I realize there are women who want management tips and techniques to make their passive aggressive husband change and their relationship work. I used to be one of those women. Let me save you the years and heartache that I’ve already spent for this lesson: You can’t change him. He is unlikely to ever change. You can only change yourself, and it will be work. You can, however, lose yourself in the process.
The only tips I’ve found helpful are the reminders to take care of myself, and keep clear, enforceable boundaries. I do still love him; it’s my choice and in my nature to love. More importantly, I’m focusing my energy on learning to love myself as a healthy adult should. I pray for his heart to break in true contrition and godly sorrow, but I’m giving as much of my energy as I can to myself to heal and grow stronger. To work at creating viable, healthy choices for myself that include becoming financially independent. To work at creating choices that would allow me to leave him without unnecessary harm to others. I’m trying to build myself up faster than the passive aggressive insanity can break me down. This blog is my journey to get there.
The reasons for my having to learn this later in life are not complicated, but faceted. I didn’t grow up understanding and learning what healthy self love and care felt and looked like, yet I don’t blame my parents (they did their best). I suspect that I share this struggle with the majority of human beings. The important thing is to seek to know better so that I can do better.
This means that I’m no longer interested in any advice whatsoever that advises me to treat him as less than an adult. Sadly, my prior experience when reaching out to professional therapists, psychologists, counselors etc., meant the professional seemed to be looking to unearth the hurt/scared/wounded boy, much like an archaeologist carefully digs out a site. There was a time when I was hopeful and patient with that method because I wanted something, anything to work! Even though most of ‘me’ was getting drained by the relationship with my passive aggressive husband, I was ready to be set as lower priority (again) a bit longer if it meant there was a solution in sight. But at least in our case, the professional counseling didn’t work.
I watched these professionals joke with my husband, sympathize with him, make gentle suggestions for him to work on, ask him questions much as you would to get a child thinking, but never was I asked if I saw any improvement. My husband seemed to charm the various therapists and counselors, and I think that made me wonder even more what was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I happy? Why was I upset with such a likeable man? The whole world loves him and enjoys him. What’s wrong with me? As professional help seemed to ignore my well-being, seemed blind to the cause of my pain, my confusion and cognitive dissonance increased. If professionals didn’t see it, maybe I was crazy. Maybe it was me. (I know better now, but it cost me dearly to know better.)
Only one time did I see actual accountability in action. Years ago, there was one psychologist we saw for several sessions that came close to being helpful (but we know that only counts in horseshoes). As usual, I forced the initial session, that time because of an ongoing argument about yelling at our kids. It’s not that I’ve never yelled or never raise my voice in anger. I absolutely have, but I don’t think it’s a good thing. I think anger/yelling is something I’ve done when I’ve failed to be proactive to prevent getting that upset, and then I’ve reacted. When I do that, I believe it’s the right thing to say that I was wrong, and then try to address it when I’m calmer. My husband on the other hand, would absolutely defend his yelling at the kids. He’d tell me that he did it because it worked, or say that he had to, or say it was the only thing that worked. He wouldn’t say it was wrong, and wouldn’t show any intention of trying to change it. I’d try to discuss it with him, and we’d argue about it. I finally made the appointment, and that was the topic of our first session. (Naturally, my husband quickly agreed when the psychologist stated that it wasn’t a good thing. He ‘saw the light’.)
We continued to go for awhile after that (money was the reason we quit going). This psychologist had us take a test that took an entire session just to take it, and then another session was devoted to the results. (hmm… I wonder if he still has those records) He started the session on results by asking my husband which of us was the more objective person. My husband kind of smiled, almost shrugged, and said, “Me, of course. I’m male, and [his profession].”
“Wrong,” said the psychologist. “Your wife tests as an analytical and highly objective person. You tested to be highly subjective. Do you know what this means?”
Oh, the surprise (almost shock) on my husband’s face. “What?” (He asked in polite disbelief.)
“You should never make important decisions in life without her input. Especially when it comes to business and finances, but also family and personal.”
My husband nodded, smiled as though this was wonderful news, and by now he’d assimilated the information as though it was exactly what he’d always known and believed about me. Nod, smile, nod.
Then at one point the psychologist looked at him and said, “Your wife is a very affectionate person. Do you show her affection?”
My husband gave the sheepish smile and said, “Well, not as much as I should…that doesn’t come naturally to me.”
The psychologist replied, “What difference does that make? You do something because it’s the right thing to do, whether it comes naturally or not. Do realize how many men would cut off an arm to have a wife as affectionate as yours is?”
My husband began the serious nod agreement shtick. Nod, nod. Of course, yes, absolutely.
But no change.
There was one difference that lasted only as long as the sessions did, and it was like a magic bullet. There would be passive aggressive behavior from him of some sort, I’d say something, and he’d begin arguing, accusing, and gaslighting. That was all standard stuff. The difference was when I’d say, “I’d rather not discuss this right now. It’s important, but it’s something I think we should talk about at our session this week.”
Oooohh. He’d give a kind of glazed, stymied glare. I swear I could see the thinking going in his eyes, as though high speed wheels were turning behind that looking-off-somewhere stare. Then the magic would happen. He’d completely turn around, acknowledge what I was trying to say, and it would be over. Yes, just like that. It didn’t mean that he changed, but it managed his behavior. The worst that would happen is that sometimes he’d mutter and walk away. But within minutes he’d come back with the same magical result, acknowledgment and moving on. He never wanted to carry his ridiculous, grinding me down, gaslighting, accusing, irrational arguments to the counseling session. It was then that I realized that to at least some degree, he knew how his words, thoughts, and behaviors would be viewed by an outsider. Break a cookie on my head and call me crummy. So much for that part of his disordered thinking.
This was the lesson that made me instantly agree with Dr. George Simon’s saying, “They see, they just don’t agree.”
This is also why I no longer want to hear management techniques that require me cater to him, coddle him, or view him as ‘wanting to do the right thing’ if only I could use the right approach so as to not trigger the supposed fear that would ‘make’ him behave passive aggressively.
Why? Because it’s not the kind of thing where if you just love more and more and more, then one day you’ll turn this magical corner, he’ll finally ‘get it’, he’ll realize how good it could be, and in that aha moment, gaze at you with awakened understanding because he realized he can be secure with your love. That corner is as real as the tooth fairy.
My advice to any woman that wants to stay in a relationship to a passive aggressive man is to HANG ONTO YOURSELF. Take care of yourself. Love yourself in the healthiest ways. Keep ironclad boundaries. Do whatever you have to do to remain independent, or become independent. Understand that your thriving is probably not only unimportant to him, but something he’d see as a threat, and resent and sabotage. Hopefully you’ll do this before you end up so tired on the inside that you struggle to think straight, and end up just wearing pajamas. It would have been so much easier if I’d understood this when I was younger with the strength and resiliency of that age.
On the other hand, my best advice to a younger woman reading this is to run, don’t walk, and don’t look back. When you get to a safer place, take time to be alone. Unless you want your heart broken in ways you can’t imagine, don’t have children with him. Take time to be single, and learn to enjoy who you are. You’re worth getting to know and love. Learn to love yourself so well, that you can smell an unhealthy man from a block away.
Hang onto you. You’re the person that you absolutely will spend the rest of your life with. It’s not a dress rehearsal, as losing loved ones recently has sharply reminded me.