Passive aggressive men don’t get angry. At least they’ll tell you they aren’t angry. No matter how their words, tone, and behavior show anger, they’ll say they aren’t angry. Much smoke, but denial of anything generating it.
I know many of my posts are long, but this definitely will be.
I woke up very early to the sound of my oldest son’s calm but urgent voice telling us that the main part of the house was filled with smoke. He’d just alerted his sisters to not open their door, but crawl out their bedroom window.
The entire main part of the house was filled with thick, acrid smoke from a big stainless steel stockpot of chicken soup, where the bottom of the heavy pot had started to actually melt away from the pot. This was an expensive, well crafted stock pot, used frequently. The problem is that the burner had possibly malfunctioned and had been on for hours at a red hot point.
The chicken soup is the kind we make frequently, using the carcass and bones, onions, garlic, celery, bay leaves etc. and letting it simmer for twelve hours. It was started around 2:00 a.m. by my husband before he finally went to bed. I was asleep in bed while he was doing this.
Why was he making soup at that hour?
Last night’s supper dishes were supposed to be done by our youngest son. He shows passive aggressive traits much like his father (he and one other middle birth order brother), and he just kept ‘delaying’, which in effect of course, means they didn’t get done. He was on his computer the whole time. During the evening, I asked my husband to (calmly) just tell him he was unplugged from the internet until the dishes were done. He apparently told our son he wasn’t going to let him use the car for awhile, but in my son’s world, this probably meant a down the road consequence that he could navigate out of later (make up for it somehow).
This means the dishes still weren’t washed, and the kitchen wasn’t cleaned up.
Last evening, we watched a movie called Gimme Shelter with the girls and our oldest son. We all sat and talked for awhile after that. When it was over and I looked at the still messy kitchen, I asked my husband to tell our son “calmly” and “without being threatening” that he was unplugged until he did the dishes.
A couple minutes later I was heading to bed and walked by to see and hear my husband with raised voice, and this outstretched index finger extended and pointed, repeated jabbing motion at our son.
Huge trigger for me. The whole thing on different levels, but that particular jabbing motion with the hand…
Years ago we had moved to southern CA (work related), and lived there over a decade. During that time, I was still attending (or trying to) church. I really liked listening to Jack Hayford because he was such a teaching kind of pastor. I didn’t like big churches, but feeling that there was such a good teacher was motivation for the drive, the parking etc. We didn’t get involved with many aspects of the church at the time because we lived about half hour drive from it, and I had young kids with no second car. Still, I actually looked forward to it.
One thing that was always hugely difficult for me about attending church was if we’d been arguing or fighting, and if it was left hanging, and especially if he’d behaved cruelly or said extremely hurtful things that were never resolved or apologized for. You probably know what I mean. Then we’d go to church and he’d become Mr. Congeniality. I could stomach it all except for one part of the service; I couldn’t bear to sit by him during worship. If I’d been angry or said angry and unresolved words to him, I couldn’t even bring myself to worship. I’d sit quietly and pray for mercy, for forgiveness, for understanding, for God to change me, for me to learn to deal with things in a way that I didn’t become so reactive and angry. I don’t like myself when we fight. No matter who is at fault, I feel responsible for my own feelings and words.
But when I’d see and hear him worshiping as though nothing had happened, as though he hadn’t been cold and hurtful the night before or on the drive to the service, I could hardly bear to sit next to him. Sometimes, I couldn’t bear it, and would make an excuse to go to the restroom, or take a baby to be changed. That particular morning was one of those times that I couldn’t sit there. It was all so horrible between us, the anger, the hurt, the lack of love, everything that was wrong with our marriage, and his particularly hurtful behavior in the car on the way there that morning; it seemed entirely fraudulent and disgusting to my soul to even sit in the room while people were worshiping. That time, I whispered to him that I couldn’t bear to be part of the worship, and that I needed to step out. I didn’t make an excuse that time, just whispered the truth.
That was a mistake. After the service, we had to walk to another building to get our kids. The large building used to hold services took up the length of a small block. Although his public displays of abuse were rare, and not his usual method, they have happened. This time he was angry and raising his voice and jabbing that index finger pointing out hand at my chest so I stepped back.
But he kept doing it, so I kept stepping backwards to avoid it. That continued for the entire length of that block. I could feel the eyes staring, and somewhere deep inside I wondered why no one spoke up or stopped him or said he was shamefully wrong, but no one did. I probably unconsciously concluded that I somehow deserved it, or that I wasn’t worth running interference for, but I know it did feel like there was no help, no sanctuary anywhere. I felt so ashamed, although now if I could go back in time, that would play out differently. I know now there was nothing for me to feel shame about, but at the time I was mortified and ashamed.
I stopped going to church there, and took a long break from trying to attend church anywhere. I did eventually find another church nearby that we could attend, and that I could take our kids to on Sunday morning. We taught Sunday school there together. Yes, the irony.
Last night when I saw that jabbing motion, it triggered me, but I was calm outwardly. In a quiet voice, I asked him if he had a minute, that I wanted to talk to him about something. He came and stood there still angry, and I softly asked him to talk to me in private in our room. We went to the bedroom, and at that point I didn’t yell, but I directly asked him why… why… he was behaving in such a threatening and abusive way to our son. I reminded him that he’s taller and much heavier, and it wasn’t possible that it didn’t feel threatening.
He said, “I didn’t mean to be!”
Mean to be? (I asked…) Does that change something?
He repeated that he didn’t mean to be threatening a couple more times. I started to leave the room, and he asked where I was going. I said, “Out to the kitchen to deal with the bad energy you created.”
