What is a passive aggressive attachment?
Passive aggressive behavior from a husband is not a reaction to the present wife or the present relationship; rather, it is a learned model of interpersonal attachment, wired in a person's brain early in life.
It is a pattern learned from the interaction with the mother or caretaker, who taught him in his first year of life either that he should not depend on her (and thus you should not depend on him) or instilled in him a fear of rejection or ambiguous security (thus, he will not open up to you or doing anything to make himself look bad).
What are the three most common attachment styles?
- Secure: Secure attachment is a healthy attachment. It is confidence and security in both the permanence of the relationship, and the honesty of the significant other. Secure attachment people tend to trust that their partners love them and find them attractive. This was learned from a secure mother, who was there for the child when it needed her, and provided love and attention on a continual (rather than spotty or random) basis.
- Anxious: Anxious attachment deals with fear of rejection and relationship stability. An anxious attachment pattern in a mother is one where she alternately smothered and ignored the child, bouncing between thinking she didn't love it enough and thinking she loved it too much. This undependable and erratic behavior translates to the adult relationship, making the terrain of any relationship unreliable and fickle for the child.
- Avoidant: Avoidant attachment deals with a lack of desire to depend on others, as well as an abhorrence of opening up or being vulnerable. This is learned in childhood when a mother is avoidant - she will deny the child attention, avoiding giving him what he needs if he asks for it. A caregiver figure may not have been emotionally present at all. Often, avoidant partners will call their significant others "needy" and "overemotional."
Avoidant and anxious attachment styles often appear together and reinforcing each other in a passive aggressive person. At his core, his inner child still worries about rejection from others, especially you as his wife (anxious attachment). To isolate himself from this inner child's fear and resentment, the passive aggressive man uses avoidant attachment to prevent you (and perhaps himself) from seeing the scared, anxious child inside.
Often, what we learn is that your own attachment style can affect how your passive aggressive husband's style manifests. Your own style can determine whether or not he reacts anxiously or avoidantly - for example, if you are anxious or insecure yourself, he may be more avoidant. If you are avoidant, he may be more anxious, his actions driven largely out of fear of/perceived rejection by you. If you have a secure attachment, and know what happens with him, perhaps living with you and acting as a secure, supportive spouse will help transform his primal attachment style into one more mature.
How are attachment patterns influencing the outcome of your passive aggressive marriage? If you have learned a little more about both of you by reading this post, but are unsure how you can apply that knowledge, we have many resources for you.
The best place to start would be a free consultation with our conflict coach. Coach Nora can guide you through the process by which you can learn to reach a compromise between your attachment styles, and even learn to rewire old patterns into new, secure ones!