Dr. A. Lynn Scoresby
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What To Do About A Passive Husband

February 13th, 2008 by Lynn


Some people like to be cared for because they feel a sense of security and a modest amount of pleasure. Most of us like to be passive about some things or express our anxiety in some situations in the form of passivity. But, a person with a pattern of passivity is different. These individuals find so much pleasure or comfort being passive that they are willing to submerge much of their initiative to ensure that someone else will care for them by assuming psychological responsibility for them. Passive husbands and wives, while they might just be passive in relation to their spouse, are usually like this in more than one situation.

A marriage relationship where one is passive usually has another in it who is active and often in demanding terms requiring the first to do, say, or be something. The more the one demands the less the other person responds. When they have conflict one will lecture and the other quietly but stubbornly listens. The passive one may actually agree to do something but then will not. Both feel controlled by the other or the marriage.

Let”s focus on passive men and think about passive women another time. In marriage these men often do not extend themselves to start conversations, propose suggestions for new activities, or provide leadership for marriage and/or family activities. As time passes and real life decisions come up many women learn that in order to get something done, or done in a timely manner, they must assume the initiative and start and do things themselves. Some women like this and also like that their husbands are not very assertive. In this case the marriage seems like it is just right. Many other women, however, want a full partnership where their husbands are at least equally involved and will take their turn assuming the responsibility for leadership. When women want this and do not get it they my be resentful and feel very angry. Unless they are watchful their frustration will be shown in a litany of criticism which belittles and demeans their husbands.

If this were just a marriage problem it would be bad enough, but this condition often extends into parenthood. Struggles with passivity between parents often embroils children. A passive man will spend some time with children but will sit on the sidelines of the real drama of family life letting his wife occupy the primary role. He might make excuses about himself and justify not participating except in a token manner. He might be absent large amounts of time and from many important events. In the worst cases he might be inadequate in other ways in addition to his role as a husband.

In turn a wife will feel growing amounts of stress and demands on her time. Increasing amounts of frustration may lead her to consciously or unconsciously train her sons to “not be like their father” and/or to form tight emotional ties with one or more of her children that are not healthy but will satisfy her emotional needs not met in the marriage. This condition twists the life of the child who, instead of being accepted for himself, has to grow up demonstrating certain forms of behavior in an attempt to satisfy both parents. Both parents are typically more extreme in their opinions and their emotional needs than either would be if both were mutually involved and passivity did not exist.

Some passive men lack the social and emotional skills to actually be assertive in marriage and family. They can benefit from learning from what other more successful men do by reading books, attending seminars, and/or going to counseling. Other men have emotional agendas where their passivity is a form of aggression against women and/or an expression against their lives. Not doing reasonable things to please someone, or not doing what someone wants, or not participating when participation is important are fairly effective ways to display aggression and dislike. When this is coupled with defensiveness, where the man blames his lack of involvement on the wife who asks for it, a true and very powerful cycle of hurt and anger is often created.

What to do? Usually both need some professional help to rearrange the balance of their relationship. A new balance can be achieved by helping both address their emotional behavior, make adjustments away from being “caught” or controlled by the actions of the other and achieve greater focus on each person”s separate and independent actions. This will require the end of coaching, cuing, demanding, criticizing, and blaming. It usually also requires that two people learn how to participate together in the same decisions, activities, and other marital experiences. It also requires that each person learn their actions are a function of their own choices and not responses to what the other person says or does. When this is going along nicely it will be necessary for both the man and the woman to understand their motives for their behavior and to talk about the emotions which underlie the passive and demanding conditions of their relationship. He can understand the resentment and the insecurity that underlies his passivity and talk about where it comes from and what he can do about these feelings. Even though habits have been formed, his increased awareness can be used to help him stop less successful things and start something better. She can understand her anxieties and resentments and she can talk about and accept responsibility for how she expresses them. She can learn that anything motivated by resentment or fear will typically not lead to a good result.

