How to Deal With a Passive Aggressive Husband

There is a slow progression in the process of realizing the main cause of some spousal behaviors.

First you feel that something is odd, because you have some feelings of hurt that don’t correspond with the objective situation…you are happily married, and then some response from your spouse makes the whole perception shake, and you are not so sure who you are.

As one woman at the end of her rope described this constant passive aggression as a situation where she would receive either punishment or love, in a sequence without any logic.

Mental torture followed by a bit of love, then disappointment then promises and apologies then heartache again, in an endless roller coaster.
She never was sure of his affection and began doubting herself.

Was she the cause of this treatment?

Perhaps if she loved more, if she could be more patient…things would be more stable?
Eventually she figured out the pattern of interaction when there was less and less respect and more and more empty apologies and abuse. In this emotional emptiness, it’s easy to feel lost, bereft of personal goals and motivations and ready to detach from life.

What is this Emptiness Creeping In?

In passive aggressive relationships, there is a failure of the basic covenant of caring for each other in a very personal way. We all have needs, and those basic needs are to be solved by the people we love and share life with.

What happens in this situation?

“I found that the more I asked him for what I needed from him (honesty, communication, stability), the more he would find a way not to give it to me. He would leave it dangling and hovering over me, but would never quite let me grab a hold of it. It is mental torture of the worst kind.”

The frustration of basic needs satisfaction, such as the need for love and connection, and the need for recognition, makes the situation intolerable:

“I would become almost hysterical with him. I would cry, yell, belittle, beg, ignore, baby, apologize, sleep in another bedroom, analyze, read, threaten, ANYTHING that I thought might make him "see the light...” but he remained emotionally unavailable to my needs.

As long as she is showing her vulnerability and her unsolved needs to him, she is giving him control of the couple’s power, and it seals the deal.
There is no way of changing a passive aggressive person when he can manipulate his marriage to fit his own style of communication, regardless of her needs.

Woman on a train

It’s time to ask the very necessary question:

How to Deal With a Passive Aggressive Husband?

What we need to understand is that a passive aggressive personality has been many years in the making, and is part of the very core of this person’s ability to relate. It is NOT a response to her behavior; it’s his “normal response” to everything that happens in his world, his marriage included…

Without entering into the psychological elements of what makes this person behave in such a defensive way, what is important to see is that this is a way of being, structurally organized, and nobody can change it from the outside.

Only the person who has learned to react in this way can realize the damage it causes to any relationship and make a plan to modify his own responses.

The only role a wife can have is to be a witness, and let him know what is the impact of his behavior on people around him, and on the relationships he says he needs. By denouncing as hurtful some of his responses, she is helping him recognize how inappropriate his answers are…and then hope that her words will motivate him to do otherwise.

In the words of the same wife:

“If there's one thing that I've really learned, it is that a passive-aggressive person must find his own truth. We can talk to them about it, give them pamphlets on it, download articles off of the Internet, suggest counseling, etc., but until they choose to look at themselves without their rose-filtered glasses on and see the hurt inside of them, they have no reason to change. In my opinion, passive-aggressive behavior is not something that can be cured, but managed.”

You can continue the conversation with a comment; leave your question at "AskNora" or get more information from the book "Living with a PA Husband"

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  1. Get f*****g real! Men are most certainly not perfect – but then again: women are just as far away from that mark. “Passive aggression”?….. How about “active blame culture” aimed the other way? I fully support womens’ rights, I fully support mens’ rights as well. Why polarise this into a divisive scenario? No, a man might not understand a woman’s every nuance, but he should not be bullied for not being able to do so. Most men do their best towards women. There is generally a healthy respect from what I’ve observed (in one direction at least).

  2. Hi Debbie, I’m in a very similar situation and I’m also involved in Mental Health Services. As you say, I think the answer lies in our reaction to their behaviour as co-dependants. People that are Co-dependant like to help other people because they identify with their pain; that is our coping mechanism. Someone who is passive aggressive will sabotage their relationships as they feel unworthy of being loved. The thing is we do too, otherwise we wouldn’t allow their behaviour to get to us. We have a choice, either we let their behaviour continue to hurt us or we learn to get stronger by setting boundaries. It’s not always easy to be honest with yourself and learn to change and I find it so hard sometimes, but i know that I have to give someone permission to hurt me or have the control.
    I think both people who are passive aggressive and those that are Co-dependant have been hurt in the past (usually by a parent) and draw back into their comfort zone. We cannot change someone’s behaviour or fix them but we can choose how we react to their behaviour, in time they will learn what is expected of them in the relationship but it does take time and a lot of self control and mostly love and respect for ourselves. If we don’t learn to set boundaries and ultimately love and respect ourselves then we are destined to continue the pattern. All the best x

