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'I told my therapist I'd do anything to save my marriage. He said: stop trying so hard.'

As an enabler, I could be labelled an overachiever. My marriage counsellor put it into much nicer words.

He said I am overly caring.

That sounds so nice, doesn’t it?

The caring part?

I mean, who doesn’t want to be told they are caring, let alone overly caring?

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Until this moment, it had been a positive in my life. A cup is half-full, rose-coloured glasses, see the best in anyone kinda girl — I loved everyone.

I cared about everyone.

It worked for me.

Of course, the ‘overly’ part had made itself known from time to time.

The day my friend said, “Colleen, most people care about those closest to them. But you care about everybody, even strangers.”

Still, it kinda went over my head.

I attributed it to being from a family of first responders. I grew up around firefighters, cops, and a priest. People who cared about everyone. People I was incredibly proud of. People who made a difference and saved lives because they cared so much. But here’s a secret my marriage counsellor told me.

“Our greatest strength can become our greatest weakness.”

Oopsy.

This tidbit was arriving a bit too late.

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Who knew the girl who cared enough to get involved — who would raise money for schools and charity, who would bring people food, loan them money, make the impossible happen…

Was living a relationship liability because of it.

You see, enablers are individuals who care so much they will tolerate repeated bad behaviour.

They often see the best in people even when the person does not deserve it. This means the enabler will remain in unhealthy situations for too long.

I should have left my relationship, but I didn’t.

Despite the red flags waving feverishly at me.

Despite the facts and even worse, the pivotal moments. The kind of moments where ‘normally caring people’ with boundaries choose to leave.

But I repeatedly chose to see something good in something bad.

I continually ignored the words of even those who loved me — who truly loved me. Who wanted better for me.

The type of impactful words that should slap you in the face.

The day my sister said, “Colleen you’re smarter than this.” The time one of my high school besties said, “Leave before he destroys any more of you.”

And perhaps most painful? The day my son and I stood at the top of the stairs and his little voice said, “Why won’t you leave him?”

My counsellor tried to tell me something I refused to hear.

It was up to me to establish personal boundaries and self-protection.

Leaving a bad relationship had nothing to do with my husband and everything to do with me.

But I was unrelenting. I was going to fix my battered relationship.

I couldn’t help myself. Because buried deep within my person was a primal instinct.

I cared too much.

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As a matter of fact, I once told my marriage counsellor I would do anything, absolutely anything to save my marriage.

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His response?

Stop trying so hard.

In essence, stop caring so much.

But here’s the thing.

By the time we go to counselling we are attempting to overcome years of who we are.

The weaknesses which accompany our strengths.

It’s not so much that we don’t want to correct our behaviour but that it’s ingrained in us. Did I mention, enablers are full of excuses?

I stay because…“I have to save my marriage for my children.” “Sure, he’s behaving badly but he’s a good person in a bad place.” “He’s not always this way.” And so on.

What compounds this is enablers also allow fear to take them captive.

“If I leave something bad will happen.” “Who will help him through this bad time if I go?” “My children won’t be able to withstand a divorce.”

I was the enabling trifecta.

I cared too much, I made excuses for repeatedly bad behaviour, and I entertained fear.

I refused to leave a bad situation.

It was my worst relationship mistake.

Overly caring people have a strength which makes us an incredible asset in many areas of life.

It can also take us down without self-protective boundaries.

Until we toss the rose-coloured glasses rendering us colour-blind

And finally, see the red… flags.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission. For more from Colleen Sheehy Orme, you can find her on Instagram and Facebook.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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