I Want to Take a Hard Line and Not Enable My Son/Daughter and My Husband Isn’t on Board. How Do I Change Anything?

October 3, 2023

Expert Advice | Barbara Decker

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  • I Want to Take a Hard Line and Not Enable My Son/Daughter and My Husband Isn’t on Board. How Do I Change Anything?

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding that there’s nothing you can do to control anyone around you is key when parenting an adult child struggling with addiction.
  • Signs that your spouse or family member is enabling your child with addiction include giving in to their demands and ignoring boundaries you’ve set.
  • You can only control your own actions, so it’s important to find new ways to communicate with your spouse or family members about boundaries that work for you.
  • Keeping a record of decision points where you and others see things differently can help bring clarity and open up opportunities for compromise and finding middle ground.

There are many lessons you’ll learn during the course of parenting an adult child who is struggling with addiction. At the top of that list is understanding that there’s nothing you can do to control anyone around you. While this certainly applies first and foremost to your child, remember that addiction is a family disease. This rule of thumb can apply to anyone in your life — including your spouse.

How do you feel when your spouse, ex-spouse, or another family member completely ignores the boundaries you’ve set to firmly protect your own sense of well-being? I often hear students say they feel hopeless and stuck. You know these boundaries are in place to help your child better understand the consequences of your actions. How will they ever choose recovery if someone else they love enables their behavior while you work hard to help them?

How do I know when my spouse, ex-spouse, or another family member is enabling my child?

Again, you can’t control the actions of anyone else. All you CAN control right now are your actions. Of course, that’s so much easier said than done! So much of the work we do to support our adult children struggling with addiction is easier said than done.

Think about these signs and symptoms that it’s time to try something else:

  • Your child is using drugs or alcohol and may be addicted, and you know this because:
  • Your child no longer looks and/or behaves like the child you raised.
  • Your child has crisis after crisis in his/her life and is unable to navigate through them.
  • You hide a lot of what is happening from friends and family.
  • You feel responsible and like a failure as a parent.
  • You find yourself continually frustrated because your partner, ex-spouse, or other family members give into your child’s demands and you know it’s not helping them. For example, you set a boundary that you won’t give your child money, but they go to your husband — who hands over cash. Even when you bring this up, your husband doesn’t stop “helping.”
  • You’re facing constant tension within the family unit because you and your partners or other family members just see things so differently. They don’t agree with the boundaries you’ve created. They make you feel guilty and wrong about creating and enforcing the boundaries you know your child needs.
  • You miss the close relationship you used to have with your spouse, other children, or family members. It’s hard to be close when you don’t see eye-to-eye about the right boundaries. The relationships you’ve been nurturing all seem to be tainted by addiction.

What have you tried to help your family members understand the boundaries you’ve created? Which of these methods are you currently trying?

Method 1: You’re always rushing to get to a situation with your child first, like when they ask for money. You want to be the first to say no and put boundaries in place before anyone else finds out there’s a crisis. This way, your child won’t go to anyone else for money. You don’t have to worry that another family member is rushing to their rescue and enabling them further.

Method 2: You reason constantly with your partner or other family members to understand your boundaries and why they’re in place. You explain it oh so clearly. When they still don’t respect those boundaries and give into your child (remember the example of financial help) you get frustrated and angry, and hurt and confused. How can they not see what they are doing?

Method 3: You drag the other family member(s) to therapy. You hope that a professional third party will help open their eyes to the importance of honoring your fair boundaries. You figure that if they don’t listen to you, they’ll at least listen to someone who isn’t so close to the situation.

They’ll surely listen to a professional. They’ll surely listen to someone who doesn’t have an emotional or financial investment in your child’s life.

Think about trying another approach; here’s what I recommend to do instead, and why it’s important to try it.

It bears repeating, again and again: The only person you can change in situations like these is YOU.

There is no reality in which you can force anyone else to change. Instead, you must think about new ways that YOU can respond to your spouse or family members. You need strategies that help communicate your point. You need strategies that give you peace of mind that you’re setting boundaries that work for YOU. Sometimes, shifts in how you communicate are just the impetus needed for another person to start to shift their ways of thinking, too.

Here's why I recommend this.

