He Couldn’t Seem to Get It: Recognizing Passive Aggressive Behavior

​My husband couldn’t seem to get what I wanted and needed from him.

My husband couldn’t seem to get what I wanted and needed from him. I share this now, not because I’m holding a grudge (that has long past), but to illustrate the manifestation of passive aggressive behavior. If you are confused, hurt, and maybe angry in your marriage as I was, but can’t explain why, my experience may open your eyes to the underlying problem.
     At the beginning of our marriage my husband had anticipated my basic wants and needs, and I believed I was being reasonable in thinking he would continue behaving this way. Over time, those behaviors that helped us stay connected began to fall away, so I little by little, I began sharing with him about what I felt was missing. 

  • I told him I loved him and wanted him to take care of himself.
  • I told him I’d like him to spend a little more time with me.
  • I asked him to help me with the dishes, remembering our early days of our marriage when we talked, laughed, and even sang together as we worked.
  • I asked him to solve household problems or get someone to do that for us.
  • I asked him to be in charge of putting away his clothes I laundered.
  • I asked him to please dress nicely when we went out.
  • I told him I’d appreciate him giving me an “Atta girl!” from time to time.
  • I asked him to share what he wanted and needed from me.

I looked back and saw a pattern

After my marriage ended, I looked back and saw a pattern I’d not allowed my self to see before. Here were his responses:

  • He scoffed at me, complained about the healthy (and delicious) meals I made for our family, ate junk food, spent hours working at his computer, and refused to exercise with me or on his own.
  • He was too busy working to spend more time with me. I didn’t dare complain, as he was the main breadwinner in our marriage.
  • When I asked him to help him with the dishes, he acted as if I was trying to punish him. On rare occasions when he did comply, he sulked.
  • He left it to me to solve any household problems, then criticized my handling of them. If I objected to his criticism, he called me “too sensitive.”
  • He never got around to putting away his clothes I’d laundered and folded. Instead, he thanked me for doing it after I tired of his not putting them away. Talk about attempted manipulation!
  • He chose to wear a tee shirt and torn jeans when we went out.
  • He rarely gave me positive feedback. He showed no interest in reading my first published book. He stopped going to my choir concerts with no explanation.
  • He had no suggestions as to what I could do for him.

All this left me confused and hurt

All this left me confused and hurt, and I experienced an underlying feeling of anger that I couldn’t explain or resolve. In my memoir, God, the Devil, and Divorce, I describe a couple of scenes with our last counselor that finally opened my eyes to the dynamics of our marriage:

Scene 1- my speaking without Jim present:
“I’ve tried to change in various ways to get along with him. I tried being extra attentive. I tried emotional separation. At one point I attempted to get his attention by refusing to make love with him, trying to get him to understand the brokenness of our marriage. That strategy didn’t work, and I discontinued it, but these days I’m just going through the motions.”

Scene 2 - with both of us present:
Norma asks me “What’s missing,” I answer, “I know I’m going to sound like a broken record, but I’d love for Jim to help me with the dishes. It doesn’t have to be every day if he has a deadline or something, but I’d like it to be on a regular basis. I used to ask him, but I’ve given up because he’s always too busy.”
Jim snaps erect in his chair, his face growing red. “That’s it?” he fumes. “You’re mad because you wanted me to do the dishes? You’ve had this secret expectation of me all this time?”
I cross my arms and hold myself tight. It’s all I can do to keep from slapping him.

Passive Aggression Defined

Perhaps you're missing the intimacy you first had in your marriage, and maybe some of my experience resonates with you. I learned that this type of behavior can be described as "Passive-Aggresive." Gauri Ratnamin describes this personality trait in  in her article Signs of a Passive Aggressive Husband and Tips to Deal with Him 

“People who are passive-aggressive show their aggression indirectly, rather than being too explicit or direct about it. These people are the ones who show a certain kind of resistance towards the demands or requests of family members or friends by showing stubbornness, being sullen or by procrastinating. ”

​     Pretending not to hear or understand my pleas was part of my husband’s strategy, part of his passive-aggressive personality and is emotional abuse. Looking back on my attempts to fix our relationship, I give myself a pass. I wanted what was best for my husband and for “us.” I didn’t understand I could no more help him than a woman can help cure her alcoholic or drug addicted spouse. Sherri Gordon explained it this way in her article, What is Emotional Abuse?

Despite your best efforts, you will never be able to change an emotionally abusive person by doing something different or by being different. An abusive person makes a choice to behave abusively.

I think of the serenity prayer:

God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.

     My husband had understood perfectly what I was asking of him. It was me who didn’t get that he knew exactly what he was doing and had no intention of changing. I finally realized I could only change myself, and I did. I left and found a better life.
     When we understand the dynamics of our situation, we can respond in a more healthy way. If you think you might be dealing with a passive-aggressive spouse, strive to understand what that means, and then make an enlightened choice.
     I find Gordon’s article a helpful read … one that I wish had been available to me during my marriage. You may find it useful as well as well as the many other resources on this subject that are available today. I also recommend enlisting the help of a counselor who understands this disorder and ways to deal with it.

Linda M. Kurth is a writer and a divorced and remarried Christian. In going through the divorce, she experienced a dichotomy of responses from the Christian community. After sharing some of those experiences in her memoir, God, the Devil, and Divorce, she's heard many stories of divorced Christians who have struggled with the same issues. This blog invites divorced Christians to tell their stories with the goal of encouraging churches to resist condemnation and become a source of healing and grace. ​Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.

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