so; you are a person and you have a right to have an opinion.

Did you see that? You are a person and you have a right to have an opinion. Never, never think that because the Lord commands you to submit yourself to your husband that you are a second-rate citizen with no rights. Your husband NEEDS to hear your opinion! God gave him a help meet to HELP him because (you guessed it) he NEEDS HELP.

Understand this: submission is not a position God puts you in below your husband. It is an ACTION that God commands you to do yourself. YOU submit YOURSELF. You are in control of you. You decide whether or not to submit yourself today and every day. It is always your choice. But remember, every choice has consequences, so choose wisely. But the choice to submit yourself to his headship over you does not prohibit you from speaking your mind with honor and love.

Quote: You can respond to untoward behavior by voicing your concerns in a manner that does not attempt to punish or humiliate him. Steel yourself with the confidence that you are his helper who is not broken by his verbal blows. Stand up and say with your eyes and demeanor, “I am a person of worth, and I do not deserve this; you have acted improperly, but I forgive you. I will follow your lead as head of the family, but I will not accept as normal your ugly behavior. The fault is yours, not mine, and the marriage is worth healing, so I am here as your faithful and forgiving partner.

You must find a way to speak your piece while simultaneously submitting yourself to his lead in the family. Tricky? Yes. Delicate balance? Absolutely. But God does not require something of you that is impossible.

I can almost hear you thinking, “Why do I always have to be the one to do right?” and I will tell you why: because you are the one who wrote and asked for advice. So I am giving YOU the advice. If your husband wrote in, my husband would write to him and chew his head off for acting like a jerk. But that’s not what happened here, is it? I am talking to you, the wife, and I am telling you what God expects of the wife. You cannot control your husband or his actions, but you CAN control what you do. And when you stand before God one day, you’ll want to know you did everything in your power to obey his commands. You won’t answer for your husband; he will have to give his own answers at the judgment seat. But you will give yours. Make sure you can give the right ones.

Pray and ask for wisdom. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

-From a Former Enabler

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4 comments on “Answer From a Former Enabler”

  1. Ive had an impossible husband for a few yrs now. No response out of him whatsoever for anything. He blamed me for the colour of the grass. Didn't get out of bed till noon. The only 2 things he did was smoke and drink. Then I realized the signs of depression. Bingo! I had found the problem and now I could fix it. I got a good multivitamin for him (not a cheap one from Walmart but True Hope's EMP from amazon) and I saw results in 4days! A few months later now, he is amazing! Yes still smoking and drinking but he is responsive. Talking laughing going for walks with me n the kids n together we r dreaming of being able to buy our first acreage. We planted a small garden together, he does things with our son, things couldn't be better. Plz try a multivitamin on ur impossible husband and above all else pray without ceasing

  2. This article really got my attention. I saw myself in it so clearly. I too have been married 21 yrs. We have four kids. I was always afraid to say how I felt about anything to my husband because he would immediately get angry and start yelling at me and wouldn't let me say anything anytime I tried. He would just cut me off and yell louder and get furious. He blamed me for everything, rode me about any money I spent for food or homeschool supplies, constantly told me I didn't meet his needs relationally, had never fulfilled him sexually, told me he didn't love me, etc. The thing was that I kept giving over more and more of myself trying to earn his acceptance and approval. I gave in to disgusting, degrading sexual things he pressured me for because I was trying to meet his needs sexually. But it never changed his mind about me; I still never measured up to whatever it was that he needed in order to to feel fulfilled.