  • Your child will always reach out to the person who is most likely to give in. They do this because the disease wants to have what it wants and needs. It is wily and manipulative. I had to accept that my ex-husband and others in my family would do for Eric (my son) things I had refused to do because I thought they enabled his disease.
  • Your spouse or other family members continue to give in to your child’s behaviors because of where they are on their own journey - their own understanding of the disease. I’m sure each is doing what they think is best and can personally bear. You are just at a different place in the journey. And things often get better when you respect and accept that.

If this shift in communication skills doesn’t help, you have a choice to make about your own life and about the way you are willing to live with the understanding that others simply may not change. This choice will teach you how to comfortably co-exist with your family members, but ultimately it won’t change THEM. This choice will also help you accept that your partner or family member is in a different place when it comes to setting boundaries.

From there, with these new tools, you may find a “middle ground” where you and your spouse or family member will be a unified front — without having to compromise your own boundaries or peace of mind. This won’t happen overnight. With some guidance (and those new tools) it will start moving the needle slowly and surely.

Here’s what you SHOULD and CAN do today — download my Get Clear On How Your Views Differ Log

Start to keep a record of the specific decision points - choices - on which you and your spouse or others see things differently. Getting to clarity here is the first step in being able to find ways in which you may be able to shift things.

Get Clear on How Your Views Differ

Need more help?

Watch my free, confidential 60-minute workshop with “your other person” who sees things differently.

Agree to watch together and agree to spend 30 min the next day comparing your take-aways. See if you can find something you agree about.

Watch this workshop with your "other person."

I hope you find a pocket of joy in your day today.
Reach out anytime, because I care.


Certified Family Recovery Specialist (CFRS)

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    1. Carol – All addictions behave the same way and our work teaches you what your options are no matter what type of addiction the person has. I am not saying that there we can solve the addiction; we can solve how the addiction impacts you and how you respond, and often changing your response will allow the person with the addiction to make healthier choices. -B

  1. My sons addiction and the differences in how to cope with it as a family have had a lot to do with our pending divorce after 32 yrs of marriage. My son is one of seven kids and his disease has wreaked havoc on all of us in various ways. He reaches the pinnacle of well being and sobriety only to plunge into relapse. I need help !

    1. Danielle – My therapist and others have told me that addiction is one of the more difficult things for a couple to weather. In our graduates’ program, we do work on the parental alliance and family roles, etc. I’m sorry you are dealing with this and would love to support you. -B

  2. Help me please. My son has been to over 20 facilities – wondering and I don’t know where, when or how to cope. I’m sick and then the anxiety – I can’t get better. Is there any free help? I would pay if I could for your help

    1. Jodie – I’m sorry for what you are enduring, and for your son’s challenge beating this disease. I’ve asked support to reach out by email with full info on options. -Barbara

  3. Barbara, I want to thank you for all the information. I have set boundaries, and working very hard to continue. I have learned SO much.

  4. Thank you so much for your e-mails. I have benefited from your recommendations. Set responsible boundaries, quit asking questions & quit talking about the addictions. Trying to take care of myself.

  5. Barbara,
    I thank God that a friend forwarded a video of yours to me. You helped me to see my enabling issue. I am not in a completely not enabling place yet but I am stronger about that conviction now and I so appreciate all your words of wisdom!

    1. Hi Joni – Thank you so much for sharing your forward progress! Well done. It’s hard work, changing patterns of a lifetime. -Barbara

  6. Loved what you wrote- it’s me! Will watch your video and will invite my spouse to with me- but doubt he will

    1. Theresa – Thank you. And in terms of your spouse, each of you is at a different place in your own journey and it is rare for both partners to be at the same place and ready for the same steps at the same time. So, I find it helps to accept that, as I think you are doing, and move forward in the way that is right for you while respecting your spouse’s right to be at a different place. You are wise. -Barbara

  7. Thank-you for the article. The article I was looking for came in my inbox approx a week ago and inadvertantly deleted it and it was regarding adult children with addiction and alcohol abuse.A list of pointers were very valuable and wanted to forward it.

    Thank -you

    1. Thank you Cindy. Email usually offers an opportunity to recover a message that was deleted. I don’t know which you are referring to and write a lot of emails. Barbara

  8. I have to say… I appreciate you and thank you for posting your knowledge and experience. You have helped me tremendously!! My Son is 26 and a pretty severe alcoholic. Until I joined your group I was miserable and hopeless, now I know it’s not just me dealing with this. ❤

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