One reader wrote this suggestion in our site:
“How do you deal with a husband that keeps a secret journal and never tells me he is unhappy about anything?”
This reader is hitting at the heart of the passive aggression problem.
We need to remember first that this kind of behavior
a) is not caused by or originated with the present marriage;
b) has deep roots in his childhood and family of origin
c) is connected with some kind of long forgotten trauma, still active inside him.
This short description is necessary because there can be so many misconceptions obscuring the understanding of his present behavior.
She is not guilty of his present passive aggression, because he has been functioning in this way to protect himself from life’s hazards and tribulations for a very long time.
So, why the need for secrecy?
If the original trauma and all the feelings included has to do with his parents, or a parent substitute as uncles, godfathers, or ministers, it could never be opened up. The victim, in this case your husband, had to keep everything inside as a way of colluding with his parents who decided that the situation was normal enough not to merit a comment or a defensive reaction. If the child was abused, emotionally oppressed or humiliated in some way, this was never talked about, because the loyalty to parental figures was stronger. Then and there, secrecy was the main line of defense: don’t say a word about what hurts you. Tragically, this “defense” ends up exterminating all humanity in relationships, because then the humiliated child has nobody to defend his integrity, and every one of the adults is a accomplice of the hurt.
The last thing a passive aggressive will do is to complain about his own past or present unhappiness. He is still a five years old child inside, convinced that there is no justice in this world, that talking will get him punished and still will get no justice, and that opening up could end up in more ridicule, punishment or humiliation. No, he can’t say a word…which doesn’t mean that he is not hurt, resentful and dreaming of revenge!
This secrecy pact is what makes it so difficult to live with him…produces the impression that he is still more loyal to the people that then and there damaged him, than to his present situation and loving companion. Secrecy will make also impossible to provide him with the satisfaction and nurturing his own needs demand, and will generate resentment on both sides: on her side because she is willing to give love that he finds impossible to accept and from his side because whatever he can receive is not answering his deep needs for love and security coming from his past starvation.
Secrecy also gives him the illusion of conserving his own power; if nobody knows what hurts him, he can deny that some hurt exists in his heart forever. “Me keeping a grudge against my parents? Why would I do such a thing?”
Denial is a wall that blocks connection in marriage. It signals a whole part of his soul is not included in the marriage bargain. Allows withdrawal and isolation, and predicts more isolation, but the illusion of power and control.
So, what can you do?
First, accept that this is his reality; no amount of coaching or preaching will make him leave this cave when he feels the need to be protected there. Perhaps allowing him to keep his secrets, giving him permission to withdraw in his cave and sulk there, is the only way of giving him what he needs. And feeling that he has not to fight for his right to some privacy, so he can feel secure enough of being respected as he is, could invite him to leave his cave more often.
SIGH? nobody said that this kind of marriage was going to be easy, right?
Just in case you were wondering what to do now, we have prepared a new program: The 4 Steps Relief Plan for Passive Aggression. You can invite your husband to give it a try…at least, you now where to go to find some relief to your usual complaints about his behaviors!