Do you think that perhaps your husband is passive-aggressive? Chances are if you are reading this, you probably do. Chances also are that you are wracked with guilt, frustration and anger and feel like you’re going just a wee bit crazy as well. Such is life when you are living with a passive-aggressive husband.
In fact, the term, passive-aggressive, embodies perfectly, the confusion and chaos of trying to deal with someone who is truly passive-aggressive. Because, how can one be passive and aggressive at the same time? Aren’t the terms, by definition, mutually exclusive? Well yes and no. And that is the point.
Things are never the way you think they are when you are trying to deal with a passive-aggressive person. Up is down, down is up, yes is no and no is yes. It is the ultimate world of double-speak- fence-sitting and saying yes and no at the same time.
In fact, trying to deal with a passive-aggressive is much like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree or chasing your own shadow. You can never quite pin them down or get anything from them directly. And what’s worse, they have an astonishing capacity to make you feel guilty and wrong for even trying.
Consider This Scenario:
You’ve had this nagging feeling that something is wrong in your marriage and you approach your husband to talk about it. The conversation goes well until you point out something he is doing that is causing a problem. In the blink of an eye, the focus of blame shifts entirely to you. You are told you do not understand the facts and that you have completely misunderstood the circumstances.
What’s more, it might even be pointed out, though there may well be a problem and his actions may have precipitated the problem in some way, in truth, he was only acting in your best interests and out of complete love and devotion for you.
Bewildered, you apologize for questioning his motives. But, you still feel there is problem and you want to talk about it. At this point, he shuts you down completely. He might stonewall you with silence or simply get up and walk away. Refusing to talk.
If you continue to press the situation, you are accused of nagging, looking for a fight or worse yet, somehow “enjoying the conflict.” Furthermore, you are told, if there really is a problem, perhaps you are the source of it.
Shocked, you back off and drop the subject. The next day, you feel guilty for unfairly accusing him and consider that you likely misjudged the situation all together. You might even think he is right. Maybe you are causing the problem. I mean, after all, he really is a good husband. He looks after you, he cares for you and he was only thinking of you and your best interests anyway. So you apologize – again.
Then, you notice he has become sullen and distant. He avoids you. You ask him if there is anything wrong and he tells you there is not. If you press the matter, you are met with the same resistance. This sequence of events may play out repeatedly over several days or even weeks. Eventually, out of exasperation and emotional exhaustion, you let it go.
Then one morning you leave to run errands and you discover that your vehicle has been shifted over to the side of the garage, making it impossible for you to pull out. You know you didn’t do it, so you ask your spouse if he did it. He says that he did, but offers a very plausible and innocuous explanation as to why and apologizes. You kindly ask him not to do it again and he agrees that he won’t.
The next day, however, you find the vehicle shifted over again – this time even further. You confront your spouse and once again are told (with great contrition) how sorry he is and that he had meant to move it back, but had forgotten. You contain your irritation and ask him once again to please not do that. He apologizes profusely and assures you that he won’t.
The next day, you find it pushed so far over that the only way to get the vehicle out of the garage is to incur some type of damage, like, dislodging a side-view mirror or scratching the paint job. This time, you snap and let your spouse have it with both barrels. He stares at you serenely and assures you that he would never do anything to damage a vehicle that he had worked so hard to acquire and pay for. And besides, he really did forget – again. He apologizes. You stomp off exasperated.
The next day, the vehicle is in the proper place in the garage, but you notice that the side view mirrors have been twisted out of their proper position. Congratulations. You’ve just been rick-rolled by a passive-aggressive husband.
What is Passive-Aggression?
In simplest terms, a passive-aggressive person is someone (most often, men, but anyone can engage in passive-aggressive behavior) who will not (or cannot) deal with anger, conflict or negative emotions in a direct manner. Rather than expressing directly what is bothering them, they will usually deny there is a problem, likely serve up a heaping portion of guilt your way for even suggesting there is, and then set out to stick it to you in very covert, stealthy ways.
While many of us engage in some form of passive-aggressive behavior at times, someone who is truly passive-aggressive creates an environment that makes it virtually impossible to interact in a normal, healthy way, through very subtle, almost sleight of hand, sabotaging behavior.
In fact, passive-aggressive people have a way of carrying out their attacks on you, such that, it appears they have your best interests in mind and would never do anything to cause you harm. Therefore, the unspoken message that is communicated is that you should feel ashamed for even questioning or doubting their integrity and then, round one goes to the passive-aggressive.
