When we think of embarking on a relationship, whether or not our partner will enable us to flourish may not be the first thought on our minds. Attraction can often blind us to deeper issues. The problem is, this means that we can sometimes find ourselves in difficult situations with a partner who isn’t good for us emotionally: a partner who doesn’t enable us to flourish. This can then lead to unhappiness and discontent.
While it’s desirable to have these deeper thoughts in mind while finding a partner, it’s also never too late to assess how good our current relationship is for us.
One of the key ingredients in a happy relationship is whether or not a person supports you or undermines you: whether, emotionally, they enable you to flourish or cause you to shrivel and wither away. Consider for a few moments your own relationship. Does your partner enable you to flourish?
Let’s look firstly at being a positive enabler and then, secondly, at the importance of flourishing.
BEING A POSITIVE ENABLER
Often, in psychological usage, the word ‘enable’ is used negatively. We may see it used in the context of a partner of an alcoholic who ‘enables’ this poor behaviour, who ‘enables’ a partner’s negative actions by supporting their drinking. But enabling can also be a positive term. Here is a useful definition of enabling:
Verb – to enable:
a. To supply with the means, knowledge, or opportunity; make able: b. To make feasible or possible (The Free Dictionary)
By enabling a person, we can help make things possible for them. Used in a positive sense, this means that we would support our partner’s plans and encourage their dreams. We wouldn’t undermine and belittle them as this would inevitably lower their confidence and self-esteem.
Being a positive enabler is selfless behaviour. It occurs because we love and want the best for our person. We long to see them happy, and we constantly offer ways to help make this possible. This is not about taking over or bossing our partner around. It doesn’t involve overtly or covertly controlling them. It’s also not about being a doormat. It is about being a supportive presence.
HOW IS YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP – ENABLING OR UNDERMINING?
Is this how your relationship works? Does your partner look for ways to support you, to enable you, or do they spend time undermining you? Do they consider your plans and thoughts and factor these into their own decisions? Or do they run roughshod over your dreams and prioritise their own?
When looking for a partner, or looking at your partner now, consider how much they help you to flourish and make your life possible. Conversely, how much do they contribute to undermining you, and thwarting you? It’s also equally important to look at the example you offer on this. Are you a supportive presence in the relationship? Do you actually enable your partner to flourish?
ARE YOU FLOURISHING?
When you think of flourishing perhaps your mind gravitates, like mine, to plants and flowers. Imagine a border of beautiful, vibrant flowers. Perhaps a mix of roses, lupins, geraniums, dahlias, set in contrast to low-lying bedding plants. The flowers are thriving, they look healthy and strong, they stand out as beacons of colour in our border – they are flourishing. They are admired and appreciated by those who see them.
It’s unlikely that this has occurred by accident. The plants and shrubs have been nurtured, originally as tender plants, stripped of any disease as it occurs, and watered at various times during their growth cycle. These flourishing plants have been tended to and cared for. The gardener has enabled the border to flourish.
This is a metaphor for our relationship. This is what we can hope for in a relationship. This is what we can hope a partner does for us. They tend to us, care for our needs, check things are going well and make things possible for us. All so that we can flourish, all so that we can thrive. This is the selfless act of a loving partner. It’s a vital facet of a good healthy relationship and it provides us with a deep sense of love and contentment.
AN EXAMPLE OF UNDERMINING vs. ENABLING TO FLOURISH
Let’s look at a simple example to develop our topic. John has come home from work and looks to his partner, Hilary, and tells her about an amazing idea he’s had for a new project. Here are two possible ways in which she responds:
Option One: ‘Not another idea, John,’ Hilary mutters impatiently as she continues to load the dishwasher. ‘The last one didn’t work out, you’re such a dreamer. Why can’t you just act like a grownup?’
Option Two: ‘Hold on a sec, John, I just need to finish this then we can have a drink and you can tell me all about it.’
Now, it may be that John’s idea is poor and won’t work. Perhaps he does have endless dreams and Hillary is tired of them. But her undermining and negative response will only further defeat her partner and lower his confidence. By listening to him and discussing the idea within a positive framework, they can look together at his plan. John will be responsive to Hillary’s thoughts and will feel heard and cared for because she shows interest in his ideas.
You can hear the irritation in the first response; the lack of interest – she doesn’t even look up from the dishwasher. If this is their usual modus operandi then their partnership is already under pressure. She is not supportive or enabling – John is not flourishing like a beautiful shrub, he is being trodden under foot by an impatient and distracted partner. This is unlikely to bode well for their relationship.
For John to flourish he must be heard. At the very least, he needs to be listened to, as we see in our second option. A relationship and partnership cannot flourish without this level of interest and care. Resentment will surface, self-esteem will suffer and the partnership has a high chance of breaking down.
ENABLING YOUR PARTNER TO FLOURISH – SOME THOUGHTS
Knowing how important supporting and enabling our partner is within a relationship, here are a few thoughts on how to keep the idea of flourishing at the heart of your relationship, both in receiving and giving:
Refuse to undermine your partner privately and publicly.
Be an encouraging presence. This is not fake positivity or ignoring true obstacles, it is a mindset which puts genuine support at the heart of the relationship.
Be nurturing. Show care and concern, think of peoples’ hopes and dreams like tender plants – do you want to tread them underfoot or nurture them to beautiful fruition?
Offer praise and thanks. Taking our partner for granted is the easiest thing to do. Remember to show continued appreciation.
Spend time together. Even with busy lives and especially with children to care for, it is essential for couples to prioritise time spent together. Take time to relax, to just be the two of you, to touch base and to ensure you are keeping the partnership on track.
Listen and communicate effectively – set aside time each day to really communicate with your partner. Not about practical matters, such as children, care of parents, or other plans for the daily run of life. But to talk about concerns and feelings within the relationship.
Nip things in the bud and speak up – if something negative has happened in the relationship, choose an appropriate time and speak up about it. Ensure your voice is heard, calmly, wherever possible.
It takes time and effort to enable our partners to flourish. Just like our garden border, only with care and attention is it a vibrant and beautiful spectacle. So it is within our relationship, it requires time, care and selflessness for partners to flourish.
So when you’re thinking about embarking on a long-term relationship, consider focusing on finding someone who enables you to flourish. If you’re already in a relationship, it can be a wakeup call to look at these issues. Perhaps you have slipped into some negative patterns where time together is not a priority and there has been a loss of focus and care in the relationship. All of these things can be improved upon with awareness, communication and a willingness to look truthfully at your feelings and the issues you face as a couple.
Remember to think of both parties within the relationship – look at what your partner offers you and also look at what you’re offering to your partner. Look at whether or not you are both offering the time and investment in your relationship within a nurturing and positive framework. Assess if both of you are flourishing, shining brightly and progressing with your goals and dreams.
A happy relationship, where individuals and the partnership thrive and flourish, is beautiful to see and visible to all. And the good news is that this flourishing can be achieved, not at the expense of each other, but because of each other.