This is the second part of our 2-part discussion with Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC and David Livingston, LMFT. When your loved one is battling substance abuse issues, the worst thing you can do is support their addiction. Learn the signs of enabling behavior vs. helping your partner in their recovery.
Episode 27: Are You Enabling Your Partner’s Addiction?
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Welcome back. Welcome back. Glad to have you here today. You are listening to a podcast to answer your questions on addiction, recovery and mental health presented by Waismann Method Opioid Treatment Specialists, Clare Waismann, David Livingston, and myself. And I’m Dwight Hurst are joining us today to talk about the second part of our two-part conversation that had to do with enabling. Last episode we talked about enablement as it applied to the parent-child relationship and addiction. Today we’re going to be talking about how do we break it down and define what is enabling and what do we do about it and how do we avoid it as it comes to our own relationships with our partners.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: We’ve been talking mostly when we give examples. We’ve been talking about parent-child relationships, but there’s kind of a different wrinkle to partnerships, right? If people are spouses or, you know, romantic partners, sometimes they live together, sometimes they may not. In some cases, even divorced partners will still be involved with somebody’s recovery because it affects the kids or whatever. So in those partnership-type relationships, do you feel like there’s different wrinkles to what is or isn’t enabling or how to make those decisions?
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I think the main difference there is when you’re talking about a partner or a wife, a husband, you have first responsibility. Obviously, if you have minor children, to the safety of the home, to the safety of others. So there is another layer to your decision because now you’re dealing with children that depend on your decisions to feel safe and cared for. And obviously, you can affect their future as well.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Sort of different criteria to that question of “Are we good under the same roof?”
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Correct? It’s not “Are we good?”, “Are we safe?”. Now sometimes we’re not good, but we can get better and we can work at, you know, to, again, reach a healthier space. But are we safe today under the same roof? Is this damaging everybody involved, especially the children? Are we being irresponsible and putting them at risk? So there are different layers? I think when there are minors involved that there isn’t when you are a parent or somebody not living with the person. And then, you know, there once if there is no children involved, then then I think things get a little more that things are a little easier, decisions are a little less risky, because now you’re really talking about you and somebody else. You know, there is less barriers in between. Obviously, there was always a consideration to others. And I think that is in any relationship. I think that is part of the emotional maturity is learning to consider other people. But that’s my thought between the parent and, you know, a partner. What do you think, David?
David Livingston, LMFT: You’re trying to think about the well-being of a family and the well-being of an individual. And, you know, you’ve got to just look at everything like you’re saying, Clare. And it’s hard to talk about these things in generalities, as I keep saying, because but yeah, in general, if you’re talking about and it’s different between kids and a partner and, you know, it also depends on the vulnerabilities of everybody involved, you know, how vulnerable or how much can people handle. And there’s a lot of things that have to be assessed.
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I think, for the patient themselves as well, when it’s a parent is different than one needs your partner. You know, a parent is kind of your route. I think it’s a harder decision. It’s a harder separation. I think there’s a there’s a difference of a “love to a child” and a “love to a partner” pretty much. So I think when you’re dealing with your child is it’s got to be much, much more difficult to make decisions where you… Because that’s your job. That’s naturally what your job is to protect your child, period. That’s not the job of the partner. Does that make sense?
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: I think I think it makes a lot of sense.
David Livingston, LMFT: It’s it does. It does. And, you know, it depends on how vulnerable the child is and how vulnerable the partner is to. You know, in terms of what you would or wouldn’t do and. You know, and their resources, both internally and externally and all kinds of factors, so I’m not sure how to even address it beyond that unless we created scenarios. But it is a different relationship. But ultimately, you want to evoke the adult part of the child and the partner, you want them to kind of step up with you and kind and begin to take responsibility. And when that’s happening together, it’s good.
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I think we are forgetting another factor that often happens as well as people get used to crossing another line, and another line. So what seems to somebody from the other side not a healthy environment or somebody not helping someone, as they should for them, almost became the norm, you know, things evolve. And what shocked you two years ago today might be part of your day-to-day. So that is also an issue where, you know, if we go back to where we started, this whole conversation is being able to evaluate what’s acceptable and not. And I think a lot of people lose a sense of what that is. Families that I’ve spoken to two years ago, five years ago, what for them was shocking and absolutely not acceptable two years, five years ago now became part of their day-to-day. And they don’t see it anymore.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Absolutely. And there’s a type of enabling we don’t often talk about if we especially if we are defining enabling is making relapse more likely. Sometimes we inadvertently cling to a dynamic that we created in order to survive. So like you’re saying, you know, over the years, three, five, 10, 20 years of having an active addiction in my relationship with my partner, sometimes when they get sober, it’s hard to adapt to that. And so we might we don’t usually call this enabling, but it’s the dynamic where someone might say, “Hey, don’t tell me what to do with the kids. That’s not your role.” “Well, it actually should become more my role if I’m getting sober.” But how do we do that? And if it’s like I give a tremendous amount of pushback, I might actually be enabling a relapse without meaning to because I’m uncomfortable with it. You’re threatening my survival strategy that I have come up with by living with you. And it’s not even the person’s fault. It’s just part of that dynamic, I think. Because it’s so important to protect the kids and to make sure the family still runs, and that’s sometimes one of the harder parts for a partner and honestly, one of the reasons why relationships really struggle in sobriety comes into the mix sometimes.
