Emotionally unavailable husband and his expressive wife, can they talk?

Couple arguing at table

Most damaging interactions between an emotionally unavailable husband and his wife go like this dance of conflict escalation:

  • She wants a moment of intimacy, so she shares all her feelings (no filter here);

  • She expects husband to do the same;

  • He doesn’t know how, he stays silent;

  • The more she gets frustrated and hurt, she escalates her emotional demands;

  • He only gives back more stonewalling and resentment; or leaves the room.

If this is what you’re used to dealing with in your marriage, you’re probably asking yourself, “Should I just stay quiet? What’s the point in sharing my needs? Does it help or hurt us, in the end?”

A reader recently told us: “When he deflects my efforts to connect with him and he withdraws rather than sharing, what happens next is maddening silence. As a result, I feel criticized, rejected and dismissed.”

Some men find it so upsetting, so emotionally stimulating to listen to their partners “rant” that they feel they have only two choices: either to ventilate their anger or withdraw. In fact, this is supported by the research that shows that their pulse-rates escalate during conflict and they find this unbearable. As a result of their own escalating emotion — which they can’t tolerate — they either try to get her to shut up — or they leave the room. She feels controlled, marginalized and abandoned.

This situation is made up of a lethal combination of “over-sharing” (on the wife’s side) and clamming up (on his side).

When is the right time to use emotional restraint? As hard as it may seem to do, in this situation, it is better not to wear your feelings of anxiety, loss and despair on your sleeve (and ironically, when you don’t, you don’t feel as rejected and dismissed). This is the only thing that will interrupt the vicious cycle of you approaching and him retreating. Doing what you always do (express your rush of feelings and hope he feels pity) will no longer work if your husband is even slightly a passive aggressive man.

What is important here is to work on training your response to his behavior – this often works better than doing the same things you’ve always done and trying to change him. You can pick one idea from this list now:

  • Train yourself on calming techniques (meditation, yoga, 5-5-5 breathing)

  • Educating yourself on emotional management

  • Ask yourself questions like, “Is what I’m feeling true?” If it is, “Do I need to share it now, or can I wait?”

  • Take a walk

  • Pray

  • Chat with the dog/cat (or just cuddle with them)

  • Take the kids out to do something fun

We know. In Western culture, we’re not used to being asked to keep our emotions to ourselves (we call it “hiding” them). But we’re not telling you to never share feelings – rather, encouraging you to take the time to think about how the sheer display of your emotions makes him feel. Usually, you’re only thinking about the way his emotions make you feel, right?

We call your normal way of interacting with your husband a “fishing expedition.” You fish around for the answers and feelings you want from him, and because he doesn’t know how to provide them, he feels he has no resource but to clam up. Now comes to critical question: do you keep the same fishing tactics? Or do you change your lure, let him come to you?

This analogy is a bit generalized, of course, but you get the idea. Emotions are part of this interaction between the two of you, so whatever you express has consequences. That is why the best way of not triggering his passive aggression (or your frustration with it) is to get to know and manage your own emotions.

  • You can ask yourself what is your part on creating his silence (“What did I do that made him angry just now? Ah, he is scared of my emotional explosion!” This allows you to manage your own side of the interaction)

  • Perhaps even you could decide to stay in silence yourself for a little while, and see what happens

  • Or you can wait, do something else, give space, time and respect and see if there is a different response. Nobody wants to open up under such pressure.

We’re not saying that his behavior is your fault. There is nothing wrong with emotion or sharing it. But being in a passive aggressive marriage (and being committed to healing it) means you have to change your game a little. Even if he would be annoying and abrasive, you still have the right to choose to be affected or ignore him, and that’s extremely important to remember: you are still in control of your own life and emotions.

When you are the owner of your emotions and know when and how to react, then the message to your husband will be more direct, clear and productive. If you stop attributing all your distress to what he does, and learn how to separate your own peace of mind from what he does, you will feel better and he will be willing to get near and share with you. Forcing him to share everything with you is overbearing and imposing, and produces the opposite result.

Learning techniques to help you stay calm will ensure that you can still enjoy the good parts of your life now. You will be in control of your own peace of mind; and of your own happiness. You can plan for the future. Being in better control of your emotions and creating a loving space of respect between the two will help you both to catch a breath and get the situation under control and in a more positive vibe.

Do you need help finding ways to stay calm in the face of passive aggression? Our Conflict Coaches are standing by to help with just those sort of issues. You learn what to say when, how to understand his actions and responses, and much more. Visit Conflict Coach today and schedule your own coaching session, so you can change your life.

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.We can begin by you having a complimentary consultation with Conflict Coach, with a plan for action to change your life with new skills included. Just click this link and get started now!

 

 

About Nora Femenia

Nora Femenia, Ph.D, is the CEO of Creative Conflict Resolutions and the author of the book: "The Art of Living with a Passive Aggressive Husband," a field guide for women that have to deal with passive aggression in their partners. Nora also posts regularly on her blog Creative Conflicts. Visit her blog and join the community to discuss issues related to Conflicts, Relationships and receive also Free her book “Breaking Free From The Silent Treatment.” You are warmly welcomed here, because we care for your happiness!

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