Why secrecy is part of passive aggression?

One of the poster wrote this suggestion in our site:
“How do you deal with a husband that keeps a secret journal and never tells me he is unhappy about anything?” This reader is hitting at the heart of the passive aggression problem.

We need to remember first that this kind of behavior
a) is not caused by or originated with the present marriage;
b) has deep roots in his childhood and family of origin;
c) is connected with some kind of long forgotten trauma, still active inside him.

This short description is necessary because there can be so many misconceptions obscuring the understanding of his present behavior. The wife is not guilty of his present passive aggression, because he has been functioning in this way to protect himself from life’s hazards and tribulations for a very long time.

So, why the need for secrecy? If the original trauma and all the feelings included has to do with his parents, or a parent substitute as uncles, godfathers, or ministers, it could never be opened up. The victim, in this case your husband, had to keep everything inside as a way of colluding with his parents who decided that the situation was normal enough not to merit a comment or a defensive reaction. If the child was abused, emotionally oppressed or humiliated in some way, this was never talked about, because the loyalty to parental figures was stronger. Then and there, secrecy was the main line of defense: don’t say a word about what hurts you. Tragically, this “defense” ends up exterminating all humanity in relationships, because then the humiliated child has nobody to defend his integrity, and every one of the adults is a accomplice of the hurt.

The last thing a PA person will do is to complain about his own past or present unhappiness. He is still a five years old child inside, convinced that there is no justice in this world, that talking will get him punished and still will get no justice, and that opening up could end up in more ridicule, punishment or humiliation. No, he can’t say a word….which doesn’t mean that he is not hurt, resentful and dreaming of revenge!

This secrecy pact is what makes it so difficult to live with him…produces the impression that he is still more loyal to the people of his past life that then and there damaged him, than to his present situation and loving companion. Secrecy will make also impossible to provide him with the satisfaction and nurturing his own needs demand, and will generate resentment on both sides: on her side because she is willing to give love that he finds impossible to accept and from his side because whatever he can receive is not answering his deep needs for love and security coming from his past starvation.

Secrecy also gives him the illusion of conserving his own power; if nobody knows what hurts him, he can deny that some hurt exists in his heart forever. “Me keeping a grudge against my parents? Why would I do such a thing?”

Denial is a wall that blocks connection in marriage. It signals a whole part of his soul is not included in the marriage bargain. Allows withdrawal and isolation, and predicts more isolation, but the illusion of power and control.

So, what can you do? First, accept that this is his reality; no amount of coaching or preaching will make him leave this cave when he feels the need to be protected there. Perhaps allowing him to keep his secrets, giving him permission to withdraw in his cave and sulk there, is the only way of giving him what he needs. And feeling that he has not to fight for his right to some privacy, so he can feel secure enough of being respected as he is, could invite him to leave his cave more often.

SIGH? nobody said that this kind of marriage was going to be easy, right?  Anyhow, isn’t this fact that you didn’t cause his passive aggression healing a bit your self esteem? What about your karma could be now putting you in this pickle?

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.

 

About Neil Warner

Neil Warner is the CTO of Creative Conflict Resolutions. He offers strategies to heal difficult issues in a relationship, such as anger and passive aggression. His latest program, Stop Your Passive Aggression, offer a plan for action to change your life by eliminating passive aggressive behaviors from your interactions with your loved one.

  • Linda

    Thanks for sharing this information. It has been very hard for me to accept that my husband does not want to be “known”. He thinks it is safer to maintain a certain distance and not to disclose true feelings – as if that would be giving his power away. All this time he has been unwilling to build trust in the relationship or to work through his feelings of insecurity.

    The other side of the coin is that he does not want to know me either. he never asks a personal question or shows any interest in my experiences before our relationship. He doesn't want to see my childhood home or seek to understand what my formative years were like.

    I know that I can force him to go there or listen to my stories – but that is not what I want. It is hard for me to let go of the idea of having a life partner who would genuinely enjoy getting to know me as an individual. I thought marriage was about a partnership with one person that you could trust with your secrets and dreams.