    You might get some argument there, Frank. It’s true that if you look under “passive-aggressive personality disorder” (PAPD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
    (the older editions–more about that below), you find the syndrome
    solemnly described as a “pervasive pattern of passive resistance to
    demands for adequate social and occupational performance.” But once you
    delve into the history of the term, you realize that–at least in the
    eyes of its critics–it’s mostly useful as a high-flown way to call
    someone a pain in the ass.

    The term “passive-aggressive” was introduced in a 1945 U.S. War
    Department technical bulletin, describing soldiers who weren’t openly
    insubordinate but shirked duty through procrastination, willful
    incompetence, and so on. If you’ve ever served in the military during
    wartime, though, or for that matter read Catch-22, you realize that what the brass calls a personality disorder a grunt might call a rational strategy to avoid getting killed.

    After the war the term found its way into civilian psychiatric practice and for many years was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the bible of the mental health trade. According to the revised third edition (DSM-III-R, 1987), someone had PAPD
    if he displayed five or more of the following behaviors: (1)
    procrastinates, (2) sulks or argues when asked to do something he
    doesn’t want to do, (3) works inefficiently on unwanted tasks, (4)
    complains without justification of unreasonable demands, (5) “forgets”
    obligations, (6) believes he is doing a much better job than others
    think, (7) resents useful suggestions, (8) fails to do his share, or (9)
    unreasonably criticizes authority figures.

    You may say: I know a lot of people like that. Or even: I’m that way
    myself sometimes. Exactly the problem. From the outset skeptics argued
    that passive-aggressive behavior
    is an ordinary defensive maneuver and shouldn’t be considered
    symptomatic of a mental disorder. Reacting to such criticism, the
    authors of previous versions of the DSM had defined PAPD narrowly: in DSM-III (1980), they’d said PAPD
    shouldn’t be diagnosed in the presence of any other disorder (you can
    see how depression might contribute to procrastination or sulkiness, for
    example). The idea apparently was to curb careless use of the
    term–though shrinks weren’t likely to say somebody was mentally ill if
    he was just a PITA, if he had some other psychiatric problem, they’d
    throw in PAPD too. Sure enough, after DSM-III diagnoses of PAPD
    declined sharply, to the point that some researchers felt the category
    should be abolished. Others, however, thought the exclusivity criterion
    was unnecessarily limiting and persuaded the editors of DSM-III-R to
    drop it. PAPD diagnoses shot back up. Conclusion: If we define PAPD rigorously, almost nobody has it; if we define it loosely, just about everybody does.

    Recognizing that the definition as then formulated wasn’t working but
    uncertain how to fix it, the compilers of DSM-IV (1994) dumped PAPD from
    the list of official disorders and relegated it to an appendix. The
    most telling complaint, in my opinion, was that merely being passive-aggressive
    isn’t a disorder but a behavior–sometimes a perfectly rational
    behavior, which lets you dodge unpleasant chores while avoiding
    confrontation. It’s only pathological if it’s a habitual, crippling
    response reflecting a pervasively pessimistic attitude–people who
    suffer from PAPD expect disappointment, and gain a sense of control over
    their lives by bringing it about. Some psychiatrists have suggested
    that PAPD be merged into a broader category, called negativistic personality disorder. Diagnostic criteria: passive-aggressive plus (a) mad at the world, (b) envious and resentful, (c) feels cheated by life, and (d) alternately hostile and clingy.

    We’ll let the specialists work out the details. For now, though, we lay folk should strive to use the term “passive-aggressive”
    more precisely in everyday life. Say for instance that a coworker
    cheerfully agrees to refrain from a specified uncool act, then does it
    anyway. Is this passive-aggressive behavior?
    No, this is being an asshole. Comforting as it can be to pigeonhole our
    tormentors with off-the-shelf psychiatric diagnoses, sometimes it’s
    best just to call a jerk a jerk.

  4.  Get into therapy as a couple. A passive aggressive man can change his behavior if there is motivation and a commitment to his marriage.Reassure him that he is important to you, that you love him
    and hope that he loves you enough to want to change the unhealthy
    relationship dynamics.

