Passive aggression and home duties

In a normal marriage, there is always going on a healthy negotiation about shared tasks, sometimes described as “marital division of labor.”

Both can agree in a simple conversation who is going to do what, taking into account the circumstances of each person, but also the need to have the tasks done.

As an example, when both spouses are responsible for grocery shopping, they will have a system in place that guarantees there is food in the fridge and milk for Monday’s breakfast.

This ideal task distribution is what makes a marriage such a cooperative, nurturing experience. Both sides know that the other will comply with what needs to be done, so both can be secure and happy. In the case of any emergency, there are no buts, if or “I forgot” answers, but immediate response to the question: what do we need to do now? so things can go back to normal fast.

You are going to say: "This is the ideal cooperative marriage...only in the movies!" Very frequently there are obstacles to having an equal partnership, and one side feels like the other is giving orders, or commanding him to do house tasks when the conversation about chores pops up.

Usually for men not educated enough, talking about sharing house chores will be experienced as a threat to their masculinity. Wives expecting them to respond and answer to shared planning? No way!

They can respond with indignation and some open aggression…or they can feign to go along, say that they accept their shared responsibility, and then resort to passive aggressive mode.

What is passive aggression? Is a complex mix of perceptions and emotions that push a man into a resistant stance, whereby he sees himself as defending from a wife’s “intrusions” and having to protect himself from what he sees as “her control.”

Here, it’s useful to see that is this sustained reaction to holding up his share of the marriage duties is what causes most of the discussions and fights between the couple.

His interpretation of the wife as controlling avoids his taking up his share of responsibilities, and puts him in the role of a child hiding from the grown up’s expectations about him.

In order to resist, he could be doing behaviors like:

• Eternally making excuses to avoid his obligations;
• Performing a task inefficiently that the spouse has to do it;
• Always “forgetting” what he promised to do;
• Using sarcasm describing his “controlling” wife.

In general, he can portray himself as the victim of marriage duties, using a permanent pessimistic mood, even when all is going well, and he is supposed to be happily married.

How can a wife deal with this character without feeling that she is constantly being sabotaged by him?

First, she needs to know this is a defense mechanism, learned along his earlier life experiences, and not exclusively directed against her. It’s the way he deals with life’s challenges….and can be observed in his work, in his other relationships and while dealing with his own projects. His “natural” answers are procrastination, denial, and forgetfulness.

Beyond knowing that passive aggressive behavior is his way of connecting, what else can she do?

Because there is a need to keep shared responsibilities taken care of, if she does everything, finally she will feel that she is married to no one.

The main question here for most of our readers is: "Who is there to share the burden, if he "forgets" to be active and present in his own marriage?"

We think here that there are ways of negotiating a shared partnership with spouses. If we could learn creative ways of cancelling passive aggressive behavior in the household front...life would be better, right?

Neil Warner

Neil Warner

I'm the “relationship guru,” and my main focus is to increase the quality of love-based relationship experiences. In this ground-breaking guide I offer useful strategies on healing a difficult angry relationship with love and compassion. You don't have to stay in an unhealthy relationship one more minute. Let us share our tools with you today.

 

  1. Deblza, 05 July, 2010

    What shared “household duties”. Ideally even if you could get your PA husband to agree to share the duties, you can bet that will last maybe 1 wk or 1 mo. Depends on how often the “duty” is suppose to be done. When you do ask why something isn't done; you'll get a variety of excuses all of which are far from the truth. If you do try to explain how important their “chore” is relative to the running of the household, you can bet the anger will rear it's ugly head either w/sarcastic comments or even leaving the premises.. They automatically feel like you are unfairly judging them or criticizing them by simply pointing out how important their “chore” was in how the household as a whole works. The sarcasm will fly, I assure you.
    I lived w/this behavior for 32 yrs., although the last 15 yr. were pretty much a waiting game, while our daughter finished her schooling & was out of the house. The worst part of the whole thing was when I met with a Psycologist friend of mine also well respected in our community to explain why I had decided to leave my husband. As I said to him, this behavior seemed to get worst over the last few yrs. instead of getting better. I thought he might “mellow” with old age, he is 60. My friend told me “unfortunately, people w/this behavior only get worse w/age not mellow”. I had become frightened to live w/this man in my own home. His anger was constantly just below the surface waiting to boil w/the slightest provocation, or so he felt. 3 times we agreed to build a new home for our retirement; everytime I would start working on the plans it would be a matter of weeks before he would start talking negatively about this decision. Suddenly, he didn't want to do this anymore, although, the next yr. he would bring up the subject again, & again, I would start to work on our plan only to be shot down w/negative comments & anger that for some reason “I was the only one who wanted this”. You really do start to loose yourself living w/someone like this. Since my husband had no interest in any of our homes or the construction of same something I really enjoyed doing, I realized after the 3rd time he pulled this we would never get anywhere anymore. The 3rd time I attempted to plan for our home, it was approx. 3 wks. before he claimed, that he was afraid I would get the “basement of a 1/2million $ home in the ground & walk away leaving him to finish it”. I have never walked away from anything in my whole life; unfortunately, my husband never finishes anything or hasn't during our 32 yrs. Does any of this sound familiar?