    There is much information about strategies to make our live more tolerable. You have advice on how to handle our husbands without completely loosing our sanity. Yet, it feels like you are saying that this is as good as it will ever ge. I am the one who keeps asking for success stories, because a marriage without trust and intimacy is just an arrangement.

    My husband has come to realize that he is passive aggressive and is working to modify his behaviors, but I really do not think that basic personality changes. He still has a great desire for secrecy and control (illusion of) and the connection does not come naturally for him. He does things to placate me, not because he really wants to.

    I have been in this “marriage” for more than twenty years and the thought of staying forever just makes me sad. Please comment on the emotional toll of continuing even if I am able to manage his passive aggression.

  • Michelle

    I was in a similar situation for 20 years and read a lot about it over the last few months, but this is the first time I've seen anything written about their secretive side. I never saw my husbands pay slip or bank statements, his pc was passworded, he did not like me to drive 'his' car. Everything he did created distance between us, and I hung on, and tried to be better, more understanding, more accommodating. After months of therapy and lots of reading I moved out 3 months ago, I've pretty much forgotten who I am and what I like as I've spent so long being the person I thought he wanted, and now I'm really enjoying getting to know and love myself. Every time I read any of these comments I am thankful I eventually found the strength to leave.

  • http://twitter.com/peacewonk peacewonk

    Dear Linda,
    many, many thanks for keeping up with this site and sharing your experiences with us! What can I say about your letter? It feels like you have touched the bottom of the situation, looked around and found only emptiness.
    There are no guarantees that any man with PA behaviors will get transformed into an interested, kind partner ready to be the principal part of your life.
    Unfortunately, your need and desire for intimacy is legit and more intense than his. While he is still in defensive mode, you are out there, claiming complete dedication and sharing. Obviously, both are different developmental situations; the chasm is deep and probably you are the only one who realizes how deep it is…..
    I understand your loneliness at this point; the decision is only yours and is based on the depth of your need.
    If you consider that you want to experience real trust and sharing, and can't wait longer (perhaps age is telling you that there is not a lot of time left?) then the decision is clear.
    Only you can appreciate your long postponed needs, the resources ( such as time, energy, health and others), as to change your life. What is obvious to me is that you don't want to finish your life having missed a different kind of relationship.
    The emotional toll? nothing less than failing to fulfill your life mission, and failing at feeling accepted and deeply valued by someone else.
    Again, only you can evaluate what to do; this “arrangement” has become a poor substitute for the relationship of your dreams…You will be able to live with him without fear of his aggression; beyond that there are no guarantees that he will be ever able to give you the deep connection you crave for.

  • Mitzy

    It never never never gets any better. If you like roller coaster drama then stay, otherwise get out as soon as you can. There is nothing you can do except grow old alone, in confrontation and misery. Very few people can handle the mistrust, lies, secrecy, paranoia, and total lack of intimacy (which will later be NO sex at all) these people insist on living “at war” with their spouse. Their actions and the mistrust and other “go with the disorder” interactions NEVER stop. He won't ever change you will. You will change into a person who cares about NOTHING, but escaping the pain their disorder causes.. It starts with “communication” problems….lack of caring and trust and will end in all at war. The less you get the more you will need, and living with a pa YOU don't or won't ever matter. If you want to “disappear” in life…………stay

  • solange8156

    After 10 frustrating lonely years of living with a “difficult” man, walking on eggshells, having my emotional needs not met, my feelings disregarded, the loss of some friends, mind games, public humiliation, weeks of silence and sulking as punishment,countless confrontations, emotional bullying, feeling at times that I was crazy, I have suffered sooooo many low times going over and over in my head….that perhaps it was all my fault…. I have only recently begun to do research…..yesterday I googled Passive Aggressive Husband…..and I must say that I feel two things…… immense relief knowing that it is a condition, I,m not going mad and I take a little comfort from knowing there are other people living like me. . but also a great sense of loss, if that makes sense….I know that he will never change. (the idea of me sugesting/hinting that he should seek therapy is unthinkable) he has told me of his childhood…..yes he was emotionaly abused by his parents…. (in fact when I met his father I said to my husband “if you ever turn out to be like your father I will show you the door”)… he says he is driven by fear…..but didn,t explain “fear of what”….I know I have two choices…stay…and live with a permanent feeling of loneliness and sadness…or find the strength to leave…..Solange

