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Disable Enabling Relationships

I’m talking to my friend Brad the other day, and he’s telling me how he just broke up with his partner of eight years. I asked him why. He said his partner hadn’t had a real job in about five years; that he didn’t look for work anymore and he didn’t pay rent or even half of the bills. He did take care of the lawn, but that left at least 39 working hours left in the week. The boyfriend (well, ex-boyfriend) was also good at hanging artwork, which, as my friend looked around the newly bared walls, will be sorely missed. I asked my friend how long he had wanted to break up with his partner before he actually did. He told me six years. That’s right. They were together eight years – two of them happy ones. 

Now, many of you might be saying, “Wow! What took you so long?” Me, I totally understand. Like Neil Sedaka sang in the 70s, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.”

I was married for 13 years. My husband and I were in therapy for 14 years. I thought about breaking up for 10 years. I had Brad beat by a longshot.

Still, Brad seemed relieved and hopeful about the future; glad to be moving on with his life. In fact, he was heading to Mexico for a four-day work/pleasure retreat. Just one small thing. His ex had called a few hours before, crying hysterically. The house that he was renting had just been sold! (In this market, no less.) The ex-boyfriend thought he’d have this place to live in for at least six months – until he could get on his feet and get a job and a place of his own. (Why he thought he could do this in six months when he had not been able to do this in six years when he was Brad’s partner is beyond me, but I don’t make up the facts, ladies and gentlemen, I just make mocking comments about them.)

So naturally (please note sarcasm) Brad told his ex that since he would be away for the weekend, he could stay at “the old house.”  The old house being the one that took Brad a solid month to extricate his boyfriend from in the first place. In fact, the ex has only been gone just over a week. Brad finally got him to take his clothes and personal items JUST TWO DAYS AGO, and while the artwork was down, it was still leaning against the walls. So now Brad has invited his ex back to “the old house” for a weekend? Call me crazy, but I could see the writing on the wall, and it spelled E-N-A-B-L-E-R.  

The only way I so readily recognized this ailment is that, along with the title of being Queen of Denial, I am also a world-class enabler. Shit, my friend taking just six years to break up has me beat by half.  (Check out Skirt Blogger “Suzq” http://skirt.com/user/8530for more real life from enablers)!

So I gently (well, maybe passionately would be a better word) suggest to Brad that maybe inviting his ex back to “the old house” is not such a good idea. Maybe he will never leave again, I say. Maybe it would be better to take a tough-love stance. Brad is horrified. “I can’t just let him live on the streets!” he says. “I have to do the right thing!”

This is classic co-dependent language. I should know; I’m fluent in it. I tell Brad, “Well, actually, yes, you can let him live on the street or figure out a way not to. Did you ever think that not helping him this time would be the very best way to help him?” 

What I didn’t say is that not helping doesn’t feel as good; as all saviors know, savoring a good deed is what keeps us enablers enabling. Unfortunately, it’s unhealthy for both the savee and the saver.

The addicting thing about our (the enabler) side of the co-dependent equation is that we get to feel HELPFUL. GOOD. POWERFUL.  Our dependents’ inabilities feed our abilities. That’s why when a person who needs saving hooks up with a person who likes to save, it feels like magic. Really. It feels like love and soul-mates and forever. But it’s not. The magic fades. Because inevitably someone grows up – let’s say it’s the savior. If the savee continues needing to be saved, it gets old. You eventually want the person to get a job or pay the rent or stand up for themselves or stop drinking or whatever. And they don’t. And they get mad. Because you are changing the deal. You are refusing to enable. How dare you. 

And one more thing: it is hard to have an intimate relationship with Mother Teresa. Or Jesus. Or any savior or mother (or father) figure, for that matter. So, super-saver, all that power we feel? It adds to the fizzling of the relationship, too. 

I tell all this to my friend Brad, but I have to do it fast, because his ex is literally on his way to the house as Brad is heading to the airport for his trip. Brad nods. He thinks. He really gets it and he’s suddenly hyper-bummed that I didn’t have this conversation with him a few hours ago, before he agreed to the return of the roommate.

But he promises me he’ll do better next time. He says he’ll call from Mexico and make sure his ex is out of the house (again) before his return on Sunday. He’s strong. He’s invincible.  He has a plan:

“I’ll get him an apartment somewhere … I’ll co-sign the lease … I’ll give him a few months’ rent… then he won’t be on the streets AND he won’t be here! He’ll have to start paying his own rent and for that he’ll need a job and this will be great!”

 Ah, my friend Brad is brilliant. He’s hopeful. He’s delusional.

And I should know. Delusional is step two in the co-dependent-anonymous program (I think I’ll call it CoAnon). After four years, I myself am only on step six or so.  I’d be further along, but I’ve had to stop a few times so I could help some other folks climb up the 12 steps.  

I might have to go back to step one…


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