4 Stages Of Enabling Behavior In Relationships

Enabling behavior usually begins as a well-intentioned response to a loved one’s struggles, whether it’s emotional turmoil, addiction, or other personal challenges. So where does it all go wrong and what is the meaning of enabling someone? Covering up your partner’s mistakes, making excuses, or taking on their responsibilities when they’re having a hard time might seem like a sign of loyalty and supportive partnership. However, there’s a delicate balance between being supportive of your partner and/or loved one and inadvertently enabling negative and harmful actions.

Let’s begin by taking a look at the true meaning of “enabler,” as it’s crucial to unpacking the dynamics of a relationship where one individual is enabling another. Being an enabler means continuously and repeatedly letting your partner off the hook and, therefore, enabling them to keep engaging in negative or harmful behaviors without facing the consequences. This can manifest by covering up their mistakes, providing financial support for destructive habits to avoid conflicts, or taking on excessive responsibilities.

If this pattern of behavior becomes the norm in your relationship, it can adversely affect both the enabler and the enabled. The enabler usually becomes increasingly stressed, frustrated, and even develops feelings of resentment, while the enabled individual might not learn to face the consequences of their behavior and remain stuck in a cycle of dependency. 

Recognizing the signs of enabling behavior, as well as their different types and phases, can help you break free from this harmful dynamic and put both you and your partner on the road to recovery and personal growth.


What Are The Four Types Of Enabling?

All types or styles of enabling stem from compassion and care, yet inadvertently perpetuate harmful behaviors. Some of the most common patterns can help you recognize the behavior in your relationship and encourage you to take action to benefit it.

Some experts agree that there are four primary patterns or styles of enabling behavior:

  • Caretaking. This involves taking on a nurturing role in a relationship and doing one’s best to meet the needs of the enabled person. In this case, enablers believe that by providing consistent care they can keep their partner/loved one from harm.
  • Protective. Protective enablers act as shields, preventing their loved ones from facing the consequences of their actions. They often step in to spare them from discomfort or adversity, even if it means covering up mistakes or unlawful behavior.
  • Rescuing. Rescuing enablers rush to the rescue whenever problems arise. They have a strong desire to prevent others from experiencing hardship or failure, so they intervene regularly.
  • Overcompensating . Enablers who overcompensate tend to take on excessive responsibilities and tasks supposed to belong to the person they’re supporting. They feel compelled to make up for the other persons shortcomings, sometimes to the detriment of their own well-being.

What Are The Stages Of Enabling?

Not all experts agree about the exact stages of enabling. However, some of the most frequently cited ones can illustrate how enabling can evolve over time.

Stage 1: Denial

This is the initial stage of enabling and at this point, the enabler usually downplays or overlooks the harmful actions or behaviors of their loved one. They might tell themselves that it’s not as bad as it seems or that it’s just a temporary phase.

Stage 2: Compliance 

As enabling progresses, compliance becomes more evident. The enabler begins to actively support or accommodate their partner’s negative behaviors. They usually do this driven by desire to avoid conflict in the relationship.

Stage 3: Control

In the control stage, the enabler begins managing the consequences of their partner’s actions. They try to keep managing the situation, often by covering up mistakes or stepping in to resolve problems caused by their partner’s behavior.

Stage 4: Crisis 

This is when the consequences of enabling behavior become most apparent. The enabler is frequently in a state of constant stress and turmoil, trying to deal with a series of crises resulting from the continued negative actions of their loved one. It’s often at this point that they realize the damaging impact of their enabling actions.

The Other View

As opposed to this, some psychologists believe that there are only two stages or phases of enabling: 

  • Innocent stage is mainly driven by ignorance. Enablers simply don’t know any better, they could still be confused, in denial, and diminishing negative consequences of their loved one’s behavior.
  • Desperate stage of enabling is usually driven by fear. Enablers also might feel shame, not wanting to damage the enabled person’s reputation, so they’re prepared to undertake drastic measures to cover up their loved one’s behavior, concerned about its consequences.

What Is An Example Of Enabling In Relationships?

These examples underscore the different ways in which enabling behavior can impact romantic relationships by shielding one partner from the consequences of their actions or avoiding conflicts essential for growth and understanding. So, what is an enabler in a relationship? 

In romantic relationships, enabling is frequently intertwined with codependency, creating a complex dynamic that can be detrimental to both partners. While codependency refers to a relationship where one person excessively relies on the other for emotional support, validation, and a sense of identity, enabling protects the partner from facing the consequences of their negative actions.

These patterns frequently go hand in hand; like when a partner in a codependent relationship covers up for their significant other’s addiction issues. For example, if one partner in a codependent relationship discovers that their significant other has developed a severe alcohol or drug addiction, they might constantly make excuses for their loved one’s behavior, like calling in sick to work on their behalf or explaining their absence from family events.

While the intentions of the enabling partner might be rooted in love and concern, this only perpetuates the addiction by protecting the addicted partner from the repercussions of their actions and ultimately discouraging them from seeking the necessary help and rehabilitation. Codependency and enabling can reinforce the destructive patterns within relationships, highlighting the importance of recognizing and addressing these dynamics. 

The most common enabling acts include:

Covering Up Lies

In romantic relationships, one partner might consistently cover up lies or other deceitful actions committed by the enabled partner. They might also rationalize these actions to themselves or others, creating excuses to protect their partner from the consequences of dishonesty. This type of behavior can also erode trust within the relationship.

Financial Bailouts

This can involve regularly covering a partner’s debts, loans, or irresponsible spending. While this type of behavior might seem like a gesture of support, typical for many marriages, it ultimately perpetuates irresponsibility, as the enabled partner doesn’t face the full consequences of their actions.

Avoiding Conflict

One partner might go to great lengths to avoid any disagreements, constantly giving in to the other’s wishes. They will avoid important conversations to maintain the façade of harmony. This prevents healthy communication and discourages attempts to resolve the underlying issue in a more constructive way, hindering the personal growth of both partners and the stability of their relationship.


Learn How To How To Deal With Enabling In A Relationship With PIVOT 

If you’re struggling within the vicious cycle of enabling, PIVOT relationship coaches can help you break out of it by leading you toward open and honest conversation about the problem and helping you place focus back on yourself. This is the road to true self-discovery and the only way to achieve a sense of self-worth that will help you form and maintain meaningful relationships based on love.

Remember that you’re not alone in this – many people fight similar battles. Get the support you need through our intimate Glass House workshops, led by experienced coaches who can help you find your true self so the love you have for your partner can take on a healthier form: empowering instead of enabling.

Start Now - Live Better!

The PIVOT Process will provide high-impact solutions to create healthy relationships.

Discover PIVOT
© 2024 Lori Jean Glass, LLC | PIVOT