Is Your “Good” Parent an Enabling Spouse?
Written by Randi Fine, Narcissistic Abuse Expert and Coach
Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine
Does your narcissistic parent have an enabling spouse that facilitates her abuse? Do you view that parent as being the good and loving one?
An enabling spouse is the ultimate accomplice to the narcissistic abuser; a worshiper who, at the expense of his own self-worth, needs and wants, takes on the responsibility of keeping his narcissistic partner happy. His actions prevent the narcissistic spouse from ever being held accountable for her despicable behavior.
Narcissistic people cannot exist in a vacuum. Requiring narcissistic supply 24/7, just as addicts need drugs, they go to great lengths seeking unknowing people to trap and get supply from. Like predators searching for prey, partners are hunted down, love bombed, and then taken on as emotional hostages. Mind control tactics are used to keep them in a state of confusion, disorientation, and devaluation.
The narcissistic/enabling spousal relationship is entangled and all consuming. Enmeshed in the drama of keeping their dysfunctional union intact, there is little room for the children. This dynamic may not be obvious to children who have been brainwashed into believing that their parents love them, as all parents are supposed to do. The parents might “love” them in their own way, but it is a conditional love that is based on the children’s level of interference. Compliant children interfere less than unruly ones. As a reward, a bone is thrown to them occasionally. Starved for love, the children consider the measly offering as proof that they are loved.
As long as the marriage stays intact, the children will have no leverage against the abusive parent. The enabling parent will always facilitate her spouse’s reign of aggression against them. Wanting to believe that one of their parents is there for them, children tend to give enabling parents more credit than they deserve. A simple statement such as ” I wish I could do more but you know your father/mother” gives children enough encouragement to conclude that the enabling parent has their best interest at heart. Unfortunately those words are rarely followed by concrete actions. The enabler may want to protect his children from the abusive parent, but he will never stand up to his spouse and advocate for them.
The enabler is conditioned to shield her spouse from all accountability, whether called to action or not. She is always trying to smooth things over. When the children’s feelings are hurt she will say things such as “You know your father loves you very much,” “He didn’t mean what he said,” “He only wants the best for you,” or “He has had a hard day.” The children’s feelings are often dismissed along with reminders not to upset their father.
When adult children of narcissistic abuse realize that they have a narcissistic parent they are faced with the challenge of working through their pain; coming to acceptance that the NPD parent had no capacity to love them. This is a grievous reality that is difficult to process. But the belief that they still have or did have one loving parent makes it easier to do. They look forward to continuing a relationship with the “good” parent (or imagine that they could have had one if that parent was still alive) that is entirely separate from the abusive parent.
The enabling spouse may have a breakthrough once or twice in front of his child where he acknowledges the truth of his situation. This further encourages the adult child to believe that a healthy relationship with him is possible. But these brief emanations are quickly followed up by denial; sometimes even resentment toward the adult child for allegedly trying to divide him and his spouse. Sadly, attempts at having a separate relationship with the “good” parent always result in disappointment and heartbreak, and then deep grieving. It cannot be done.
Enabling spouses operate out of selfishness, insecurity, and fear. They have torn loyalties, but are ultimately driven by personal survival. They do not believe they can exist on their own.
The “good” parent may have provided a soft place for her children to fall when the pressure was off, but not when she was made to choose sides. The reality of the situation is that neither parent could be there for them. The narcissistic parent always meets his agenda. The enabling parent/spouse usually meets hers. The needs of the children come last, if at all. Children growing up in these environments have no parent to advocate for them. They are emotionally on their own.
If you have a “good” parent that you hope to have a separate relationship with it may be important for you to explore the possibility, if only for the sake of closure. You will always wonder what could have been if you do not. If or when your hopes are dashed, remember to reread this article. It will not save you from the grieving process but it will help you understand that though the rejection felt personal, it had nothing at all to do with you.