Trying to deal with a passive-aggressive person very often leaves you feeling confused and perplexed, questioning yourself and never quite able to put your finger on what the problem really is. They rarely own up to any responsibility in conflict and they always have a way of making you feel completely at fault. This is of course, exactly how they want it.
In short, a true passive-aggressive effectively creates a constant state of ambiguous chaos which enables them to hit and run completely undetected, leaving you feeling like the bad guy.
What does Passive-Aggressive Behavior look like?
One of the more maddening elements of passive-aggression is that they very often appear to be a genuinely ‘good guy’, with a very calm and even disposition. They could even be a Type-A personality, who is dutiful, responsible and hardworking.
Outwardly, they appear to be highly cooperative, congenial and helpful, rarely saying no to anything that is requested of them, nor will they openly express displeasure or anger in any way. Instead, they will quietly procrastinate, innocently forget or engage in some other type of obstructionist behavior that will enable them to register and vent their anger or negative emotions toward you without doing so directly.
If confronted, they might react with offense that you would question their motives or they withdraw behind a wall of silence to punish you. They might even become sullen and stubborn. They avoid personal responsibility through denial and blaming others for their problems. They can be incessant complainers with negativistic attitudes who see themselves as victims and martyrs, continually put upon by others and unappreciated for all that they do.
At its core, passive-aggressive behavior is based in fear and a need to control. Though they will never tell you directly that they are hurt, offended, and afraid or admit to controlling you, by continually shifting the focus of blame and responsibility to others, they let themselves off the hook and play you like a puppet in the hands of a marionette. All with a smile, of course.
Roots and Causes of Passive-Aggression
While some mental health professionals believe that passive-aggressive behavior is the result of both genetic and environmental causes, the general belief is that passive-aggressive people tend to be brought up in a very oppressive, controlling or authoritarian environment, where they were not allowed to express their true feelings, especially, anger.
In order to survive in that type of domineering, parental-control, passive-aggressive people learn to stuff, repress and live in complete denial of their emotions and feelings all together. Depending on how traumatic the environment, the passive-aggressive person becomes so adept at denial, they become convinced they do not have issues with anger at all. But, in truth, they are deeply angry and hostile.
One of the deepest fears of a passive-aggressive is the fear of dependency. As a result, they very often resist emotional and physical intimacy, fearing their spouse will either see them for who they really are and reject them or that they will bond in some way and run the risk of vulnerability. Both scenarios are terrifying to a passive-aggressive.
Can Your Marriage Survive Passive-Aggression?
Unfortunately, and with no shortage of irony, it depends. It depends on how deeply ingrained the passive-aggressive behavior is and whether your husband really wants to change. It also depends on how much you are willing to work with him to get through the issues.
Unfortunately, because passive-aggressive people are so disconnected from their real emotions, feelings and behavior, they rarely believe they are causing problems. In fact, in classic, passive-aggressive fashion, they are usually convinced the real problems lie within others anyway, so why do they need to change?
Consequently, without the help of a well trained therapist and marriage counselor, breaking the destructive cycle of passive-aggressive behavior can be virtually impossible. That is not to say that marriages cannot survive passive-aggressive behavior. Like any issue, it requires a deep commitment to the cause and a willingness to hang in there.
Or it just might be that you can find a way to accept your spouse’s passive-aggressive behavior as is and live with it. In order to keep from going crazy, and let’s face it, it is crazy-making behavior, it’s important to realize that your husband’s behavior ultimately has nothing to do with you, nor is it a commentary on your worth. Because, unfortunately, mates of passive-aggressive spouses often feel guilty, unlovable and completely devoid of self-worth. In fact, some might even say that passive-aggression is its own form of emotional and psychological abuse.
If you find that you can no longer tolerate the behavior and your husband is not willing to seek help or change, it may be in your best interest to pull the plug on the marriage. Sadly, many women do come to that conclusion and seek divorce. As with all of life’s decisions, however, it is a highly individual choice.
“Fear of Dependency and the Passive-Aggressive” October 20, 2010. About.com. http://divorcesupport.about.com/od/abusiverelationships/a/fear_of_dependency.htm
“Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder” October 20, 2010. Gulfbend.org. http://www.gulfbend.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=8165&cn=8
“The Passive-Aggressive Spouse” October 20, 2010. Families.com. http://marriage.families.com/blog/the-passive-aggressive-spouse
“Passive-Aggressive Personality Disorder” July 19, 2006. Steady Health.com. October 19, 2010. http://www.steadyhealth.com/articles/Passive_Aggressive_Personality_Disorder_a289.html