  • Gerhard

    i have now acknolleged that i have passive agressive behaviour, what do i now do to change this, and how can my partner help me

  • Renie Costello

    I feel heartened by your honesty Gerhard, after all we can,t change what we don,t acknowledge….it must have taken a lot of soul searching and courage to voice your condition….I wish you and your partner well, you now face the real work….Solange8156

  • Mswedlo

    Good for you, Michelle. We stay with someone like this because we believe this is what we are worth, nothing more. We give away all of our power, trying to please this person. Once we take take back our power, they don't like it. They want to be perceived as in control and in charge. They manipulate deceptively. We truly loose ourselves. Ask yourself this question… what can he give to you, that you cannot give to yourself. The answer is… nothing. Everything that you need, you can give to yourself. In that statement he looses his power. I congratulate you on your decision. Best wishes.

  • dawn

    I love your ending statement… if you want to disappear in life… stay. Yes, so true. I stayed for 30 years and then left. So much damage was done not only to me, but our two sons. It is true, I now care about nothing. All of my interests, likes and passions have long disappeared. I have been gone 4 1/2 years now, and it is a challenge everyday to figure out “who I am”. I finally realized he wouldn't change. I didn't know what the future held for me, but I believed that anything had to be better than the way I was living Each day gets a little easier.

  • dawn

    I love your ending statement… if you want to disappear in life… stay. Yes, so true. I stayed for 30 years and then left. So much damage was done not only to me, but our two sons. It is true, I now care about nothing. All of my interests, likes and passions have long disappeared. I have been gone 4 1/2 years now, and it is a challenge everyday to figure out “who I am”. I finally realized he wouldn't change. I didn't know what the future held for me, but I believed that anything had to be better than the way I was living Each day gets a little easier.

  • Risacentenni

    Hello Gerhard, My husband has also acknowledged his PA behavior and is trying to work on it. He has been in therapy for years, but it has not been immediately obvious to the therapist that he had PAPD. He finds it very difficult to incite change in himself, but has made considerable headway. If you’d like to be in touch, he would welcome someone to exchange ideas with and perhaps your partner and I could identify some common areas as well. You can write us at risacentenni@optonline.net or call 516-897-3029.

  • Tloughry

    This is my second marriage. I thought if I picked someone opposite my first husbad it had to be “right”. WRONG! We have been married 4 years. I have had two therapist tell me this will never work. To the public he seems like the perfect person. People would be shocked how he calls me names and swears I’m cheating. We go weeks without talking. We have separate accounts. He controls everything, where we go to eat, vacation or buying things for the house. Most of the time I sleep in the spare bedroom. He tries to get rid of my friends. He calls most of them cheating whores, me included. My business has suffered. I feel so unnerved and hopeless.  My friends tell me I’m not the same person.  I know I’m not.

  • Nora

    Dear Tloughry,
    if you have seen two therapists, and both are telling you that this marriage is not good for you, I wonder why are you staying? Perhaps inside you, there is a mistrust of your own power, and you don’t believe you can make your own decisions? 
    Before making any big decision, you need to build your own personal center of power. Begin by deciding each time what is that you want, (be it a thing for the house, for example) and then go and buy it. Don’t wait for him to tell you what he considers necessary or right; you have to begin making your own decisions with the money in your separate account. After that, it will be easier to look around and ask yourself: what is the kind of life, and of relationship, that I want? 
    Being clear on what your heart desires are will push you to do the steps necessary to change your life: make a plan to recover your business, to improve relationships with your friends and family…..Defend your business, your friends and your own dreams as if it means your own life, which they do. 
    Once you feel clearly what is that you want in life, look at what he is providing and decide if you can live in such starvation or need to leave him.
    Be strong respecting the person that you are, and keep looking for the best situation where you can feel loved and respected and supported…Please, keep this purpose as your goal not only for today, but for the future. 
    Wishing you the best,

