How Passive Aggression Sabotages Love in a Marriage

Is your wife’s most constant complaint that you never open up to her? Does she talk about your passive aggression? 

If so, we encourage you to pause with us for a moment. Let’s assume that whether or not you open up (and support emotionally) your wife the way she needs, if your wife feels isolated from you, it is a problem in the relationship because she will feel hurt by you and then be unable to support you in the way that you need.

So now there are two things to think about: do I or do I not open up to her? and how can I respond to her hurt her feelings, either way?

A quick way to get an idea about your ability to open up now is to think back to whether you could have open conversations, feelings of anger included, when you were a child.

When you were a child, were you restricted from expressing anger toward your parents? If you had a need, and were feeling it keenly, what happened when you expressed it? If you were guilt-tripped for being too “needy,” shamed for being a baby or a whiner, you probably taught yourself to just shut up when you needed something from other people.

In order not to feel pity for yourself, you would have then taught yourself that repressing emotions and sucking things up was an admirable trait; a feat of skill, something only a manly man could achieve.

Still not sure – maybe some seems right, some not quite? Some other ways you can know that you had trouble opening up is that you would have shown your frustration in ambiguous ways. You might have destroyed your own toys, physically hurt yourself, or wet the bed. You may have also fallen behind in school, even if you were very smart.

If you can identify with this type of childhood, the real situation at home now is that these old defensive mechanisms are still at work, although your ways of not opening up may be different. You may be going silent for days or weeks, for example. The truth remains that just now, this behavior is destroying any intimacy you were able to build with your loved one. For now, she feels condemned to loneliness by your withdrawal and silent days, and you are trapped in a lonely jail of your own making.

Want to know how to walk out of this trap? Do you dare to look back to your past and identify the forces that here and now sabotage your marriage?

Here is your next step: take the Passive Aggressive Test. If you are found to have no passive aggressive behaviors, you know that there is something else going on to create a wound between you and your wife. And, in the event that some of your behaviors are passive aggressive, you will receive immediate options for improving your communication style at home.

What kind of transformation do we offer?

Here is a short version of the model for transforming passive aggression into a loving, responsive partnership. First, we need to share with you this basic proposition:

Couple arguing at table

Couple arguing at table

There is a strong connection between personal history and present behavior, more precisely how the old attachment to the first love figure (aka "mother") is shaping our love connections now;

In short: being unable to communicate in a positive way with his wife, happens not due to bad intentions now, but it happens when men use an outdated protective system that developed to protect against excessive parent’s control or interference in their childhood.

STEPS TO PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE MEN’S TRANSFORMATION:

Men need to:
-Identify when and with whom they developed in their childhood this “communication shield” expressed as interpersonal passive aggression.
-Locate the feelings attached to that control childhood situation, and release them;
-Separate the way he regards his wife from the way he regarded his mother/caretaker in the past. Learning how to separate the two is crucial.
-Re-learn to frame interactions with his wife in a new, appreciative, positive way.
-Learn and use a new repertoire of connection phrases (delivered by us) to foster interaction in a positive leader way; 

CASE EXAMPLE: (Managing a very personal "PA SHIELD")

GEORGE'S  PERSONAL MILESTONES: (05/26/15)
1.- Taking personal responsibility for the hurtful impact of doing some reactive behaviors on the relationship;
2.- Searching for and identification of past old anger, and discovering how he created the "passive aggressive shield" as a defense against parent's control;
3.- Learn to separate anger and resistance against parents, (which produced the shield) from emotions generated here and now in the marriage;
4. Understand how his use of the "PA shield" now produces counterproductive results with his wife;
5. Grasp the connection between protecting his own isolation (needed to be able to work) with generating feelings of abandonment in his wife, which then reacts with her own controlling behavior;
6. George experiences demands for company from his wife as suffocating control, and reacts by isolating himself more, (as in the “PA shield”)
7. The solution for control is not more isolation, but the opposite: open up the "PA shield", trust the relationship and learn to share time and projects.
8. Now, his wife's request for company will be framed as a legitimate search for love and connection (not control) and solved doing shared activities/projects.
9. Both need to be able to negotiate better their reciprocal needs: (George's need for space to create, and his wife's need for company) and to confront each other using Fair Fighting techniques;
10. Keep a routine of maintenance of connection: schedule conversations about home issues, schedule dates and have a clear idea of the time they need to have together.

WHAT CAN GO WRONG?

Here is an outline of all the typical roadblocks and barriers that men have to overcome on their way to achieving such transformation process.

FIRST ROADBLOCK: long-term denial of the behavior done to others, because using the “passive aggression shield” feels “normal.” (He can say:  "I'm not passive, it's the way I was brought up)"  (the Passive Aggressive Test helps here)

SECOND ROADBLOCK: resistance to accept his own responsibility for the hurt he does (is not that "she provokes him"; he does PA behavior because it is the only response he knows from his past.)

THIRD ROADBLOCK: refusing to accept hidden, past anger and to deal with the baggage of negative emotions linked to the origin of  “passive aggression shield” back in childhood.

FOURTH ROADBLOCK: resistance to learn and adopt softer interactive behaviors (e.g. Reflective listening as not being “manly behavior”); or not having the skills to do them;

FIFTH ROADBLOCK: Wanting to use good communication skills but sheer ignorance of how to do, what to say, and how to confront with love.  (Our list of phrases helps here)

Do you want our help? The first step is to take the Free Passive Aggression Test, here:

(This connection between attachment and actual behavior is backed by solid psychological research, as in the book: “Attached: New Science of Adult Attachment,” by Amir Levine & Rachel Heller.)

Neil Warner

Neil Warner, author

 

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