    He was never home. When he got off work, he came home, changed clothes and left. He wouldn't tell me where, even when I asked. He would tell me it was none of my business. Most of the time he never he told me he was leaving. We would just be looking for him and the way we would know he had left is that his truck was gone. He was harsh with the kids about things he didn't like, especially the boys, and physically violent: throwing them on the ground, twisting their arm up behind their back and yelling at them, grabbing them by the collar and lifting them up and yelling in their face. All the while I am telling them that he is the leader of the family and we need to respect and obey him and to try to be understanding because he has a stressful job, etc, etc. I made excuses for his behavior to the kids, always trying to honor him in speech and attitude with the kids. I never acknowledged how wrong his behavior was to them. The kids and I were just baggage to him, a financial drain and obligation to him. He became a heavy drinker and did it in front of the kids. He went out drinking with his coworkers from work, including the female ones. He is an educated man, has a master's degree, makes over $200K/yr, and gets about 6 wks vacation/hr. All of those vacations were spent on doing his hobbies: mostly hunting trips. In 21 yrs of marriage we had 3 family vacations. All these years I felt like a single mom who had her bills paid. And he always held it over my head that he was supporting us and I didn't have to work. The way he saw it, that was his only obligation to us was to support us financially, and he resented even that. He was always telling me how unhappy I made him and I used to think "and do you think I'm happy?" but of course he couldn't have cared less if I was happy or not because everything was all about him. Around 2010 he quit wearing his wedding ring, told me it was in his way at work, but I noticed that his male colleagues wore theirs. Also, about this time, he began helping one of the nurses at work named Rebecca. He helped her move furniture, helped her mow her field with his tractor mower, loaned her his truck because hers was in the shop, etc. Rebecca this, Rebecca that, Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca. Of course Rebecca was about 15 yrs younger than me. Shortly thereafter, he told me he wanted out of our marriage. You probably can't believe I could be so blind, but I never saw it coming and it shook my world violently. I knew he was attracted to this Rebecca but I didn't think he would ever consider leaving. I was terrified. I had four kids aged 10 to 3 yrs. I was scared to death. How would I be able to support myself and raise them. I have a bachelor's degree and practiced as a physical therapist before we married or had kids, but I had let my license lapse and would have to retake my board exams to be able to practice, which was a seemingly impossible hurdle. He asked me if I would take him back if he changed his mind later on. I told him I didn't know. He ended up not leaving and ending the relationship with Rebecca, but nothing else changed except that now I was very, very, very insecure and afraid he might think about leaving again. Things went on the same way for 6 more yrs and then he began to talk about Amber, another nurse at work. Amber this, Amber that, Amber, Amber, Amber. And yes, Amber is about 15 yrs younger than me too. And I KNEW it was coming again!! He went on a vacation (by himself again, of course) to visit his dad on the other side of the country and when he came home, he was furious and seething in anger at me because of how unhappy he was married to me. He was full of intense anger and told me he wanted out of the marriage and that he had never been happy married to me and he was tired of wasting his life unhappy in our marriage. As usual, I didn't get angry or say anything back, I just cowered down and gave in to everything he wanted. He did not want me to get a lawyer because it would cost extra money and we could work it out between us. So I agreed to what he wanted as usual. I was scared but it didn't catch me by surprise like it had the first time. I was trusting that God would take care of me because I knew I had done everything I possibly could to save and help my marriage. He moved into our guest bedroom, and as usual, I covered for his him by telling the kids and anyone who visited that he was staying in there out of concern for the family because he didn't want to disturb us when he went in/out on the nights when he was on call at the hospital. He wanted to tell the two oldest, who were now in 11th & 9th grade, but was going to tell them "your mother & I decided to get a divorce". I actually spoke up for myself and said No Way! You will tell them the truth, that YOU want out of the marriage and that I do not want the marriage to end. To his credit, he told them the truth. About a month later he told the third child who was in 6th grade. He never told our youngest who was in 4th grade. To this day, she still does not know that he has ever planned to leave. One day about a year ago she told me, "I know you and Daddy would never get a divorce because you love each other so much!" I am glad that she never knew. I think she is the only one who has come through on the other side of it all unscathed. He did not want to pay for two places to live while he pursued the divorce so he stayed in the guest bedroom. After researching how much money I could make without my PT license, I realized I would have to do the unthinkable and retake my board exam. So for 6 months, every evening and from 7am-10pm on Saturdays, my mother-in-law watched my children for me while I studied for my board exam. I took it and by God's grace alone, passed it and got my license to practice again. The next hurdle was finding a job after not working in PT for 13 yrs. But again, God provided. About this time, my husband went on a vacation to Mexico with his cousin. The night before he left, an incident occurred that involved my parents who had come for their last visit ever to visit us as they both were sick with cancer diagnoses. It was really a minor incident but to me it felt as if he had snubbed my parents and it just bothered me inside. When we had first gotten married, we had written out lists of "What I love about L" (his list) and "What I love about H" (my list). I had recently come across those lists by chance and it made me sad to read them because he had indeed