Is your husband using passive aggression to avoid house chores?
In a normal marriage, there is always going on a healthy negotiation about shared tasks, sometimes described as “marital division of labor.”
Both can agree in a simple conversation who is going to do what, taking into account the circumstances of each person, but also the need to have the tasks done.
As an example, when both spouses are responsible for grocery shopping, they will have a system in place that guarantees there is bread and milk in the fridge for Monday’s breakfast.
This ideal task distribution is what makes a marriage such a cooperative, nurturing experience. Both sides know that the other will comply with what needs to be done, so both can be secure and happy. In the case of any emergency, there are no buts, if or “I forgot” answers, but immediate response to the question: what do we need to do now? so things can go back to normal fast.
You are going to say: "This is the ideal cooperative marriage...only in the movies!" Very frequently there are obstacles to having an equal partnership, and one side feels like the other is giving orders, or commanding him to do house tasks when the conversation about chores pops up.
Usually for men not educated enough, talking about sharing house chores will be experienced as a threat to their masculinity. They still cling to the old division of labor, where she was expected to take care of the house, the children...and husband's wellbeing. Now, we have a general acceptance of men shouldering their share of the family chores.
For some wives, this take only a conversation. For some other wives who are expecting them to respond willingly to shared planning? No way! They can respond with indignation and some open aggression, or sarcastic answer…or they can feign to go along, say that they accept their shared responsibility, and then resort to passive aggressive mode.
What is passive aggression? Is a complex mix of perceptions and emotions that push a man into a resistant stance, whereby he sees himself as defending from a wife’s “intrusions” and having to protect himself from what he sees as “her control.” His masculinity is threatened by her requests, and he hopes that she will yield to accept her traditional role if he shows a good deal of non-cooperation.
Of course, his sustained reaction to holding up his share of the marriage duties is what causes most of the discussions and fights between the couple.
His interpretation of the wife as "controlling" avoids his taking up his share of responsibilities, and puts him in the role of a child hiding from the grown ups expectations about him.
In order to resist, he could be doing behaviors like:
• Eternally making excuses to avoid his obligations;
• Performing a task inefficiently so that the spouse has to do it again;
• Always “forgetting” what he promised to do;
• Using sarcasm describing his “controlling” wife.
In general, he can portray himself as the victim of marriage duties, using a permanent pessimistic mood, even when all is going well, and he is supposed to be happily married.
How can a wife deal with this character without feeling that she is constantly being sabotaged by him?
First, she needs to know this is a defense mechanism, learned along his earlier life experiences, and not exclusively directed against her. It’s the way he deals with life’s challenges….and can be observed in his work, in his other relationships and while dealing with his own projects. His “natural” answers are procrastination, denial, and forgetfulness.
Beyond knowing that passive aggressive behavior is his way of connecting, what else can she do?
Because there is a need to keep shared responsibilities taken care of, in order to enjoy a functional home...if she has to take charge of everything, finally she will feel that she is married to a ghost.
The main question here for most of our readers is: "Who is there to share the burden, if he "forgets" to be active and present in his own marriage?" This can be answered by: If he is not present in family life (and its chores) he is abusing the wife. Along time, she will feel resentful of and disconnected from a self-centered man. His emotional link with her and the kids will grow weaker and weaker along time, as he deprives his family of his involvement with family life.
We think here that there are ways of negotiating a shared partnership with spouses. If we could learn creative ways of cancelling passive aggressive behavior in the household front...life would be better, right? We are taking a wider approach here: "My Healthier Coaching Program", where we work with the passive aggressive man and his wife to re-organize family life.