The vicious circle of interaction in a passive-aggressive marriage
The starting point is not clear. Perhaps she is taking over all domestic responsibilities by herself and he is enjoying the free ride;
After some time, she begins resenting the load, and complains to him;
He refuses to “understand the problem” and what is expected of him. (Perhaps his attitude is that domestic chores are not in his job description?)
She feels his resistance and begins to feel exploited;
As much as she presses on, he keeps denial and evasion tactics;
Now it is a war of power and control;
To up the ante, she accuses him of behaving passive-aggressively;
Then, she gets less and less from him: (in her own words)
"He is behaving checked out a lot, showing no affection, has no initiative, refusing to take charge in a situation but asking me to step in."
They are exhausted and on the verge of divorce
Reciprocal affection disappears with the battle for love and control: who decides what kind of interaction they will have?
She has a mental model of love and affection, and if he does not comply with it, he will be accused of being PA; which of course exacerbates his passive reaction…
Now he does not help with chores, but neglects serious issues at home like mortgage payments and keeping up with insurance
Now she confirms that he has no will to change in order to rescue the marriage, but she keeps asking him for some “leadership”
Now he confirms she is out to destroy him.
HOW CAN THEY STOP THIS DESTRUCTIVE PATTERN?
When working with the wife, here is the path I offer:
To help her identify the kind of relationship that he can sustain, she needs to go through a process with several stages:
- The first is going through the gradual process of the frustration of her fantasies about married life with this particular person;
- The second is to stop her search for reasons for his rejection, which can take a long time because she blames herself for his cold shoulder or his progressive withdrawal of sexual connection;
- The third is to process the fact of his emotional immaturity, the root cause preventing him from performing his role as a grown-up man, being tied to childhood frustrations.
- All this process meanwhile requires the wife to process confusion, anger, and a lot of loneliness. On top of that, I need sometimes to ask her a change of attitude:
"Stop enforcing your ideal marriage (for a limited time, at least!)
Look at what your husband is, instead of yearning for the loving husband and family leader you dream with and try to coax from him. Even when you have to accept that you are not responsible for his attitude, learned in his childhood, way before you met and fall in love, you need to be responsible for the demands you are formulating now.
Look at the possibility of offering a truce, a time when you renounce your ideal marriage, and ask him what he can really give now. (if he can feel not cornered by her demands).
A compassionate approach to an immature person could (under certain conditions) offer him space where he can take charge of his own responsibilities and learn how to shoulder them in order to grow up.
That is my coaching role in the process: once I get some space, and her pressure softens, I can apply the process of coaching him to go through the milestones of his own development.
When working with the man, here is the plan, described as a Set of Milestones:
GEORGE’S PERSONAL MILESTONES: (05/26/15)
1.- Taking personal responsibility for the hurtful impact of doing reactive behaviors on the relationship;
2.- Searching for and identification of past old anger, and discovering how he created the “passive-aggressive shield” as a defense against parent’s control;
3.- Learn to separate anger and resistance against his parents, (which produced the shield) from emotions generated here and now in the marriage;
4. Understand how his use of the “PA shield” now generates counterproductive results with his wife;
5. Grasp the connection between protecting his own isolation (needed to be able to work) with generating feelings of abandonment in his wife, which then reacts with her own controlling behavior;
6. George now learns how he experiences demands for his company from his wife as "suffocating control" and reacts by isolating himself more, (as in the “PA shield”)
7. The solution for control is not more isolation, but the opposite: open up the “PA shield”, trust the relationship and learn to share time and projects with her.
8. Now, his wife’s request for more of his company will be framed as a legitimate search for love and connection (not control) and solved by doing shared activities/projects.
9. Both need to be able to negotiate better their reciprocal needs: (George’s need for space to create, and his wife’s need for his company) and to confront each other using Fair Fighting techniques;
10. Keep a routine of maintenance of connection: schedule conversations about home issues, schedule dates, and have a clear idea of the minimum of time they need to have together.
NOT an easy process, but for people that really value their marriage and want to learn, is a very productive way of learning how to deal with each other! For more information, you can ask for your free strategic session here: https://norafemenia.com/schedule-your-coaching-session/