loved me at one time and desired to be a godly husband and father. But like so many other things he had said or promised over the years, he changed his mind later on. That night (the night of the incident with my parents) I decided to make out two more lists: "Things I like about H" and "Things I wish were different about H". For the first time ever, I wrote it all down and it was a very long list. There were things on the "like" list too, but the "wish were different" list was much longer. When I saw it all written out like that, it just hit me like a brick: "What a jerk! What in the world am I doing with this guy? He is right! We DON'T belong together!" For the first time I saw him as he really was: a selfish, mean man with no character, and someone who was not worthy of my respect. And just like that, my heart closed down tighter than a steel trap. I felt no anger or irritation or desire for revenge, nothing. I just felt independent, like I was no longer emotionally tied to him. Always before when he left for a trip, I was clingy. This time, the next morning when he left, I was pleasant and congenial but inside I was emotionally distant. That week I took some of my own money (birthday $ from family) and went and saw an attorney and found out exactly how it all worked and what I was entitled to. I didn't text him like I normally would have, but responded cheerfully back whenever he texted me. When he returned, normally I would have been smothering him with welcome-hugs, but this time I kept my distance and just cheerfully welcomed him home verbally. What do you think happened? He asked for a hug, which I gave him, and then he kissed me. He said he had missed me and acted like he was glad to see me. That night, he asked if he could move back into our bedroom and I said of course. I had changed inside toward him and now he was changing toward me. Long story short, he told me he had changed his mind about wanting the divorce and about Amber. They were over. He wanted another chance. He actually APOLOGIZED!!! And acknowledged that he had been selfish and mean and a jerk and said he was genuinely sorry! All I can say is..... Only God can do something like this. I am still amazed at the transformation. It is now 2 yrs down the road and he has continued to change. He is not a perfect husband but he tries to be a good husband and father. But there are scars. Our oldest daughter has a lot of pent-up anger inside her that she struggles with, as well as OCD issues, all of which developed during the year of dying: Sept-May when he stayed in the guestroom and I was studying for my boards. I am different now. I am able to tell him how I feel about things now. My natural tendency is still to keep it in but I make myself do it/talk to him honestly about how I feel now. An example: several months ago he wanted to take our two teenage boys to a motorcycle event. I had been to it with him before and it was a very worldly atmosphere with loud rock music, a rough crowd and a lot of drunk people, and scantily clad, nearly nude women everywhere. It is not a place for pubescent young males who have no sexual outlet. The tickets were like $200. He was online purchasing the tickets and I finally got up the courage to go tell him that I didn't think the boys should go and why. As I expected, he hit the roof and started yelling at me about how I was ruining all his fun and there was nothing wrong with the environment there and it was no worse than what you see on TV, etc. I was not angry and just spoke quietly back to him that this was why I was always afraid to talk to him because this was how he responded. I spoke to him in private to tell him how I felt but he threw his rage fit in front of the kids. I was shaking inside but held my ground and quietly reiterated my reasons for how I felt. I made no demands, just told him how I felt, but it made him angry. It was the same old routine. He ended up going without the boys and that was the last time he has yelled at me. So we are still in a healing state but at least we are healing. I have massive trust issues with him that I am still trying to work through. I am afraid to be vulnerable, emotionally or financially. I still work part-time and still homeschool the kids that are still at home. I am exhausted all the time from trying to have two lives (work & home) but I cannot put myself in a position without a safety net again. I know this story is too long but if nothing else, it has been therapeutic for me to write it out. I do wish I hadn't been so afraid for so long. I could not see it back then, but yes, I was an enabler. I enabled his ugly treatment toward me by never calling the kettle black, all the while thinking I was doing the right thing by trying to honor my husband, both in my heart and before my children. But all of us knew he was not worthy of honor. I have a lot of regrets. All of us (except the youngest) carry scars from this stupid mess. I wish I could have seen how I was contributing to my own problem in the marriage. I basically had to get to the point where I no longer cared what he did or said before I could stand up to him and tell him how I felt, how he made me feel inside, how he was self-serving, how he was not a loving father, etc. At least God was merciful, to me especially, to carry me through it all in the midst of my ignorance, and then to give me insight to see some of the things I wish I could have seen about myself, him, and our interaction, before so much damage was done. God continues to be merciful. Our family is intact, our marriage is pretty good; it is still healing, but I think it is good considering the whole mess.

    An aside: I should have confronted my husband nicely about Rebecca and Amber. But as usual I was a scared mouse, afraid to make waves, afraid to make him mad, trying to be the understanding, supportive, tolerant help-meet. Rebecca moved on and found a physician to marry her about a year later. Amber got mad as all get-out when my husband told her they were done. She moved on too and stole another woman's husband; she moved in the day after his wife moved out and is now married to him.

    I apologize for the length of this but maybe my story and my mistakes might help another wife to have the courage to nicely be a help-meet rather than an enabler.

  3. Former enabler here! The worst thing I ever did for my husband, myself, and kids is protect him from natural consequences. I finally had enough and stopped getting in God's way.