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Not deferring to their distress: unlearning enabling

learningtofeel posted 5/29/2020 19:05 PM

I have some very good news - and it is coming with a really powerful bit of learning that I want to share, in case it's helpful to others.

The good news first (because we all need a little lately): I AM GOING TO GET TO KEEP THE HOUSE AFTER ALL!!!!!!

In a totally unexpected turn of events, we decided that I will keep the house in exchange for him not having to pay any spousal support. It more or less works out in terms of financial value, and not only does it give me the house but it means I don't have to rely on him financially ever again. I just refinance for the current mortgage and we call it good. Double yay!

I thought I was going to lose the house, which was my forever home, so this feels really, really good. Or does it?

So here is where I had my bit of learning (so much gets clearer when you are no longer in the relationship, right?). In the history of our marriage, I enabled his childish emotions. As my therapist puts it, "I deferred to his distress." If ever there were a situation where he felt distressed, the family system was that he would somehow passively put out a statement that sort of implied that I should make a choice, and make it the choice that would remove his distress. For example, if we were trying to decide on making a big purchase and we came down to two choices. I preferred one, he preferred the other. He demonstrated his distress about not getting his choice, and put it out in a way that I knew it would be easier all around if I just overtly stated that I preferred his choice - instead of mine. I was the grown-up, but we never even got to having a fight about it, because I preemptively deferred to his distress and accepted his choice. Once or twice I stood up for myself, and we agreed on my choice, but then he became grouchy or sullen or angry or whatever little children do when they don't get their way. Instead of helping him learn to deal with his emotions, I enabled by agreeing to reverse and make it his choice. I could not tolerate his distress.

So, through our (excellent) mediator, we came to this decision about the house - with that third party helping us through and there to witness the agreement. He is very, very sad now (I was very, very sad before). He is distressed. I could even tell, during the mediation process, that he was fully expecting me to not go there and to not conclude this deal. But I was ready (thanks, therapy) and I DID NOT DEFER TO HIS DISTRESS!!!

So now it's a day later and he has asked that I give him "some space for his grief" before continuing with the plans for him to move out and me to move back in. He is distressed. And I can feel how much I am uncomfortable with it. It's really fascinating to observe this in myself. This is me unlearning my enabling behaviors, and being willing to tolerate his distress. And why? Because I no longer need to protect the relationship and avoid conflict with him.

For those of you who are subject to enabling behaviors, this was a good lesson: recognize that it's really, really hard to tolerate their distress and really easy to tolerate your own in comparison. That is what you are accustomed to and what your family dynamic supported. You no longer have to do that. You can give them the gift of allowing them to manage their own distress and leaving them alone to do it.

Now I'm going back to being BEYOND HAPPY that I am getting the house!!!!

Chrysalis123 posted 5/29/2020 19:34 PM

Congratulations and good work and inner healing!!!!!!!

KatieKat posted 5/29/2020 19:49 PM

BRAVA! I live with one of those guys. Itís tough.

BearlyBreathing posted 5/29/2020 22:17 PM

Well done, LTF! That is an excellent story, we are never to blame for the affair, but that doesnít mean we canít grow and learn too as we heal. You are a rock star!!

Phoenix1 posted 5/29/2020 22:47 PM


I always just considered the enabling as the path a least resistance. I seriously just did not want to listen to his whining so I usually caved to whatever he wanted. Not always. Held my ground on stupid frivolous stuff he wanted, but mostly caved to avoid the inevitable manchild tantrum.🤷‍♀️

Good on you for standing strong!

nekonamida posted 5/29/2020 23:15 PM

Great job!

I really can't believe the gal of your STBX to throw himself a pity party over this. In an ideal world, he wanted to benefit from the house AND get out of paying alimony, right? So he's sad because he DIDN'T manage to massively screw you over in D? I know he didn't frame it that way but let's be honest - if he got his way, you would be the one paying the price and that doesn't change just because he refuses to see the consequences you would experience. And really that's what a lot of those choices come down to because I'm sure there had to be at least a few times where you had a valid reason for going with option A and the option B he wanted inconvenienced you the most but you did it for him anyways.

Glad you're finally feeling the discomfort. It's good. Your gut is catching up to how unfair this position he puts you in is, how manipulative it is, and how compromise and acting like an adult are the way to go. When he was forced to play fair, both of you walked out with a fair deal. Don't let his pity party make you think otherwise. Many spouses would be happy to not have to pay alimony in exchange for a different asset split.

LadyG posted 5/30/2020 02:54 AM

This is me unlearning my enabling behaviors, and being willing to tolerate his distress. And why? Because I no longer need to protect the relationship and avoid conflict with him.

Thank you🙏🏼 This is brilliant advice. I can still be kind and compassionate without giving in to his passive aggressive demands.

learningtofeel posted 5/30/2020 09:55 AM

LadyG - EXACTLY! During the really hard process of divorcing it is so easy to fall back into those damaging patterns. It has been eye-opening to me to start to see how they worked and how I can now choose different ways of interacting with him (and any future partner). They are going to do everything they can to keep the status quo, which allowed them to have it both ways, and it's going to be hard to stay mentally on top of this so I don't get sucked back in. I've seen so many folks on this forum dealing with that.

BearlyBreathing - Spot on. The affairs are entirely his doing and his responsibility. And they are connected to his emotional immaturity too and his need for external validation and inability to deal with discomfort or conflict. None of which are my problem now!

Nekonamida - Seriously. Thank you for pointing that out. There I was "taking care of him" in a small way by honoring his request that I not continue to work on details for a day or two. Without needing to intentionally antagonize him or cause additional distress, I will cotninue to do what is needed and not slow the process for the sake of his distress. Good reminder!

homewrecked2011 posted 5/30/2020 19:27 PM

I was exactly like you, always being ďniceĒ to keep the peace. I have to tell you, I sort of enjoy seeing him all sad and not getting his way, now.

I got the house, too, in a similar arrangement!! My xh thought I was going to move out, give him the kids and the house.
Shows how delusional they are when reality hits them in the face.

BTW see if your atty can make him sign the quitclaim deed now, if possible. It makes it so much easier if you donít have to go find him later when you refi!


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