Amy Sutherland, an exotic animal trainer is offering her suggestions training wild animals in captivity, as transferable to manage your passive aggressive husband behavior.
Even when this suggestion can appear as preposterous, there is much wisdom in this approach. If you are really at your wit’s end, why not to try this?
The first step is to detach:
You need to teach yourself to be detached, able to see any behavior from your husband in an impersonal way, and to stop taking his faults personally, (like avoid seeing his dirty clothes on the floor as a personal affront, or a symbol of how he doesn’t care enough about you, or this image having an impact on your self-esteem, as a good wife.)
The second is you should reward behavior you like and completely ignore behavior you don’t:
This means not only stop nagging, but learn to block from your perception the behavior you don’t want. You become more and more “blind” to that behavior…..and only see what you can appreciate.
If he is doing his usual passive aggressive routine, being silent and leaving you in a vacuum, don’t escalate into a full-blown discussion. Don’t ask for a solution, don’t repeat your question, and don’t issue a deadline. Just go about your life, undisturbed.
In Amy’s words, “When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn’t respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.”
In the next opportunity your husband is raising his voice, trashing things around and looking upset, you can try to say nothing, avoid eye contact, and keep doing what you are doing.
It can take a lot of discipline to maintain your calm, but it helps to think that his mood is probably not related to you. There are several sources of his discomfort, and usually you are not his problem….and if he insists on telling you that you are the problem, is because he is nervous. If you don’t escalate the fight, and try to stay out of his way, he will calm down.
This strategy is paired with constant recognition. Whatever positive action, even if it is bringing the groceries from the car to the kitchen, needs thanks from you. If he is doing more, like doing grocery shopping alone, you can even give him a kiss.
All this strategy applies also the concept that whatever you focus on, it tends to take center stage: if you focus on a negative trait of your partner, like his tendency to be late for appointments and dates, then this trait will become prevalent and it will negate the perception of other positive traits that attracted you to him before.
Of course, it’s difficult to find aspects to praise when you are upset and disappointed with your partner, but this can be a new way to frame the relationship and take you out of a disappointing rut.
Here are some extra ideas that you can consider:
- Every time you need to ask him about some changes needed, begin recollecting the good things done;
- Try to find a positive thing to comment on daily;
- Don’t you dare to mention his negative aspects without talking about how good the positive ones are, first.
- If the results are awful, you can always praise his good intention;
- Be very creative and find unexpected aspects to praise: a busy person that accomplishes everything could be praised for her constant smile, or his good disposition even along the busiest day;
- Don’t be mean, don’t link praise with immediate critique: “you did well, but forgot this part.” In this case, the “but” will cancel the praise.
Apply this techniques for a while and you will see a change in the quality of your relationship, having more trust, and pleasure in the mutual company. And if this technique fails, you can suggest him try: The 4 Steps to FREE Your Marriage of Passive Aggression