Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Passive Aggressive Wife

MaryAlice's last post is both full of wisdom and a very practical blueprint for aiding our marriages. I wanted to expand a bit on #1 When you want or need something from him, ask for specific things using nice language, because I think many women don't ask for things they want or need out of fear that in doing so, they will not be "submitting" to their husband, or out of fear that they will appear pushy and demanding. Instead of communicating nicely and clearly with their husband, women are often passive, and later aggressive when things don't go as planned.

MaryAlice used a birthday example to illustrate this point. If each year, your birthday or other special day (Mother's Day, Anniversary Date, Christmas, etc.) ends with you feeling disappointed that your husband didn't acknowledge the day in a different way, there is a good solution! Make your wishes clear to your husband in advance. Let him know your expectations, and if he can't meet those expectations, have a discussion about it right then and there. Don't wait for yet another disappointment and express your problems then--this leaves him feeling hurt and defensive. Talk about these things ahead of time, and give the poor guy a break.

For example, last year I turned 30. I was feeling a bit old and over the hill, but I also wanted to celebrate the day in a special way. I talked to my husband about what I wanted for my birthday--a nice day out with just him and a trip to a fancy brunch in the city--and he was more than happy to oblige. In fact, like many men, he was elated to be told what I wanted, and then he made the day happen. For some women, they may want a surprise, and that's great. Let your husband know this is what you want, men are not mind readers! Most husbands really do want to make their wife happy, so if you have something you want or expect, it is important to acknowledge that you are a human being with preferences, and then make those preferences known in a clear and loving manner.

In my experience, there are few men who are really good gift givers. If you happen to be married to one, good for you! But overall, I find that most men are thrilled to be told nicely what their wife wants and expects. This type of communication avoids so many feelings of hurt and anger.

Unfortunately, instead of communicating their wishes nicely to their husbands, many women fear making their preferences so clearly known. They think it romantic to have their husband read their mind, or they want their husband to think about their wishes so often that he just knows what they want and need. I often hear, "if he really thought about me or cared he would know what I want." Unfortunately, such an approach often results in one of two scenarios. Either the wife will 1) not say anything and allow the disappointment to build and slowly affect the relationship, or 2) explode and let their husband know how disappointed she is, resulting in a huge fight. It is rare that we as women will just swallow the disappointment, pray for the grace to forget about it, and actually forgive and forget. Often times we think we are doing this, only to have things fall apart YEARS later. I have known so many empty nest couples where the wife has all kinds of anger towards the husband about these things. Her anger has literally been building for years, and all along she just thought she was doing the right thing by not saying anything. In such cases, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the husband was acting thoughtlessly or selfishly, but in reality he was just clueless that his wife had any problems.

Now for my disclaimer--Are there things that we should not communicate to our husbands and just let slide? Absolutely! I would say this is a good strategy if it is something small that is not likely to reoccur. In such a case it is often easier to forgive and forget. Obviously no man wants to be married to a woman who has preferences about every little thing, and then communicates theses wishes constantly--who can keep up with that! But if the problem area is one that comes up often, or is of greater importance, good, clear, kind communication is a very important part of a good marriage. Let us not fail to be good communicators under the guise of submission. The result will be a passive-aggressive wife, and a disappointing marriage.


Mary Alice said...

I think these are great points. I also think that, in asking for what we need, we also need to be careful to avoid being a nag. I have some concerns about the comments to my previous post, when women say that they have asked and are not getting good results. I think you are right, Red, that we cannot be particular about everything, and I also think that how you ask makes a big difference.

To turn this around, let me use my husband talking to me as an example. He takes out the trash and deals with the recycling. He is particular about it. This is partially because doing it right makes it easier on trash day, and partly because he is a little bit compulsive. The other day I put a box in the recycling. He said "would you please break down that box before you put it in the can?" He may have thought "and always from now on." but he did not say it. He was not accuse me or asking me to made a sweeping change, he was asking me to cut up one box. How did I respond (and I am very prideful and take criticism very hard) -- I said yes and did it. I apologized for not breaking down boxes yesterday and said that I am overwhelmed and sometimes it is all I can do to get the trash out to the can. He said "of course, please don't worry about it." Then today, I took the time to break down four boxes before I put them out. If, in the first place, he had said "why can't you remember to break down the boxes?" I would have thrown them in the garage just to spite him.

So yes, your husband does need to learn to not throw his dirty socks on the floor, but consider two things. First, is this the resolution that is most important to his growth right now? Does he get to have a say in what good resolutions he is making? And, if so, what is the best way to support him in that.

When it comes to things much bigger than socks, sometimes it is better for advice or direction to come from someone else. For us, it was helpful to read a book about Catholic finances that guided us through a conversation, because we had so much hurt in that area that we could not have the healthy conversation on our own.

For health, it might be better that you suggest that you ask him to go to the doctor. For spiritual matters, ask him to speak with a good priest. If you are not a nag in other areas, the chances are that if you request that, he will say yes, at least to going the first time. After that, the matter is sort of out of your hands and it is better to pray and get out of the way, I think.

Jennifer Frey said...

Hi ladies,

I've really appreciated the last two posts!


Sara said...

I agree that the way in which you state/ask something of your husband is important. "I" statements are always better than "you" statements. For instance, my husband is not very good at putting his clothes and shoes away when he changes. We have a little apartment so it can get cluttered very easily. Seeing clothes and shoes hanging around on the floor and furniture all of the time can really frustrate me. I also know that my husband doesn't do this to annoy me. It is just a habit of his.
One day I told him nicely that I have a hard time keeping the place clutter free and it would really help me if he could put his clothes and shoes away in their proper places. Then I followed up by asking him how I could help. Could I reorganize our tiny closet to make it easier for him to get and put his clothes away? Or could I get a new shoe rack that was less of a hassel for him? He was appreciative of the way I asked and has been trying hard to be more mindful of putting away his clothes. In return, the apartment is less cluttered and I am less inclined to be annoyed when I do find his clothes on the couch :) I know that when the clothes aren't put away it is usually because he is so excited to be home to see me and our son that he forgets to put them away!

Courtney said...

Great post. I myself have to watch my passive-aggressive tendencies. For example, for my 30th birthday, I told my husband I wanted to be "surprised" with special plans and when the plans weren't what I was hoping for, I was disappointed and let him know. For the next special ocassion, I hope to remember that my husband is not a mind-reader, that he might not be a natural gift-giver, and that communicating what I want to him for special ocassions, would probably be better for both of us. Thank for the insight and reminder.

Aubrey said...

Wow, so true! Wish I had time to read the other comments and the Submission post. I'll have to visit again later.

Well said!