  • Marty

    I can’t believe that Neil Warner still suggests that one can have a relationship or marriage with a PA (I think there are many more female PA’s , because as a child they were told not to be aggressive or physical, much more than males are) – namely, by admitting (in this case: his or her secrecy). The PA believes secrecy = privacy. He/ she cannot SHARE. The only solution is: prepare to go away and then: go away. Prepare leaving him/ her, so that you’re sure you want return. Leave, because the PA will never protect you, but only hurt you (because the secrecy goes with cheating, lying etc.). There are extremely manipulative and often overly attached to one of the parents. So, marrying a PA is a. marrying s.o. who will never let you really in, and b. marrying a person with a symbiotic relationship with one of his/ her parents. So: stay away. That is the only way to protect yourself.

  • http://www.creativeconflicts.com Nora Femenia

    Dear Marty,
    yes, this is one reaction…I understanding it completely. Keep away, cut all ties, don’t spend more time or life in this situation….Good to select this option when you are childless, with a good support system, and/or can jump into other life tomorrow. A bit more difficult when you are older, poorer or with less resources; then you stay and need to convince yourself that this lonesomeness is not so bad…Not easy choices, when you are in this trap! 
    Thanks for reminding me of the secret alliance with one of the parents…that is important to recognize, even when you can’t do a lot to change that.

  • Sarah

     Dear Mitzy,  How right you are but what good does that do us?  Your life sounds exactly like mine.  We dated from 13 years old to 19 when we got married.  The first 2 years of marriage was heaven and exactly what we planned.  Then he had a major break with his mother and father and life has never been the same.  It’s like he is a totally different person.  I am still here after 39 years of marriage and as you say, I feel as if I have dissappeared.

  • Sarah

     You are now on the threshold of having a fulfilling life and you have to want it very badly.  So dig deep to find out what you really do want and always remember that it is what you want and not someone forcing you to make this decision.  Most of the help must come from you as “Want to and Willing to do and be whatever it takes” .  I have tried to help my husband when he requested help but it always turns into that I am forcing my help on him.  I believe you need to do a lot of research, with a very open mind.  You may even need to talk to someone who has no stake in the marriage, to not feel that you are being manipulated.  You can do it if you want to.  Give it your best shot.  I’m cheering for you all the way.

  • Pondersons2

    I googled how to deal with a passive aggressive husband and landed here.  I’m in the same boat….more like a sinking ship.  My husband is also an alcoholic which comes in handy for someone who chooses to self soothe rather than be in relationship.  Period.  I have been detaching for awhile but wanted to talk about something here.  The one thing that has baffled me is how bad I feel about myself when I am with him.  I can even feel ugly, standing in the lack of attention I am left with.  Then later on happen to see myself in the bathroom mirror and realize that I am not ugly at all.  But if I don’t get out of this marriage I will end up shipwrecked in the wake of the constant criticism and unrealistic expectations.  Even my children (not his) feel this way……unacceptable, unloved, somehow not worthy, defenseless and empty.  Enough is enough. I’ve done all the things a normal person would or could do to connect with him but I see now it is futile.  Senseless.  I read a quote the other day that said….Holding onto to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  I think that holding onto an abusive marriage partner and “hoping” for him to one day get it and change has about the same affect.
    I have got to get out and get some peace and happiness in my life before it is too late!  Pray for me….and my children who have all been broken by this lunatic rageaholic and alcoholic.

  • anonplease

    Once I detached from my PA husband, I felt beautiful again. When I glance in the mirror, I’m happy to see my reflection and joy shines forth. While I was trying to figure out/improve/fix our relationship I felt dull; almost as if I didn’t exist.

  • wakingup

    I googled the same words and here I am (Kudo’s Nora for the domain name :) I’m 18 yrs. invested in this, but have been dying a slow emotional death for about 10 of those years. I’m finally at a point where I think I have the courage to end this, but my self esteem is so low from all the years of being the “crazy one”. And our sons are two amazing boys, but I’m now realizing that I need to take my life back. And have my sons realize that this is not how a marriage should be functioning. I’m so so lonely, and feel the need to do this, just don’t know where to begin. I’m very thankful I found this site and will keep in touch ladies….

