Being Sympathetic to Your Spouse is Enabling?

Being Sympathetic to Your Spouse is Enabling? May 18, 2019

Somehow I ended up on this post through one in the last issue of No Greater Joy magazine May/June 2019. The article was about not being an enabler. The letter writer complained copiously about her husband and puzzled how to best change his behavior. The unidentified person answering the letter claimed to have been married for 35 years, and wished she’d have heeded Michael Pearl’s advice on not being an enabler.

It was rather confusing, talks of bad relationships and enabling before moving on to saying that being submissive has nothing to do with being an enabler. Keep in mind the letter writer never mentioned a thing about enabling or being an enabler.

As I went from piece to piece that were linked together in the original post it led to this statement by Michael Pearl in some previous issue.

If your spouse or friend wallows in self-pity and misery or becomes stricken and loses confidence over a minor personal issue, you are an enabler if you treat their complaints with tender understanding instead of steering them to see themselves objectively. Your goal is to bring them to normalcy, not legitimize their misery by expressing sympathy and confirming their false assumptions. Being a good help meet is helping your spouse be stronger, happier, healthier, and more discerning of themselves as well as others.

So let me get this straight, we’re to be kind, tender hearted, gentle and sweet towards our husbands as we submit, but we’re not to be any of those things if they are depressed, or feeling down. Seems to me that offering some tender loving care might be more important when someone else is down in the dumps. At least initially.

And then you try to steer the person to a healthier idea, or thinking, or give them ideas on how to handle whatever is going on with them. None of which preclude the idea of tea and sympathy. It’s important that the people we surround ourselves with will support us in both tough times and good times.

Michael also does not seem to realize that there is a great deal of difference between chemical depression and someone having a meltdown because their day didn’t go as they planned. Both likely need someone to be understanding and sympathetic, but ultimate it requires different solutions for very different problems.

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About Suzanne Titkemeyer
Suzanne Titkemeyer went from a childhood in Louisiana to a life lived in the shadow of Washington D.C. For many years she worked in the field of social work, from national licensure to working hands on in a children's residential treatment center. Suzanne has been involved with helping the plights of women and children' in religious bondage. She is a ordained Stephen's Minister with many years of counseling experience. Now she's retired to be a full time beach bum in Tamarindo, Costa Rica with the monkeys and iguanas. She is also a thalassophile. She also left behind years in a Quiverfull church and loves to chronicle the worst abuses of that particular theology. She has been happily married to her best friend for the last 32 years. You can read more about the author here.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Sometimes someone just wants to air their grief and then move on. I think that’s o.k.

  • Saraquill

    Yet Debi is supposed to rearrange her life every time Michael has a whim.

  • Friend

    Agreed. I have a young relative who blurts “FML” thoughts, and then talks sensibly a couple of minutes later; filters have not yet finished growing. Adults have their own versions of this (“I hate my boss”).

    I do think that “clearing the air” is overrated. There’s a difference between yelling “how could you do such a thing” and yelling “you’re stupid.” Even an angry argument should focus on specific actions, not just allow people to heap condemnation on each other.

  • Friend

    It would be a mistake to look for consistency among all Christian cultural enforcers. However, any submissive wife would have an impossible time figuring out how to cope with a despondent unemployed husband. Should she placidly encourage him to dream? Yell at him? Help him update his resume? What is she allowed to do?

    That situation is well-nigh intractable in the real world, where at least women can look for their own jobs and recommend counseling.

  • Mel

    And Debi’s written a series of books instructing wives in the fine art of enabling their husband’s every wish, want, or desire.

  • Mel

    She’s allowed to pray a lot while trying to increase revenue flow through her home-based business and slashing the non-existent budget of their family to nothing.

    That’s what a whole bunch of Vision Forum employee’s wives who had blogs attempted when VF self-destructed.

  • Friend

    This is bringing back sad memories of wives of military folks I knew long ago. Even if they weren’t staying home out of Christian submission, they could not string together careers because of the husbands’ frequent transfers. So they spent time selling stuff to one another. It was always pricey stuff: cosmetics, kitchen gizmos, color swatches. Many could not afford to buy it, but they did anyway, because they were all at risk of losing money on their own wares.

    These were bright, hard-working women. I hope things are better now, since people are more aware of the pitfalls of MLM schemes.

  • Iain Lovejoy

    “If your spouse or friend wallows in self-pity and misery or becomes stricken and loses confidence over a minor personal issue…”
    Those accusing Mike Pearl of inconsistency are quite wrong. Anything about anyone else that doesn’t affect Mike is a “minor personal issue”, and paying any attention to a person upset about it (and thus not concentrating on Mike) is obviously uncalled-for and “enabling” them to continue to call attention to their own problems and distract from people paying attention to Mike. Submissively supporting Mike in everything is quite different. This is completely consistent with everything else Mike says.

  • persephone

    The Pearls don’t believe mental illness is debilitating. Look how they treated the daughter with bipolar disorder.

  • AFo

    Well, we all know that Mikey’s greatest fear is people not thinking he’s manly enough, and depression and lack of confidence are signs of weakness to him, so it makes sense that his general advice would be to just get over it and man up. I’m confused as to how the wife is supposed to achieve this while still being smiling, submissive, and not undermining her husband’s authority.

  • TheBookOfDavid

    Are you sure that Mr Pearl wasn’t pitching this idea to male readers only? This looks suspiciously like advice to avoid emotional labor, and never waste an opportunity to gaslight your mate into reinforced compliance and forced displays of happiness.

  • taylor_serenil

    I’m guessing it wasn’t “shrink who’s at least medically competent and will listen to you if the side effects are worse than being unmedicated and work with that even if you don’t really click with them” + “talk therapist who you DO click with/feel safe talking to/is good at their job”? That’s the bare minimum I’d want for a bipolar II loved one who didn’t have major comorbidities.

    (I can’t speak for what else that person might need because while I am bipolar, I’m also a TBI survivor, probably autistic, and have a number of mostly physical issues so I’m at “who knows what’s causing this latest nonsense?” status a lot of the time..)