Once the emotions are talked about and understood a couple can identify a more positive set of outcomes which can be achieved by modifying how they participate with each other. Making and carrying out bargains are a good strategy here where each asks for and gets something from the other. Most passive men like the experience of being responded to by a caring and adoring wife who supports and encourages. An angry woman likes to respond and support when a man assumes some responsibility, expresses his opinion, displays initiative and then does all these from time to time to show respect and regard for her. It is typically hard work but it can be rearranged to achieve a better synchrony.

Posted in Marriage

5 Responses

  1. maria

    What to do when a passive husband is accusing the wife of verbal and emotional abuse

  2. Nancy

    It’s easier to claim the wife is verbally abusive than to take responsibility for your extreme passivity that pushed your wife over the edge to begin with.

    That being said….. like the article states, we are responsible for our response to our passive husbands. Our actions are a result of our choices. My husband will never change, it appears he likes being passive. But I can change my response.

  3. Carol

    How am I supposed to change my response? My husband allows my stepson to walk all over me!! I will tell him he needs to do something and he won’t do it. Does he ever get disciplined? No!! His bedtime is at 9. He doesn’t do his homework like I tell him to. They are playing a board game and here it is after 9 and I mentioned him doing his homework twice and my husband acted like he didnt hear me. My stepson looked at me then his dad and they just continued playing. This has become an everyday thing with everything I have to say. It hurts. He also talks to me like I’m a child. I’ll ask him to turn the air on cuz I’m hot and he will actually tell me no. Or I will ask him to do something and I get “hold on a minute” Or just wait a little while”..It’s been almost 4 years of this. I have tried talking to him about it but it’s like he is completely oblivious. I want us to be equal. I don’t treat him like that. It’s not fair. I am seriously considering filing for separation. I just don’t know what to do anymore. I really love my family and I don’t want to separate my kids…ughh!!!

  4. Donna

    I have been in a marriage for 42 years with a man who is passive in every area of his life. I have asked him, begged him for years to be more of a partner with me in communications, decisions, finances especially. He does not communicate and tends to sulk. I take things just so long and then I explode or cry my way through begging him to help. Yes I am the angry wife and this anger has been simmering for years. Now I am being treated for severe depression which runs in my family. This year has been hell. I may have had it anyway but the severity of it most likely comes from my
    resentment and repressed anger toward my husband. I actually had to be hospitalized in March because the depression was so severe. He made all these promises to me while I was in the hospital Nothing has changed here at home. He promises to do things and never follows through. He never completes a diy project which drives me nuts. He is so passive that I feel that I am living alone. I cannot pry out of him any feelings. I still have no idea what makes him tick. When I ask him why he doesn’t try to do the things I have begged him to do he answers “I just never think about it”. This really hurts and communicates to me that he doesn’t care at all what I need.
    I used to be an outgoing person with a good self image. Right now with the depression and all I feel horrible about my entire life.
    Divorce isn’t an option. It also isn’t what either of us want.
    I have been driven over the edge. My psychiatrist tells me that no pill will fix my depression…it might take the edge off so I can function. I have been told that the passive man is one of the hardest ones to live with. I am not sure that he is not a combination of several personalities.
    His actions tell. He was taught by a passive father,bringing in the paycheck was his job. His mother had to take care of everything. History repeats.
    Both of us have been very unhappy for a very long time. It is very sad. I think my whole family thinks I am nuts. I am so depressed that I can easily understand that. Some of my actions have been off the wall. I cannot take this anymore. We told our grown kids some of what is going on and I don’t want them to have to take sides. That is’t good for anyone.

  5. Darlene "Dar"

    oh Donna, I don’t have children, but my story is very similar. My concern is my failing health and the inability of my husband to take charge in a crisis. The day to day heartache is unbearable. My husband is perfectly content as long as he is left alone. I have lost complete faith in everything.

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