Helpmate vs. Enabler: Discerning the Difference

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“And the Lord said: it is not good for a man to be alone. I will create a helpmate for him.”

The actual Hebrew words for helpmate here are “ezer k’negdo”, meaning “a helper against him”, which creates a sort of cognitive dissonance: how can a helpmate be against one?!

There are many interesting tractates on this verse, but an explanation I find beautiful in its simplicity is as following:

Consider marriage as a seesaw. If two people sit on the same side with one always attached to and behind the other, the seesaw won’t move. It will only function if the other person steps over to the opposite side, creating a dynamic balance.

The image of the wife as a helpmate evokes a beautiful picture of a godly and hardworking man and a woman who stands behind him and supports all his endeavors. So far, it’s all sweet and simple. But the Torah doesn’t just exist to guide us in simple situations. It is universal and everlasting.

Consider the following scenario: a husband becomes addicted to video games. He is perpetually glued to the computer screen and refuses to turn away from it even at mealtimes. Instead, he demands that his wife should serve him sandwiches which he can eat while playing.

If a wife is supposed to always defer to her husband, she will serve him those sandwiches out of misguided respect and submission. Does this make her a good helpmate? Nope, it makes her an enabler of bad behavior.

A real helpmate will tell her husband, respectfully but in no uncertain terms, that he will get no assistance in his destructive habits from her. She will refuse to support his addiction and will insist on a normal functioning family.

The Jewish sages have written, “A good woman does her husband’s will”. Does this mean that a wife simply caters to her husband’s every whim? No, that would be doing them both a disservice. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with complying with a reasonable request (“could you make pea soup for lunch, please?”), but what if the husband says, “I don’t want you to visit your parents anymore, ever again”? In that case “doing the husband’s will” would mean encouraging good tendencies, turning his will towards positive things (like making him understand that he cannot cut his wife away from her family).

We are all imperfect flawed human beings walking the bendy road of improving and growing, in the hopes that when we finally meet our Creator, we will be able to testify with a clear conscience that our time in this world had not been in vain. Living in a marriage is one of the ultimate hardcore tests of this personal growth (but that doesn’t mean one should put up with abusive patterns for the sake of “personal growth”). Even if you love your spouse and have a healthy, loving marriage, it’s easier to live alone than together, to make one-sided decisions rather than work as a team.

No one can be charged with the impossible task of changing one’s spouse because real change can only come from within. However, it is not healthy, loving, godly or spiritual to bend to character tendencies that are clearly flawed. Being a good helpmate does not always mean going the route of minimizing conflict. It does not mean complying with laziness, rudeness, disrespect, irresponsibility, or passive aggressive behavior.

In my case, the most obvious way such misguided rigidity of principles manifested was the area of our family finances. I believed that my calling was to close my eyes and cling to my husband on his end of the seesaw, even as our family was freefalling into a bottomless pit of financial crisis. I believed I was supposed to act and think like my husband’s decisions about money were the Voice from Mount Sinai, rather than what they were: human reasoning that could, and often WAS, flawed. He might not have liked to admit it, but what he, and my children, really needed was not for me to keep “trusting” his reasoning even as I reached deep into the corners of the freezer for some leftover flour to make a loaf of bread with. My job back then, though it took me way too long to recognize, was to jump on the other side of the seesaw and call out, “Hey, this isn’t working! We have to figure out something different!”

It sounds less nice than “I trust you implicitly and you are the supreme hero of the universe and I’m backing you no matter what you do because that is my spiritual calling”. But sometimes having another’s back means giving them what they NEED, rather than what they want. And what our entire family needed was for me to be more proactive about earning money and handling finances.

This didn’t happen overnight or without some sharp growth pains (which included some serious ego-deflating, because if you have never been held accountable in your life and suddenly you are, it might not fly very nicely). But it is definitely happening and our lives are so much better for it.

15 thoughts on “Helpmate vs. Enabler: Discerning the Difference

  1. Great post. In a marriage both parties should try to lift the other up and bring out the best in each other. Sometimes the things that need said the most are those that are the hardest to hear.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have always taken the translation “helpmeet” literally. I am not helping my hubby at all if I don’t give him the advise and assistance necessary to achieve the goals God has given him. If I sit ideally by and watch him make a mistake, I am nothing more than a burden. Now, once I give him my opinion and we discuss it, the ultimate decision is up to him. But I can’t keep silent.

