This is what your passive aggressive spouse does to blindside you!

emotionally unavailable husband"I SUCK!"

It has happened to you several times: you are having a serious conversation with your husband where you describe to him some of his most hurtful passive-aggressive behaviors; using some recent and clear examples that now, just now, he can’t deny.

You are now sure that he will understand his mistake, see clearly what needs to be changed, and moreover, apologize. So you are strong, clear, and definitively setting limits to his passive aggression.

And then, just at that moment, he manages to do something to derail your intention, and gaslight you. Instead of acting like a grown-up, saying: "OK, now I see what is needed, will do my best, please, alert me when you see me forgetting to do the task I agreed today to do?"  he serves you the traditional self-derogatory comment: “I suck; I’m a piece of shit,” probably using a contrived and sorrowful body posture.

Here you are, confused and befuddled...why is he answering with this in-congruent response to the previous dialogue? Your brain goes into short-circuit, and you feel that something happened to you, but is difficult to pinpoint exactly what...

When he uses this “self-deprecatory wallowing in guilt behavior,” it makes you feel that being angry at him now is like unfairly beating down a guy who already hates himself more than you ever could hate him.

So what happened is this: When he changed his own role he forced you too to change from accuser and defendant to something else: this sad phrase is exactly tailored to force you to comfort and console him!

This transformation of the interaction goes suddenly from two adults having a serious conversation (with consequences included),  to be the interaction between a sweet mother consoling a child that is full of sorrow...

What you thought was an adult conversation turned into a woman-child interaction forcing you to be the dispenser of comfort again. What happened with your demand for his behavioral change? It got swiftly destroyed by his self-deprecation!

Hugo Schwyzer explains in a clear way how the "I'm a piece of shit" speech serves exactly the same purpose of derailing the conversation by gas lighting you, in his article: ‘I Suck’: How Guys Use Self-Deprecation Against You

He states:

"These guys figure that if they say truly awful things about themselves, they'll force their partners to cease the search for legitimate discussion and turn to the more traditionally feminine role of soothing male anxiety. "I'm such an asshole, I don't know why you stay with me." (Batterers use that line a lot in the remorse stage, following an episode of abuse; here we use it for the passive aggressive cycle). It often works, particularly on a woman who wants to believe she can show the guy she loves a side of himself he has never seen. And a lot of women, torn between exasperation and compassion, give in at this point in the argument (whether it was about housework or porn or whatever) and say, "Oh Roger, you're not a bad person. I really do love and admire you." They break off the attempt to push through to the man and resolve the problem, instead moving on to comforting him. The conflict is only temporarily smoothed over, and invariably erupts again. This cycle can go on indefinitely."

If you see your husband doing this to you, and experience the shift in your resolve to clarify a situation into the impulse of consoling him, then you have been had. You need to learn the steps of this process:

“The trajectory of these arguments is always the same. The dude progresses quickly from denial to defensiveness to, finally, brutal self-deprecation. He may blame his shortcomings on your unrealistic expectations. He may blame the absence of strong male role models in his own life. Whether he means what he's saying is almost irrelevant because whether it's real or feigned, the goal is always the same:

"To get the woman who's on his case to back off and swallow her own anger.”

Hugo Schwyzer makes a good point in saying that you are right feeling deprived of your anger, confused about the final purpose of the conversation and finally being forced to play a role, (consoling him), that will again prevent him from becoming responsible for his actions and owning his own choices. In the end, your self-esteem plummets also!

If this happens to you, remember that you don't need to follow in the changing of roles. You can always say, in a calm and caring way: "I don't like it when you say terrible things about yourself. Even when you say those things here and now, and those are your feelings now, we still need a grown-up response to the issues we were dealing with. So, how do you think you can fulfill your share of the household chores, as we distributed them?"

Later, you can share with us what's the response you get when you keep calm and collected and don't enter into this very smart trap!


Dr. Nora

Dr. Nora

Dr. Nora is a well-known coach, conflict solver and trainer, and CEO of Creative Conflict Resolutions, Inc. Sign up for free, here on her blog, to be connected to her innovative conflict solutions, positive suggestions, and life-changing coaching sessions, along with blog updates, news, and more! We can begin by having a complimentary consultation with Dr. Nora. Visit her coaching site today to talk with Dr. Nora and receive a plan for action to change your life. She's ready to help!
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  1. Priceless! Of course in the long run it’s getting them to take responsibility for their self deprecating remarks…..when I had my moments of frustration I used to say “would you grow up”… many ways I realize now I was closer to the truth than I realized……but after a 4 year separation we will be getting divorced…..somehow I never imagined it reaching this stage but now I realize and accept this is what needs to happen. Initially we are drawn to someone who is the same emotional age as we are but after my 4 years of therapy and reading I realize I have grown beyond him and he’s still living in denial even though he lost his job over 2 years ago due to a run in with a female boss….now he is living and working in Australia and still not taking responsibility for himself…..he asked if he got a larger apartment would our daughter who is grown and living in another province and I like to come for a visit…..needless to say I just sat staring at the computer thinking “what planet is he on”…..but what it does tell me he is that he’s very discounted from his emotions….his view on reality is very skewed through his lens….I guess he thought we would somehow stay “casual” friends after he abandoned me…..he’s even reached out when a cousin his own age passed away….texted all the way from Australia looking for someone to hear me…..I figured he could have emailed me but he wanted to be heard in that very moment….and yet he has no desire to hear me….passive aggressive men are there own breed(lol)….all the best to you!

  2. dreams of divorce says

    The last time my husband said he was an asshole, I just calmly agreed…he was derailed and very pissed. However, I felt great. 🙂

  3. dreams of divorce says

    The last time my husband said he was an asshole, I just calmly agreed…he was derailed and very pissed. However, I felt great. 🙂

  4. dreams of divorce says

    The last time my husband said he was an asshole, I just calmly agreed…he was derailed and very pissed. However, I felt great. 🙂

  5. dreams of divorce says

    The last time my husband said he was an asshole, I just calmly agreed…he was derailed and very pissed. However, I felt great. 🙂

  6. dreams of divorce says

    The last time my husband said he was an asshole, I just calmly agreed…he was derailed and very pissed. However, I felt great. 🙂

  7. Jmbriere says

    I’m sure every woman reading this relates to this article! I never understood this way of responding….but it does in fact derail you as a woman doesn’t it ladies!!  And it sends you spiralling into the relationship of mother/son..which at the time I didn’t recognize..which is the core of the problem as we all know but sadly they don’t and would deny it and like my husband say “don’t give me any of this psycho-babble”….those are the moments if we were aware to say “then don’t give me anymore of this self-deprecation talk”…….being compassionate women we “cave” to their self-deprecation talk not even being able to label it as that at the time….I remember these moments so vividly when he would say “that’s right I’m an ass….I don’t know why you stay and put up with me”…..that in turn turns you into the “soother”, alias “mommy”….it’s astounds me how this response has gone on for so long… they never shifted in their responses as they got older but in fact we also have to accept responsibility that we were raised to be the soothers/fixers/helpers/comforters and they knew this about us early on while we were still asleep at the wheel.  Thank you for the final paragraph where you help guide us back to asking them to take responsibility for themselves by providing a grown-up response!! Let’s all memorize that response ladies!

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