Broken Promises: Is this What a Passive Aggressive Husband delivers?

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If you are traversing the impossible path of watching your passive aggressive husband prevent a healthier communication way, using only his old tricks not to communicate with you, and keeping you at a distance, then you are familiar with the obstacles presented when you ask for a change:

A) getting a man to admit his passive aggression as a problem;

B) get him to stick to his promises to work on his behavior and change.


It is usual for women to experience the pain of thinking he will change, then having to sit and despair as he doesn’t budge after showing the counselor a pretty smile and promising change.

Many women feel frustrated because the failed promise reduces their own role in the marriage to one of behavior micromanagement - the wife constantly has to remind the husband of their agreements, of his goals, of his promises and of course, of the pain involved.

If the “modification” of his behavior is only based on his empty promise, then you have no trust left. In this case, what is your backup plan? How can you feel trust while helping him deliver in his promises, with the background of feeling past betrayals still disappointing you?

If this is your situation, we do not encourage endless efforts or exhausting yourself  reminding him that now is the time for him to change.

In creative writing, there is a saying: show, don’t tell. The same applies here. If you cannot trust your husband to change, stop your efforts and relieve yourself of the burden of that responsibility. It is true that the more you push for change, the more he will resist attaching himself to his old habits, in order to frustrate your “dominance” or “mandating him what he has to do.”

Although every situation is different, sometimes is necessary to let him cope with the extent of the damage done. If you decide that now is the time to have a break, and let him face the consequences of his resistance to try better ways of communication in your marriage, do it.

If he is continually breaking his promises both to you and to his counselor, it means he isn't taking that promise seriously or saying it in good faith. Doing resistance to change is what is more fun, or interesting, or provides him with more satisfaction than connecting with you.

The truth is that he is not ready to be in a committed relationship; and he is having a ball out of fooling you, and his words can not be used to convince you of anything. Don’t listen to what he’s telling you, pay attention to what he’s showing or doing to you.

Don’t use empty threats: threatening to leave will only escalate the situation - instead, explain calmly that you need more from this relationship and that you deserve better than being taken advantage of. If he can’t deliver to your honest appeal, perhaps he needs time to contemplate what a single life can mean for him. Leave graciously, go have a vacation with your best friend, and use this time to rebuild yourself.

Dr. Nora

Dr. Nora

Dr. Nora is a well-known coach, conflict solver and trainer, and CEO of Creative Conflict Resolutions, Inc. Sign up for free, here on her blog, to be connected to her innovative conflict solutions, positive suggestions and life-changing coaching sessions, along with blog updates, news, and more! We can begin by you having a complimentary consultation with Dr. Nora. Visit her coaching site today to talk with Dr. Nora and receive a plan for action to change your life. She's ready to help!
  1. Linda, 28 July, 2012

    Really good advice, Nora. It is liberating to allow yourself to step away from the need to make it work. I wore myself out thinking that I should be able to solve this. If I have the right management tools and am consistent in their employment, then he will have to face the situation with honesty.

    My husband was finally able to admit that he could not do the work he needed to do within the context of the marriage. As long as I was there, he was driven to resist any  meaningful change – because he felt “pressured” My attempts to work towards an honest and mutually satisifying intimacy were reframed as”She is trying to control me”. These guys have an insatiable need to percieve themselves as victims, even when they are in loving and supporting relationships. They are so skilled at casting us into the role of Mommy Dearest. We just fall right into it and it takes a long time to figure out how we got there.

    The hardest thing to accept is that they don’t want the same thing that we do. Never did, never will. They are deeply unhappy and need someone to blame.

    My husband spent the first six weeks of his new “single guy in an apartment” life, riding his bike around town as much as he wanted. “No one can tell me anything, I don’t have to unpack these boxes or organize my stuff”. Just like a little kid, riding his bike and refusing to clean his room. But, it began to wear on him that he did not have a comfortable home to relax in and he fell into a funk.  He had always been able to ignore that kind of crap because there was someone else who would take over and make it nice.

    Now there is just him and the mess he has created and he is digging in and doing the work and realizing that he is unhappy most of the time. This he has known, but was always able to foist responsibility for his unhappiness on yours truly. This man took himself to the bookstore and bought a book on the science of happiness and is actively working on some of the strategies.

    In theory, he could have done this in the context of his marriage, with a parner supporting his efforts. In reality he could not. The best thing you can figure out is whether you are helping or enabling the passive aggressive drama. You cannot really save someone else, so for  heaven’s sake, please save yourself.

  2. Jmbriere, 28 July, 2012

    Great comments Linda!! All you can do in the end is “save” yourself!! My husband and I have been separated for over 3 years now….a year ago he did find that being away from my daughter and I didn’t make his life better….something he voiced in therapy…..he head fears we would shut him out and yet he didn’t want to feel he had to be a better husband/father….so good on your husband that he picked up a book on “happiness”….we can’t change them….my husband or whatever I call him is out there riding his bicycle of life feeling that “freedom” he has always wanted….being the child/teen….doing things when he wants to….it is freeing when you finally are able to step away from the story, leave them to themselves and get on with your own life which in essence has been on hold for more years than we care to recall. Like you mine in his own way was making me feel responsible for his unhappiness….once you free yourself from this mindset you begin to blossom.  I do believe that it will take some form of emotional/physical trauma to bring him to his full adulthood. But I’m not waiting around for that….I’m living my life now….it’s taken a lot of work to separate myself from all of this as I was so entangled in co-dependency but didn’t have a word for it back then…I was so caught up in my abandonment issue that I put up with things I would never have put up with in my younger life….in the end I think we are only able to emotionally give based on what our “inner” emotional age is….it doens’t matter our physical age.  I accept responsibility for the part I played in all of this drama but not his part.  I have worked on my issues and am healthier for it.  I gave him way too much power due to my abandonment issue.  He and I were true “imago” matches but he had no desire to work on anything….he runs from conflict and true emotional intimacy and in the end that is his loss….a life of inauthentic living!

