The Surrogate Spouse

Recently, The New York Times flubbed and called Ivanka the wife of her father.  An honest mistake, some people say, while others may think this was premeditated.  Immediately when I saw that in the news, I thought ‘yep, surrogate spouse.’  The New York Times may have made a mistake but they actually called out a dysfunctional family dynamic that impacts many children and later, adults.  Usually family dynamics are played out in dramatic fiction in TV shows or movies, but with this WH administration (family) we get to see family dynamics play out in real life and not a scripted ‘reality’ show.  We get to observe what it looks like to have a father, husband, and co-worker who is a narc, and it’s educational.

What is a surrogate spouse?

The parent uses the child to fulfill his/her own emotional needs.  Some therapists also call this Emotional Incest, which is a ‘harsher’ term for people to swallow, grapple with or acknowledge that they were or still are a surrogate spouse.  Please hear,  children don’t know nor do they have a say in this dynamic. Adults often don’t realize that they are playing the role of spouse because this is all they’ve known since childhood.

What creates a surrogate spouse? Remember this begins in childhood, but it begins within the dysfunctional marriage/relationship between ADULTS.   Let’s say the narcissist (husband) loves to work and travels for work so much so that he buries himself into work creating a distance within his marriage.  That’s not the only reason, throw in consistent infidelity and verbal abuse (constant criticisms and expectations) and his wife will begin to distance herself for self-preservation.   Over time, there is a division between husband and wife and the kids pick up on it.  When the husband is away working, traveling, using alcohol, drugs or with multiple women, the wife (or husband) is left with the family/kids.  This division creates teams, with the spouse and kids on one end and the narc on the other.  (Ivanka’s mother has stated Trump didn’t want anything to do with the children while they were small.  We can also see this with his child (she’s a young adult) from his second marriage as well as his third with Melania.  As they are not in his family business, you rarely see Trump with these kids unless there’s a photo op.)  So, while the narcissist spouse is out doing exactly what they want when they want, their spouse is left with the family.  You’re married but not really married because it’s not a partnership.  The spouse becomes lonely.  

Here’s where Enmeshment comes in.

Like narcissism, Enmeshment is a continuum. Enmeshment is a subject on its own, but it’s basically a relationship between parent and child that has little to no boundaries, which means a child can be enmeshed in various ways and can be enmeshed by both parents.  You can be enmeshed through working for the family business, having to live into and up to the expectations of the dominant (controlling) parent ( in this case Trump).  You can be enmeshed by becoming (or rather used) as your parent’s confidant and emotional caretaker.

Let’s continue with the example.  Once the spouse becomes lonely, she (he) will confide in their child(ren)    leaving the child to take care of his/her parents feelings. Maybe the spouse confides that she/he is unhappy in the marriage because their father/mother are never around.  Maybe the spouse begins to rely on his/her children for advice and emotional comforting.  The spouse may also rely on their child by doing things with their child because their husband/wife is unavailable (like going out for a meal/movie/travel) that the spouse really wants to experience.  Instead of cancelling the plans,  going alone or with friends, the spouse instead takes their child/children.   How often do you think Trump’s wives travelled solely with their children, without Trump in tow?

As a child/teen, a surrogate spouse, may provide advice, counsel and be the confidant to their parent regarding dating, relationships, sex and household responsibilities.  This can look like the parent confiding to their child how miserable they are in their marriage and how their spouse is ‘never’ around or available.  This can also look like a parent confiding in their child/teen about their sex life or dating life, asking for advice and opinions on partners or even asking/expecting the child/teen to keep secrets of infidelity.  These are adult subjects and behaviors that should be discussed between adults and specifically between spouses.  (It was reported that Ivanka once told her father as a teen not to date anyone younger than her.  Clearly, Ivanka knew certain information and insight into her father at an early age.). Being a surrogate spouse is not really a good or beneficial role for a child or adult child to play.  This role can come between marriages, with adult surrogate spouses more concerned and playing the husband or wife to their parent rather than their own spouse. Therefore, creating the pattern all over again in their own family system. 

Here’s what I see, Ivanka is clearly the favorite and her Dad would probably do most anything for her (have you noticed in the media that his sons are basically in the background while Ivanka and her husband take front and center?).  It’s ironic, I know, but how his daughter views him is extremely important, so Trump is probably more willing to bend in the direction of his daughter.  He wants to be seen in a positive light by his daughter.  Yes, it’s still about image, his image.

However.  Here is the plus for us, the people of these divided United States.  Ivanka has played and does play the surrogate spouse to her father.  You can see this through her campaigning for her father, doing interviews on behalf of her father, attending women’s conferences and sitting in on ‘Heads of States’ functions, duties usually designated for wives and First Ladies.  Ivanka is now an adviser to her father, which sent many people and the media in an uproar.  Anyone familiar with family dynamics and narcs will know that this is NO surprise.  Narcs don’t trust, so to employ his family as advisors is only predictable. However against I am with employing family members in the WH simply because it reeks of the emperor-dictator vibe,  I am slightly relieved that Ivanka is officially his confidant and here’s why.  She is the one person her father will listen to.   Ivanka can tell her father No without him going ballistic on her and he is likely to listen to her advice, which I do think and hope is more humanistic than her father’s (or Bannon’s).  Her advice may not all be good, but I bet you, her father would be more likely to make changes in his staff and to his decisions based on her advice.  He may think in the Now, as in how does this benefit me now, while she may think in legacy terms as in how will this look upon us in the long-term.  We’ll see tho…..