    I have always thought of the role of wife (and I am a very strict interpreter of the Bible) as the equivalent of the company CEO’s secretary or the plant manager. Would a passive “yes man” be a real help to a CEO? Of course not! He needs a dynamic, intelligent assistant who can keep him on track and get things accomplished. Or the vice president; someone as qualified to be president as the man himself, but serving to help achieve the president’s goals.

    A helpmeet is not a brainless twit, but the greatest asset a man can have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your input, Betty. Unfortunately, many men twist the scriptures out of context and interpret it in the sense of them being allowed to just do whatever they want with no accountability.

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      • True. Both wives and the leadership in churches need to teach the truth to men (and women); that they are fallible and called to be servant leaders, not tyrants. Men are to humbly lead their families with their wives being their second in command, not slaves, not burdens, not tall children. True helps.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Well, dearie…tis not always the nicest spot to be in…being a wife and mother. Being a mom forces us to speak up some too…what we maybe could ignore if we had no children to worry over is different. But I too found that I had to speak up. …truly? Life got easier once my parents gave me some money here and there…finally I had a voice…twas after all, MY MONEY!! And once they died and I got my inheritance…my voice was better heard too. It should not be that way however. My husband had a dad who ruled it all…and if he wanted more money for something, my husband’s mom had to produce it out of the grocery money. Cruel way to behave really. My dad was tight-fisted too…but never cared what was spent on food…so you can believe there were some clashes between my husband and me. We never had one shred of counseling prior to marriage and very little after…I think today, at least in religious groups, there is more of that done. Which is a good thing as unfortunately many do not get any training in their families for marriage really. No wonder the divorce rate is high. You know, a man does not respect a woman who is a shrinking violet either. My husband forced me to get a job at one point (I think he thought I could not…but I was offered TWO jobs right off…so even had a choice…I chose the one closest to home…so could walk if need be…his respect for me was much enlarged when he would come in at times to my job and saw me working the cash register and waiting on customers…I saw it in his eyes and he treated me better after that…though I only did it for 2 years). I have always considered marriage a dance…you draw close and then at some point, he shoves you away again…at least that is how it has gone for me. We make the best lemonade we can from the lemons we are dealt in life…everything will not always be fair or reasonable. My main hope is that one day he will be shown all that he COULD HAVE HAD in this life. I do love him, but he does not make it easy at times. Tis all we can do!! Sending you hugs, and best wishes!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your candor, Elizabeth. It does give one some excellent perspective, reading what others have gone through. My father-in-law has been the Supreme Overlord of his family too, and this kind of thing really doesn’t help me respect him.

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  4. I do understand…sent you an email that might be too long for here. One hopes with time that things will be better…sometimes they are!! I do admire your courage and hard work…and determination to provide for your family!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My first husband – The Late and Unlamented – was one of those “my way or else” types. We didn’t even have a joint checking account! Very, very old fashioned; the Little Woman couldn’t do anything without a guiding hand. Aaargh! I could write a book!

    Fortunately, I met a wonderful fellow at work, and found we had many common points of view. The Squire, as I call him, knew I had a good head on my shoulders, and was capable of carrying my share of the load. We each brought children to the marriage, but they have always been “our children” not his or mine. (I think that is probably the biggest cause of dissension, after money, in a merged marriage.) Although we were not of the same religious background, we went to both his place of worship and mine, and he voluntarily joined my faith fellowship. Kind of surprised me, actually! When we were going to pre-marital counseling, he told the minister he wanted to join our church!

    Maybe it’s because we were both married before and knew the pitfalls before we stumbled into them, or because we knew each other seven years before we even started dating (Jacob and Rachel, anyone?) but we’ve been married 45 years come the end of November, and haven’t yet had anything that could be called an argument. A couple of *discussions*, maybe, but never an argument.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Late and Unlamented! 😁 πŸ˜‚
      I’m always so happy to hear how you’ve lived through a not-great marriage and experienced something completely different your second time around.

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  6. “Even if you love your spouse and have a healthy, loving marriage, it’s easier to live alone than together, to make one-sided decisions rather than work as a team.” – These words made me really think about all the times I’ve been frustrated with my husband 😬

    Liked by 1 person

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