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: And sadly enough, I see that often and the kids become broken as well, the kids do not know what’s normal and what’s not anymore and what relationship for them in their lifetime becomes is something very different than in what he should be. It’s a whole dynamic that if you allow it to snowball on you, it just takes over every sense of your life.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: And part of the empowering or positive enabling is actually working on things that are dynamics and relationships, because as the sobriety might come in and the blanket of the addiction that’s protecting me against things goes away, then we’d have to deal with some of those things. And so, like the opposite of enabling, actually, instead of pushing the person away is like saying, OK, you know, I need to work on myself and recovery from that survival. We need to work on our relationship because chances are, even before addiction became a problem, there were probably some things that we could have benefited from working on. And especially if addiction is one of the ways my partner expresses their own symptoms of psychological stress, then they were probably under stress before. And we need to work on that. Yeah, to address the underlying problem as often comes up in treatment.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: What about this dynamic where people feel oftentimes that they are accused by professionals or other people? They go to maybe Al-Anon or they just talk to people and they’re accused of enabling. Where do you where do we think that accusation comes from? Do you think does that come from people’s own experience? Does it come from lack of experience only? Is it fear-based? What are some thoughts about that?
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I personally believe it’s primarily come from a lack of humility. It’s very easy to point a finger, accuse somebody of something when they know you again, you have no knowledge of what they’re really living in or through. So. There are no rights and wrongs, there is doing the best you can to live the, you know, the best life, a healthier life you can, but you have the pointing finger I don’t think is supportive. I don’t think is effective. I don’t think it’s productive. I think it’s all the opposite.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Well, you know, addiction recovery is like weight loss in its way. It’s one of the areas of life that is very, very full of the problem of do it the way I did it. If you don’t do it the way I did it, you’re doing it wrong. And so people have experience and they sometimes pass that on, I think to as you put it, there’s a lack of empathy there to say let me stop and listen to a person and acknowledge that their situation might be different.
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: But then we go back to our podcast. In the beginning, people are looking at the addiction. They’re not looking at the person. Addiction is a symptom. It doesn’t have a heart to doesn’t have blood running through its veins. It’s just a condition. There is a person behind the addiction. And that’s what you should be looking at. That’s what you should be treating. When you treat the symptom, it’s temporary.
David Livingston, LMFT: Because we need boundaries and we need to hold ourselves responsible. We need to be able to hold other people responsible, at least at times, too. And at the same time, if you go too far in that, you can overwhelm people, you can alienate them, you can create conditions that lead towards impulsivity or relapses or things like that. So it’s a balance, you know. And how do you balance that process is, you know, it just takes a lot of thinking. And really, you know, this is one of my gripes with what’s happened in the field of addiction and in the field of psychology in general is it’s so behaviorally oriented that everything’s just about, you know, the behavior gets sober, stay sober, so forth. That’s all. There’s a benefit to that. And certainly behaviors are critical, but the ability to think and develop your ability to understand and to and to reflect on what your needs are, to be able to sustain the tensions and stay in things long enough to find creative solutions and hang in there and develop in that way. That’s really that that’s really the goal from my perspective. It isn’t just, you know, it’s to develop along the way. So if you develop along the way, you will have a capacity for more creative solutions to everything. Always that’s the goal. So instead of just seeing one possible way of coping, you can think, you know, all right, well, this isn’t working. I’m not doing this well, you know, what else can I do? How can I hassle, I’ll call this person. I’ll do that, like, you know, and having a multitude of ways.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: You know, I know some therapists now. They feel like codependents has become short for blaming shorthand for blaming someone, unless it’s really well defined to say what are the people like to say? What are the elements of what we used to call codependents in the relationship and label them for what they are? Whereas the. Oh, you’re codependent. OK, great. So it’s my fault. Gotcha.
David Livingston, LMFT: Yeah, I don’t even know what it means. I mean, I guess I do in general,
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: But that’s the problem. I think it’s not well defined.
David Livingston, LMFT: Right. Yeah. I mean I think the inability to stand on your own is, would leave you vulnerable for, for potentially unhealthy dependency for you didn’t feel like if you’re in a situation that is not good for you or worse, you could leave and you could and people do get in that. And life’s complicated and families and relationships develop along all kinds of different avenues financially and in other ways. And so people at times are vulnerable. You know how to get out of that and how to manage that and how to you know, it’s so I’m I agree with you. I never use that word. But I think you’ve got to break these things down, understand what people are feeling stuck or they feel vulnerable in ways you have to get into what that is and what can help it.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: We’re going to leave it there for today. I feel like we were able to really get into two very important parts of that question of what is enablement, how do we avoid it and what are some things we can do instead. If you have questions, please email us [email protected] Check out our website, opiates.com or go on Twitter @opiates. I’d love to hear the questions that you have. We really enjoy the outpouring of reaching out that we’re getting from listeners who want their specific questions answered. Clare and David and myself. We find that we get a lot out of digging into things that interest and fascinate you out there. And thanks for all of the feedback that we’ve been getting. We’re glad to be able to be helpful. This show is a production of pop culture productions. You can learn more about pop culture productions and start your podcast at Popped Collar Productions. Our music is the song Medical by Clean Mind Sounds for Clare Waismann and David Livingston, Dwight Hurst. Glad to be here with you all. Please keep asking questions. If you ask questions, we get answers. We do hope we’ll see you next time.
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