In our last post, we discussed the fact that codependency is not an accepted mental health diagnosis and distracts us from understanding toxic relationship dynamics. Claiming codependency shifts blame and responsibility onto the victim, when it should rest solely on the shoulders of the abuser (because abuse is NOT a marriage problem, but rather the abuser’s individual problem).
Enabling, on the other hand, is a very real part of abusive relationships. Enabling happens when a victim engages in behaviors that hide abuse and shield the abuser from the consequences of his actions. Enabling allows abuse to worsen by keeping this evil shrouded in darkness (where it just LOVES to grow).
And while abuse is never a victim’s fault, she may be unwittingly contributing to its longevity through enabling. In this post, we’re going to talk about 5 key things abused women do to prolong abuse (and 5 ways you can stop enabling an abuser, TODAY).
Codependency vs. Enabling
As we discussed previously, the concept of codependency isn’t very helpful in understanding abusive relationships; a woman who is being terrorized by an abuser is NOT codependent. The process is so slow and methodical, she most likely has NO IDEA what is even happening to her (after all, this blogger was married 10 years before anyone even mentioned the word “abuse”).
(It also seems a bit unfair that we would suggest there’s something wrong with the victim for staying in an abusive relationship when we’ve all been taught to dig into our marriages when problems arise, not run for the hills.)
When a woman is continually abused, a phenomenon known as “battering fatigue” sets in. “Battering fatigue” can cause a victim to normalize and minimize abuse as she empathetically (and defeatedly) lowers her standards. She rationalizes that her husband is not perfect, and she often empathizes with him over the significant trauma that he most likely has experienced (and might I add, NOT healed from).
Because of the high emotional stakes of romantic relationships (and an abuser’s deftness at manipulating them), an abused wife may turn to enabling behaviors because she believes they are a way to save her marriage and help her abusive husband. But in the end, the psychological battering of abuse can turn a confident, strong, empathetic woman into an unsteady, doubt-filled creature.
It’s not codependency that keeps a woman in an abusive relationship. It’s compassion.
5 Enabling Habits of Abused Women
Unfortunately, the enabling wife’s “help” only makes the abuser less likely to take accountability for himself as he relies on her efforts, thereby permitting the abusive dynamic to continue. Enabling behaviors include the following:
Changing your own behavior to avoid triggering the abuser. It’s the classic “walking on eggshells” scenario. You do (or don’t do) things you know will set him off.
Believing you can help, fix, or rescue the abuser. Enablers have a strong sense of personal responsibility and duty towards finding “the thing” that will help the abuser wake up. Victims are often on the hunt for answers- books, therapists, marriage intensives, etc. But when the abuser is not invested in his own recovery, the relief is always temporary.
Making excuses for or covering up the abuser’s behaviors. Whether you fib about where he is when you show up to the family party alone or remain silent altogether about what’s really going on, these behaviors are one in the same.
Minimizing the abuse and not requiring accountability. Abuse is not normal. Never. If you have lowered your standards and accepted that an abusive marriage is your lot, you’re putting off the healing you both desperately need.
Blaming the abuser’s past traumas or other individuals for their behavior. Most abusers have some kind of past trauma or childhood issue that has resulted in poor coping skills (ala controlling and manipulating others). But those traumas and the people who inflicted them are not responsible for the actions an abuser chooses. There are plenty of folks who experience trauma and don’t become abusers. Identifying past traumas can help an abuser discover where he needs healing, but it does NOT excuse his behavior.
What the Bible Says About Enabling Abuse
The Bible actually speaks out against enabling abusers. Proverbs 19:19 says “A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again.” (NIV) The Bible is clear that when we interfere with the natural consequences of another person’s sin, the sin will continue.
5 Habits Enablers Must Break to Fight Abuse
As we’ve discussed before, the righteous thing to do is expose an abusive man’s sin so that it can be dealt with in the light. An abused woman can stop enabling behaviors to embark on the path to healing. Here’s how:
Stop participating in arguments. Abusers seek any reaction they can get (positive or negative) because they crave attention and control over the emotions of others. When you stop engaging in arguments, you protect yourself from copying his sin, and deny him the sinful pleasure of knowing he has power over you. See our tips for defusing abusive conversations here.
Require accountability. In Matthew 18, Jesus lays out the steps to confronting sin amongst believers. Get the assistance of your church in addressing your husband’s behavior. Not all pastors and counselors are versed in handling incidents of domestic violence so we’ve created a post with domestic violence resources for churches to help guide your conversation with them.
Allow consequences to play out. Most often, experience is the best teacher- and that includes consequences. Resolve to stop making excuses to cover up his outbursts. Break the silence about what’s occurring in your home. You don’t need to all out defame his character, but those around you need to know the truth about what he’s doing so you both can get help. Allowing consequences to play out isn’t punishment, it’s tough love.
Stop “fixing” behaviors. Do not make therapy appointments for him. Do not create a list of books or websites he should read. Do not coddle him when he starts missing appointments with your pastor because he’s “doing better.” He needs to develop a plan and he needs to do the work. No excuses.
Put the responsibility for the abuse where it belongs. And that’s on the abuser himself. His family of origin is not responsible. The person who traumatized him as a child is not responsible. You are not responsible. These are lies that keep your husband locked in denial- and in Satan’s grasp. Change the narrative you tell yourself and others. He will only be free when he comes to know the victory he has in Christ, and receives the power to change through the Holy Spirit.
Have you identified any enabling tendencies? What have you done to turn things around?
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