Passive aggressive behavior does not happen in a vacuum; it is a response inside an interaction with someone else. Basically, in this interaction, one is doing the passive resisting and the other is getting frustrated, in an endless power battle. We know a lot about the motivations of the passive aggressive spouse, but the question about why she takes this resistance to connection for so long remains…Some women writing to us in this site mention being in the same situation for 15, 20, or even more years of marriage! Awakening to their situation because now they have a name for it (“passive aggressive marriage”) is both humbling and exhilarating.
The need for a woman to choose and remain with a passive aggressive partner is a dynamic that is set up in her childhood. The little girl learns this pattern while growing up observing her parents. One parent withdraws and frustrates the spouse who now becomes isolated, sad and resentful, as a way to assert his power and control. It is his “normal” place in society, and it gets accepted as the norm by the rest of the family.
Usually this is the male authority or patriarchy putting women “in their place using” all means necessary…. The little girl has to learn to respect her father, obey men in her family while sharing the care-taking roles that her mother does, by having to take care of others. Desperately she wants the parents to change this dynamic between them, to no avail. So, she grows up without a role model of men attentive to women’s emotional needs.
When she grows up, the woman unconsciously dates and chooses men who will play out the familiar patterns of her childhood of power imposed and accepted. Now, her mother’s humiliation becomes her own wish to support, understand and care for her man. She falls for the man’s charm, his sense of poise and his claims of needing togetherness, while she is blind to his real lack of connections. So, she marries, leaving her man’s hidden anger and passive aggression unchallenged. She blames herself instead, and his failures become her failures. The harder she works on the relationship, the better he is in hiding his own inability to be connected and empathic with others.
As she goes over the inconsistencies and broken promises of daily life, she begins confronting him to get even more isolation and rejection….She gets angry, he withdraws and the unresolved conflict boomerangs between then. Relationships, which do not allow straight talk, frankness and appropriate expression of anger become destructive.
She rides the emotional roller coaster as she always wants more from her man than what she gets: –more commitment, more cooperation and more doing what he says he will do. This repetitive conflict ends up eroding her self-esteem, as her frustration and anger turn to rage as she feels guilty about the intensity and destructiveness of her reaction…She is trapped by her own neediness!
WHAT TO DO? GLAD YOU ASKED….
- Step back; count the opportunities when this dynamics has taken over…then see yourself doing the same, repetitive behavior.
- Take a deep breath; and look at your own needs: are you lonely, are you needing real companionship and support?
- Look carefully: do you get more or less of the love you want complaining to him? Of course, you get less or nothing!
Then, here is the very basic idea:
LEAVE this interaction by changing your own behavior; STOP being the demanding; PLAY a different game….
If you learn to identify what are your own needs; and give yourself permission to manage them, then detach from the assumption that you need to ask him for solutions; and begin looking around for other opportunities to be nurtured…other life awaits you.
Make a plan to solve your needs that doesn’t expect anything from your husband can be a radical idea, but at the beginning of this process perhaps it helps to send him a strong message: “You are not going to be able to frustrate me as always, because now, I don’t depend on you for companionship, support, or appreciation.”
Get more friends, change your job to one different; take some courses and learn different things and plan a life where you are the expert in how to find possible solutions for your needs for companionship and support. And then, see how long does it take for him to realize that the game has changed and now he is the one left behind…