Thursday, January 05, 2012

Three strategies to manage passive aggression in your marriage

We have offered our main explanation about why the husband doing passive aggression has no other behavior to use in an intimate relationship. He can be nice and considerate with his friends, (he has not to live with them) but he has an special barrier to manage the dangers of intimacy.

And you know that there is a sequence, (near, fear, slam the brakes, clam up, distance, need for connection, near, fear, and the merry go round keeps going around)

So, now you know something else: about the sequence of grown up situations that force him to retreat, like feeling very near, or supported by you and his fear of having to behave in a more "grown up way" next time...

The most difficult part is how to share this information with him in a casual, non accusatory way: when you think it could help him see his pattern, which is usually the toughest part.

If you can explain the pattern to him just when it is happening and not be too judgmental, or taking him too seriously, that would help. Something in the vein of: “Have you noticed that situations like (facing my whole family together at the holidays) make you cringe? It also happened last year, can you see that? …what can we do to improve this situation?

I’m following here Louis Clichot “The whole psychological point of being passive-aggressive is to spare oneself the messy implications of experiencing one’s anger. And it’s not easy getting a grown-up man to say he’s feeling like a child inside. Their feeling of repressed anger is so intense; it has never been dealt with in the family of origin because he could never bring it out, so it feels like a mountain of anger for him.”

If you show him that you are not accusing him, and that this behavior is something both of you can watch, evaluate and improve, it gives you a different point of view in this situation. The point is NOT to accuse, (because you risk anger) but being very matter of fact with your words. It can be empowering for both the idea that passive aggressive behavior could be perceived and demolished with support and humor.

There are three kinds of strategy you can choose to deal with the PA:

a) You can decide to put severe limits on his behavior in an oppositional manner, which runs the risk of an all-out war (he will escalate into isolation, extreme silence, leaving the house, slamming doors, withholding affection and sexual intimacy and growing emotionally detached and resentful) and divorce;

b) You can support his need for his problem to be understood: You can see him as a person who is using old, antiquated defense mechanisms ("play dead with your own emotions; deny anger; go along to belong," etc) in a new different situation (marriage) that is addressing him as a grown up person, on a temporal basis. He needs to realize he is in a different situation now.

In this case, is good to have a clear deadline to review the situation and plan for improvements in a periodical and incremental basis.

c) Find a way to balance the need to protect yourself from his real aggression, with a detached and compassionate attitude towards his immature feelings. You will need to accept the loneliness of the single parent having to raise a family with scant support and no companionship, and in that situation hope for the best, that he is able to grow up. So, you need to plan your own life with friends, support, fun and personal growth opportunities.

This acceptance has to be temporary or you run a very real risk: being in a long time marriage sustained by this unconscious deal: 

she fears loneliness, so she stays, and he can be who he is forever, denying the time passage and the fact that people (eventually) mature with age and life experiences.

You can always learn more about passive aggressive marriages, visiting our blog.

1 comment:

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