  • relieved

    Nothing but secrets with my PA husband. He left me one month ago to live with his girlfriend. The affair had been going on for a year. How did I find out? Well not from him, but my teenage daughter. He swore her to secrecy, she knew the whole time! He still hasn’t had the balls to speak to me. He will only come by for a few minutes to pick something up from the house while I’m at work. A few times he has given our daughter a ride somewhere, always with the girlfriend around, not by himself. He has already cheated on his affair according to my daughter. Oh yeah, he has left me high and dry financially. I will have to take legal action if i want to get any child support or alimony out of him. Now if I can find a lawyer with a heart to help me, I’ll be fine. I’m so glad he’s gone though, fifteen years of this garbage is too long. My life will get better without him and his sick games and secrets!

  • relieved

    Nothing but secrets with my PA husband. He left me one month ago to live with his girlfriend. The affair had been going on for a year. How did I find out? Well not from him, but my teenage daughter. He swore her to secrecy, she knew the whole time! He still hasn’t had the balls to speak to me. He will only come by for a few minutes to pick something up from the house while I’m at work. A few times he has given our daughter a ride somewhere, always with the girlfriend around, not by himself. He has already cheated on his affair according to my daughter. Oh yeah, he has left me high and dry financially. I will have to take legal action if i want to get any child support or alimony out of him. Now if I can find a lawyer with a heart to help me, I’ll be fine. I’m so glad he’s gone though, fifteen years of this garbage is too long. My life will get better without him and his sick games and secrets!

  • Linda

    I too am in a P.A relationship. I dont know how to leave because of finances. We dont share banking, accounts, money, nothing is in both our names. I have my kids he has his. His kids are on their own now I still have 3 at home. My kids dont like him and cant understand why I stay. They see how he treats me and I feel horrible putting them through this. He pays the rent and my car payment and the utilities. My money buys all the food and all my bills, cell phone, credit cards, kids needs, clothing, gas, etc. I am short most months so I just dont see how to add a rent on top of what I have to pay. If I had the funds I would leave today. We dont communicate, have sex, or any intimacy. Maybe once a month he will be very sweet and loving and I fall for his lies once again and think he is truly sorry and is going to get help and start being the kind of husband he should be. but then within a week its back to the silent games, Its like he checks out. I have been to counseling for the past 5 1/2 yrs of our 7 yr marriage and the last one told me to leave him cuz he will never change. Why is there a part of me that thinks he will? When he is in a good mood he is so charming and fun and we enjoy so many of the same things yet its so short lived and I need to see that. I get so mad at myself for wasting my life and my kids childhood on this pathetic man. I will leave but unfortunately it will be after more damage is done :(

  • Sue

    Thanks for sharing your story. I really wish I could master the same courage as you did. Do you mind sharing how your new life after 20 years of this situation is? Thank you!

  • Sue

    Wow, this is really interesting. I also have a son whom I suspect has been negatively affected by a PA father. Do you might sharing how your sons are doing after you left? How are they coping and how is your life now? Are you happy with your decision? Thank you so much for sharing your story. I was beginning to self-doubt myself.

  • Done Waiting

    This is so sad to me. I knew his father and he was an ass. His mother was depressed and on many medications. She never got out of her bathrobe. All of the siblings have addiction issues, 2 have died from drugs and 1 I have never met after 26 years. His oldest sister has a nice family, but we never talk and my husband doesn’t connect with her. A dis functional Catholic family with a lot of abuse. It’s very sad but I will not stay married any longer… I am so glad I found these articles, stories, Diagnosable characteristics to his personality, and women With my story.. We need to meet!

  • Done Waiting

    I agree because I have no desire to exhaust myself anymore. I also feel that I have developed inflammatory arthritis because of him.. He has made me sick.

  • LouLou

    SolAnge, this sounds exactly like a man in Seattle that my friend is dating.
    She is not happy as he does not open up emotionally and when he does he usually is a victim, of her (of course).
    She drives herself crazy trying to figure things out. I tell her it is hi and that she should move on to other relationships. I do not trust him and he hurts her without her seeing it!
    I am going to show her this email!

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