Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Wife of passive-aggressive man wonders when to say when
Washington: I've been married for three years to someone I now realize is passive-aggressive. Our marriage has become a roller coaster of issues, silent treatments and then brushing it under the rug like nothing happened. I calmly try to discuss our problems and get stonewalled every time.
I feel I have become the passive wife who is just trying to avoid the drama. I've realized I'm not crazy, and I'm finally starting to see more clearly. Realistically, I know he can't change. Despite the fact that I love him, at what point do I just cut my losses (no kids)?
Carolyn: You don't know he can't change. What you know is that you can't make him change, that he can probably change only so much, and that waiting around for him to change is no way to plan a future.
If he wants to change his behavior, then, as long as you both work at it and both have realistic expectations, it's possible your marriage can be tweaked for the better.
The time to pursue this, with all your might, is now, while you still love him.
I wish I had a more creative suggestion than counseling, but that's really what you need — both to work on communication and to make sure your husband gets the memo that you're seriously unhappy.
If he continues to refuse to engage, even when the consequences to his refusal are plain, then you'll know you've hit the last wall.
Anonymous: Re: Passive-aggressive: The husband sounded like somebody who is a little tired of having to rehash issues. I wonder if the shutdown has to do with "Oh, man, here we go again."
Carolyn: There isn't enough in the letter to support this. If anything, it sounds as if you have/had a relationship like that, and so your mind filled in the letter's gaps with the nagging-spouse narrative.
Even if you're right, the husband still needs to say, definitively: "I feel as if we've talked this issue/every issue to death, and I've reached a point where I just want to be myself without having to examine my actions after the fact." That's choosing not to enter a recurring battle, vs. copping out with the silent treatment.
I'd still urge counseling, though — unless they were both able to accept an impasse. Acceptance is the start of two healthy choices: to separate amicably, or to create a new dynamic together where they accept each other's differences, and no longer expect/hope/push the other to change.
Anonymous 2: Re: Passive aggressive: I grew up with a passive-aggressive relationship as my model and got into some very bad habits. My husband, who is much better at communicating than I am, pointed this out to me a lot early on in our relationship. We both pushed through his frustration and my defensiveness, and I have learned over time to communicate better. It has helped us grow even closer. People can change, but they have to be aware of the issue.
Carolyn: I.e.: "If he wants to change his behavior, then, as long as you both work at it and both have realistic expectations, it's possible your marriage can be tweaked for the better." Thanks for showing what that looks like.