  5. When all else fails, make the decision to either stay and accept his
    behavior or leave the marriage. If, after expressing your desire to save
    the marriage by going to counseling and helping him change destructive
    behaviors he carries on, the odds of him ever changing is slim to none. 

  6. I have reading about this type of husband for a couple of days now. My husband was doing some search on his own to attempt to find out what was/is wrong with ME! I couldn’t believe it! Finally he came to me and admitted that when he searched for answers to what was going on (google is his best friend apparently, it gets more emotional content than I do) he kept finding answers that suggested it was the man’s disposition and the woman’s reaction that caused said events. As a result of his search and findings he came across an article that was able the passive-aggressive male and found himself identifying with it on many different levels. Now, I am at a cross roads. Perhaps him searching for answers on his own is a good thing and I can look past him searching for answers for my faults, but I am unsure as to where to go from here. I am a Clinical Mental Health Counseling Major and have started individual counseling. After studying this behavior in class and taking a good look at our interactions I see this personality in my husband. He constantly plays the victim, lets me do things, but then makes me feel bad about them. He is nice and caring; however, I would best describe him as unfeeling on an emotional level. I feel like I have to be in control of my emotions, his, and the continued development of our relationship. I do identify as being co-dependent on him and I have told him previously that I was drawn to him because of the wounds that he carried. I wanted to fix him and make him better because he has so much potential in life, as a father, and as my husband. I love him deeply, yet I am unsure how to deal with this because the “I’m the victim” personality is something he carries ALWAYS. I don’t want to give up on him and I am scared of the process of healing that we both are going to have to submit ourselves to healing old wounds.

  7. hi i’m hani and so sad about your story as i can tell you my situation is not so well too ,i still love a man who never did what he promissed me, i have a little baby too, i lost all i had for marry him ,my carrie( i was lawyer in my country),my good econoimc condition…..then i came to his country(italy)and i sayed at home for 2 years even i  remained without id card for some months,stressfull life……he gave me many slaps foe really nothing,if i say any thing he dont like then,,,,better to not say what will be happened,but he forget in 2 min and tell me i have prob that i remember all things….!!!
    god bless you,at least u r in yr place,i lost all i had,even my baby have this nationality and i never can live in my place with my husband and baby,he dont have any relationship with his familly members too(better,bcz they just looking for make prob for foreigners…)
    be strong,this is what i choose for myself i always tell myslf…. and i love him….

  8. Hy, I got married to my husband by an affair.He is 15 years older than me and non of my family memebers agreed for this affair. Finally because of my preference they let us marry. He was unemployeed before the marriage. Though people told me that he is on welfare alsways I thought he would be responsible after the marriage He also gave me lot of dreams about taking me to the palaces that I like and he told me that he will be loving me endlessly forever. He also had hard time preparing for the marraige ceremony need and anyhow he managed to end the ceremony with his family memeber's help. We were so much in love when we were loving. But after the marriage I didn't notice ant change in him. He really didnt want to find a job. If I ask questions he says he is not lucky to get a job. But I know that he wasn't actively loooking for a job. He was a bit prejudiced doing any job, but kept on saying that he wants to do a profesional job where his qualifications don't meet with. Our eonomy was really dim and I was fed up with the economy. We coudn't even go for a dinner or any palaces cz of this economy tightness. I was so fed up with this. He went on E.I. and didn't want to do ant cash job either. He is soo prejudiced and he only has the out show but empty pocket always. When I think about the beautiful stores he told me when we were loving I feel as i I were cheated by him. But he complins that i offend him always and his love towards me has decreasd. He often gets angry and raise his voice at men I finnalyy left alone with tears. But I always loved him though he is like that type. Cz i faught a lot woth my family to marry him. One day he slapped me and from that day i really dont feel anythng for him. I feel so disgusting to see him and didn't want to even touch him/to be touched. But I iss making love or being loved since i am stilll 21 years old. I felt to leave him but my 2 month old daughter's health situation doesn't let me go for a decision. I m undergoing so much strerssfull situation. I dont wanna end uo this at diviorce just cz of my daughter. cz I want her to raise with both parents. I feel so empty. Thrers no one for me. I dont have any one to be loved. I was loving him crazily like a small child.I use to kiss him everyday though he forgets.But now its been 2 months that i ddnt touch him. because of the slap. can you suggest me a way to bring his pride down amd make him apologize?

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