I went to the kitchen and saw our son just rapidly pacing in the room. I started to hum quietly and rinse dishes. I was definitely not okay with our son not helping when he was asked, and sharing a chore reasonably. But I didn’t have to talk to him about it, at least not then. I hummed and sang quietly, and thought good thoughts and tried to let light replace the pain inside of me. I didn’t want to be angry, or afraid, or sad. I hummed and half sang La Vie En Rose and Moon River. Clean dishes were slowly filling the dish drain. My son stopped pacing and disappeared.
When I was almost done, my husband came out. He started to dry dishes that I’d washed. He asked me why I was doing dishes, and I said, “I’m doing them for me.” (meaning I wouldn’t have to face them in the morning) I told him (without anger) to not bother drying them, but if he wanted to wipe the counter and stove that I’d appreciate it. I told him that I’d done ‘enough’ to make it all feel manageable, and that I’d finish in the morning. He asked, “Why not finish them?” I told him they were 95% done, and that I was tired. He said he would finish them, and I said, “Please just leave them for morning? Let’s go to bed.”
He replied with an irritable tone, “I’m doing it for me.” I shrugged and went to bed, and went to sleep.
My husband stayed up and finished ‘whatever’ in the kitchen, and apparently decided to make soup. As I said, it’s not unusual that we make a twelve hour soup, but it is unusual to start it at 2:00 a.m. (One of my sons said he went to the kitchen at that time and saw his dad start the soup, and saw the burner set at a low setting.) The burner must have malfunctioned, and the house is still stinky. (They had to carry the couch outside to air out, and we’re having to wash or air out jackets and chairs and anything we can find to wipe down or air out. You know it was bad when a heavy duty steel pot starts to melt at the bottom, and I’ve never experienced smoke in my home so thick that you couldn’t see into the room.)
One more integral and salient point for me regarding this story is that I’ve heard my husband complain REPEATEDLY ad nauseum about how “things have to change” so he can get more sleep. Woe to me if in any way, shape, or form that he can blame me for keeping him up late. Sure, you all can guess that when I’ve tested the theory that I’m entirely to blame, and gone to bed earlier than him, that somehow he often stays up anyway. And I’m sure you all know that the nights he’s just up late working or doing ‘whatever’ … well, they just don’t count. Nope. It’s the same poor me song that he sings with blaming eyes. This is usually also connected to either bad behavior of his or just being aloof and withdrawn, and if asked about it, he’ll launch into the ‘so tired and things have to change and I need more sleep’ song.
You know every time I hear this… I want to first rip out some of my own hair, and then just go batshite crazy to make him stop laundering the same excuse that completely ignores his part of it all.
This morning. We’re all shivering on the patio, figuring out it’s the burner, and making sure all people are accounted for, safe, and that all animals are in a smoke free (relatively) area of the house etc. I am barely awake and trying to process what in the heck happened, when I hear that it was because he started soup at 2:00 a.m.
I confess that I immediately suspected and assumed that he’d done something bogus like leave the burner on high or forget to fill it to the brim with water. I started to say something to him, and the son who was out in the kitchen after I went to bed, stopped me and said that I was wrong to blame him for this.
Okay. I’m processing that, and yet I’m still full of frustration that he stayed up and was cooking at 2:00 a.m. I’m frustrated and upset because he’d behaved inappropriately to our son, and triggered me also. I’m upset that his coming out to ‘help’ really had nothing to do with helping me or caring about me. I think it was much more about ruffling his inner image of himself, and he was trying to ‘undo’ it, and stroke his image while getting to also feel like a victim.
I spoke to him privately, and apologized for making the assumption and blaming him when it was a burner. I was going to leave it at that, but then he said, “I feel so bad for starting that last night. I just couldn’t sleep after I heard you clattering around out there.”
I stared at him. He kept going on with that and repeated, “I was tired and ready to sleep, but you were clattering around and I couldn’t rest.”
I looked him in the eye, and repeated, “I was clattering out there…”
“Yes, you were clattering around, and you know how it is when something disturbs you, and then you’re wide awake, and can’t get back to sleep. And that’s good because I was feeling bad about ‘son’ and I felt bad about you and wanted to try to help.”
I said, “I see. I don’t believe you. You were angry last night.”
He retorted, “I wasn’t angry! I felt bad and I was concerned about you!”
I said, “You were definitely angry last night for whatever reasons. Your behavior didn’t demonstrate concern for me or our son. Your behavior showed anger.”
He said, “I was not angry!”
I replied, “You used the expression clattering a few times, which let me know that you felt victimized by my ‘clattering’ and that you blame me for disturbing your ability to rest. How about your behavior towards our son, and how you triggered me to boot? How did that play into it? How did you disturb our ability to rest? You didn’t show one shred of compassion or concern about that last night. Not one bit. Not a bit of remorse from a man who once jabbed at me and walked me backwards for a block, yelling at me in front of people. Last when I didn’t respond in anger, when I didn’t argue with you about it, you came out to help? I told you I was tired, and asked you to come to bed. You weren’t out there for me or our son. That was ALL about you.”
His eyes slightly widened, blinked, and he seemed to look for a way to refute that, but couldn’t. He momentarily agreed with me, but I feel fairly sure he’ll revise that later at some point.
Some bright points of gratitude about all this. One of my daughters thrice expressed there was much to be grateful for, and that it could have been much worse. My oldest son displayed what you’d expect from a Marine Sgt. (Calm, routine behavior to secure safety for all others, and deal with it all.) Our youngest son made us all laugh a few times with jokes about it, and even put on his sunglasses in the early light of dawn, making us all laugh again. Considering there was drama, there was very little drama. I’m going to remind myself all day to be thankful that no one was hurt.