  3. Linda, 28 July, 2012

    Amen to that! I am at peace, now – knowing I have done what must be done. I know all of the signs and strategies and am avoiding falling into the trap. That drama has been replaced with actively calling into my life the things I have always wanted. Wonder of wonders, those things are showing up. Good friends, meaningful conversations and fun. I am alone, but not lonely… I pray for all of you to find the inner strength to get through this and arrive on the other side – free of guilt and released from the futile need to win his approval. 

    You are strong, beautiful and loving women with a strong desire to help the wounded heal themselves. You have always been able to see the potential in others – the trick is to treat yourself as if you deserved the same. Don’t let his limitation define you!!! This is the place you come to find out that you are not alone – and not crazy.

    If you are going to confront him with his behavior, it will be a long and painful battle. I think we do it so that we can say we tried everything before we leave. The sad truth is that he will not get better, so don’t even worry about him. Start taking care of yourself and owning your half of the drama while you are asking him to own up to his. It is the only real work you can do.  

  4. Nora, 30 July, 2012

    Linda, 
    I’m always very grateful reading what you post, because you write with a clarity that is illuminating everything else…you can also describe his behavior without rancor, just establishing the fact that the necessary (and always postponed) personal growth is now happening…Perhaps the fact that you stopped enabling him has helped him see himself and the gaping holes just discovered now need answers! This is a strong lesson for all of us still hoping that helping him with do the miracle…no way. We need to accept that the right way is to allow his own development.

  5. Linda, 01 August, 2012

    Nora,
    Thanks for the kind remarks. I have worked very hard to get over my anger and to own my part in the drama. Spending time on your site and realizing that this is a common dynamic was critical to my healing. I can’t say that I blame these men for the coping mechanism they have developed as children. They were responding to an unhealthy situation.

    I think that the most valuable information on your site is your encouragement of women to take control of their own lives and stop trying to get validation and support from these men. Whether or not, we chose to stay in the relationship – we need this information. We also need permission to focus on our needs.

    It is good that you help us to recognize the drama, but I see too many comments lamenting “what he has done to me”. I am grateful that you are steering the conversation toward, “How I invited this into my life”. We have to learn to stop setting the stage for conflict, and once we are proficient at that, there is the task of articulating what we do want.

    Most of us can’t even say what we want, so we busy ourselves with being a victim of one sort or another. I am glad that you were able to break that cycle for yourself and I commend you for your gentle support of those who are just beginning to see the reality of their situations.  God bless you 🙂

  6. Tamara, 07 August, 2012

    The previous post also resonates with me. I used to be somewhat in the victim mentality, and going to great lengths in identifying the ‘issues’ of the unavailable men or passive aggressive men that I was dating. Recently, I see that it was me as much as them. I was also not able to open an honest conversation, clearly stating my feelings (without blame) and also, importantly, I did not have boundaries in place that would have prevented me even dating men like this.
     In almost all cases, I knew straight away that something was off, but my lack of self esteem made me put up with it, I was taking crumbs and figured it was enough for me (I thought subconsciously maybe I did not deserve anything better). Also, it was familiar, coming from a family with an emotionally unavailable father.
    I now see it as a sign of my own emotional unavailability to have chosen men like this. I think what tends to get swept under the carpet is that we actually CHOOSE the men. There are plenty of men out there that are available emotionally, and able to be full, empathic and loving life partners. So we play our role in this.
    I have started to heal my own issues and found that this produces spectacular results. Not only do I start attracting much higher quality men into my life, but also one particular man, who is highly unavailable and passive-aggressive, has taken baby steps to change. It remains to be seen whether this is just temporary, but this man has – after two years of not revealing anything – started to talk about his childhood and the horrors he suffered. With me dropping my judgement and starting open and honest communication, without ‘blaming’ – making it all about me and how I feel when he does this or that – he became more relaxed. This man is highly private and a hoarder too, he hardly has any close relationships in his life, and I now see the pain he is suffering.
     But that no longer excuses bad behaviour, as far as I am concerned, and I now have boundaries in place, which I did not have before. And lo and behold, although he did not like my new boundaries at first, he has learnt to respect them and to respect me more!  There is now a great respect between us and a great friendship – though romance is off the menu. Like I say, it’s baby steps, and I think the main issue is awareness. This man is intelligent and over 50, and he has started to realise that something is amiss and he is trying to find out what it is…right now he is concentrating on his childhood and he is curious to learn why he is the way he is. He has described himself many times as being ‘as cold as ice’ . He may never heal, we may never have a romantic relationship, but at last I have learnt to appreciate what he can give, and he is a ‘giver’ and a caring person behind all that front. Once I let go of expectations how ‘things should have to be’ and just started looking at what is, he started to relax. As soon as any kind of pressure creeps in he will run.

    However, most importantly I learnt to look after myself, and raise my self esteem. I no longer want my self-esteem to come from external sources like men, success in a job and so on, but from within me. This is hard work but it is where the healing is. I am enough, and I deserve a good man, a man who can give me what I need and who makes a healthy life partner. I therefore no longer see the unavailable guy as a romantic possibility and moved on with my life. If he decides to change further and decides to take more baby-steps forward, things might change. However, I have given up trying to change him or anybody. I firmly believe that people change when they want to and no amount of convincing will work. The only thing that will work is taking the focus off him and onto us…that is the road to a happily ever after. I understand that being in a marriage is a different kettle of fish altogether, but looking after oneself should still be the highest priority. 

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