  2. Nora, 05 July, 2010

    Dear Debiza,
    many thanks for writing. It looks like your disappointment has been growing bit by bit along the years….and the end result is that you are deprived of your dream home, no reason whatsoever! sorry about that; looks like if you take your needs and dreams seriously, you need to gather the leftover pieces of your self-esteem and try to build a future that you can be happy with….
    He will not ready very soon to embark on this adventure. Looks like he is not ready yet to make a commitment to work and persevere in a serious joint project. What is he afraid of? we can't know; what is clear is that you are alone with this dream.
    Look at what you can get by yourself and make the most of that…and you will able to recover some of your happiness. Good luck!

  3. Deblza, 05 July, 2010

    What shared “household duties”. Ideally even if you could get your PA husband to agree to share the duties, you can bet that will last maybe 1 wk or 1 mo. Depends on how often the “duty” is suppose to be done. When you do ask why something isn't done; you'll get a variety of excuses all of which are far from the truth. If you do try to explain how important their “chore” is relative to the running of the household, you can bet the anger will rear it's ugly head either w/sarcastic comments or even leaving the premises.. They automatically feel like you are unfairly judging them or criticizing them by simply pointing out how important their “chore” was in how the household as a whole works. The sarcasm will fly, I assure you.
    I lived w/this behavior for 32 yrs., although the last 15 yr. were pretty much a waiting game, while our daughter finished her schooling & was out of the house. The worst part of the whole thing was when I met with a Psycologist friend of mine also well respected in our community to explain why I had decided to leave my husband. As I said to him, this behavior seemed to get worst over the last few yrs. instead of getting better. I thought he might “mellow” with old age, he is 60. My friend told me “unfortunately, people w/this behavior only get worse w/age not mellow”. I had become frightened to live w/this man in my own home. His anger was constantly just below the surface waiting to boil w/the slightest provocation, or so he felt. 3 times we agreed to build a new home for our retirement; everytime I would start working on the plans it would be a matter of weeks before he would start talking negatively about this decision. Suddenly, he didn't want to do this anymore, although, the next yr. he would bring up the subject again, & again, I would start to work on our plan only to be shot down w/negative comments & anger that for some reason “I was the only one who wanted this”. You really do start to loose yourself living w/someone like this. Since my husband had no interest in any of our homes or the construction of same something I really enjoyed doing, I realized after the 3rd time he pulled this we would never get anywhere anymore. The 3rd time I attempted to plan for our home, it was approx. 3 wks. before he claimed, that he was afraid I would get the “basement of a 1/2million $ home in the ground & walk away leaving him to finish it”. I have never walked away from anything in my whole life; unfortunately, my husband never finishes anything or hasn't during our 32 yrs. Does any of this sound familiar?

  4. Nora, 06 July, 2010

    Dear Debiza,
    many thanks for writing. It looks like your disappointment has been growing bit by bit along the years….and the end result is that you are deprived of your dream home, no reason whatsoever! sorry about that; looks like if you take your needs and dreams seriously, you need to gather the leftover pieces of your self-esteem and try to build a future that you can be happy with….
    He will not ready very soon to embark on this adventure. Looks like he is not ready yet to make a commitment to work and persevere in a serious joint project. What is he afraid of? we can't know; what is clear is that you are alone with this dream.
    Look at what you can get by yourself and make the most of that…and you will able to recover some of your happiness. Good luck!

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